Cognitive Traits as Sexually Selected Fitness Indicators

Review of General Psychology 17 (4):428-442 (2013)
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The evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller has argued that various features of human psychology have been sculpted, at least in part, by the evolutionary process of sexual selection via mate choice. This paper specifically examines the central claim of Miller’s account, namely that certain cognitive traits have evolved to function as good genes fitness indicators. First, I expound on and clarify key foundational concepts comprising the focal hypothesis, especially condition-dependence, mutation target size, and mutation-selection balance. Second, I proceed to highlight some subtle distinctions with respect to the concepts of exaptation and adaptation, as well as Fisherian runaway selection and good genes sexual selection, all of which in turn bear importantly on the overall framework of cognitive traits as fitness indicators. Third and finally, I close out the paper by examining various conceptual and methodological criteria which are integral to identifying sexually selected adaptations, then briefly examine some empirical work that has aimed to test the hypothesis that traits such as humor and creativity function as sexually attractive fitness indicators.

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John Klasios
York University


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