Syllabus for Psych 342 Evolution, Brain, and Behavior: Evolutionary Psychology

Download 73.8 Kb.
Date conversion24.05.2018
Size73.8 Kb.

Syllabus for Psych 342

Evolution, Brain, and Behavior:

Evolutionary Psychology

Psychology 342, section 1, CRN 28394

Spring 2007, University of New Mexico

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:00 pm to 3:15 pm

Dane Smith Hall Room 127

Instructor: Geoffrey Miller, Ph.D., UNM Psychology Assistant Professor

This syllabus will be crucial to your success in this course. Read this whole syllabus before the next class session (Jan. 19) – you will be quizzed on its contents. Keep it accessible, and refer to it regularly throughout the course!
1. Overview of course content:

Evolutionary psychology is the scientific study of human nature, based on understanding the psychological adaptations that our ancestors evolved in prehistory to cope with the challenges of survival and reproduction. It is a new science that arose around 1990 and that has led to a flood of new research on human sexuality, aggression, status, parenting, family life, group cooperation, emotions, and other topics that had been neglected in mainstream psychology. Evolutionary psychology tries to offer a coherent framework for unifying the diverse areas of contemporary psychology research. Evolutionary psychology also tries to connect with other disciplines in two directions. It connects with the biological sciences through evolutionary biology, behavior genetics, and neuroscience. It connects with the humanities and the social sciences (e.g. economics, political science, sociology) by tracing how collective cultural behavior emerges through the interactions of individuals according to human nature. UNM is one of only about 30 universities in North America to offer a comprehensive evolutionary psychology course to undergraduates. Whatever your major, your interests in psychology, and your eventual career goals, I think evolutionary psychology will prove interesting, useful, and thought-provoking.

2. Textbooks required for this course:

(1) Evolutionary Psychology (2nd Edition, 2004) by Steven Gaulin & Donald McBurney, Pearson/Prentice Hall, ISBN 0-13-111529-4. About $82.80 new from the UNM bookstore, or $50-70 used from,, etc.

(2) The Mating Mind (2001) by Geoffrey Miller, Anchor Books, ISBN 0-385-49517-X. About $16 new from the UNM bookstore, or $11 or less from
3. Instructor: Geoffrey Miller

Assistant Professor

Psychology, Logan Hall 160, UNM, Albuquerque, NM 87131-1161, USA

(505) 277-1967 (office voice/fax)

Office hours: 11:00 to noon, Wednesdays, Psych. Dept., Logan Hall 160 (ground floor)

If you can’t make office hours and you have a question, please call or email.

Instructor background:

I was born in 1965 in Cincinnati Ohio, went to Columbia University in New York for a B.A. in biological psychology (1987), and to Stanford University in California for a Ph.D. in experimental psychology (1993). After that, I did research in England at the University of Sussex, University College London, and the London School of Economics, with one year spent in Munich at a Max Planck Institute, and one semester as a visiting professor at UCLA in California. My British wife Rosalind is a science television documentary producer, and a Ph.D. student at the Institute of Psychiatry in London. We have a 10 year old daughter, Atalanta.

I’m very happy to be at UNM, since it’s the world’s leading center for evolutionary research on human nature. My research includes work on the evolutionary behavior genetics of human mental traits, and ovulatory cycle effects on women’s preferences for male mental traits. I’ve published about 50 research papers and given about 100 scientific talks around the world. If you want, you can read some of my papers on my website:

Several PhD students are working in my lab group: Laura Dane, Gil Greengross, Paul Hooper, Yann Klimentidis, Chris Jenkins, Ilanit Tal, and Josh Tybur. We sometimes take Psych 499 research students; let me know if you’re interested.

This is my sixth year as an assistant professor at UNM, and I’ve taught this course three times before, in Fall 2003, Fall 2004, and Spring 2006. This course gets ICES scores around 5.7 (on a 1 to 6 scale where 5 means ‘very good’ and 6 means ‘excellent’). I hope to do at least that well this time.
4. Classmates

Your classmates deserve your civility, respect, and cooperation. Many UNM students have worked very hard to get to this university, work very hard to get the grades and pay the tuition to stay here, and have many conflicting responsibilities, such as part-time work, children, spouses, elderly parents, volunteer work, sports, etc. A substantial proportion of UNM students are the first members of their families to attend higher education, and/or learned English as a second language, and/or come from New Mexico towns that have fewer than 1,000 inhabitants.

Non-resident tuition in Fall 2004 at UNM is about $6,250 for 12 credit-hours, and this covers only a fraction of your education’s true cost. Thus, each 30-lecture 3-credit course like this costs $1,560, and each lecture costs about $50 per student.

Please appreciate how much each of your classmates is paying to be here, and the sacrifices they have made to attend UNM. To help them learn as much as they can from this course, there are some class rules, which I enforce strictly.
5. Class rules:

Do not arrive late. The regular in-class quizzes start at 2:00 pm, not 2:05 pm. It is best to have a seat by 1:55. Learn how long you’ll need to find parking.

Do not leave early. Do not start to pack up your notes and books before 3:15 pm, unless we’re clearly finished with class early, or if you have a genuine emergency.

Do not talk to other students in class while I’m lecturing. If someone else around you talks too much, please let me know!

Do not eat or chew gum in class. Safely sealed drinks (e.g. coffee cups with lids or water bottles) are OK to bring.

Do not wear hats, caps, or sunglasses in class. I need to see your eyes to know if you’re paying attention.

Turn off mobile phones in class. Do not use it to text message either. If you must remain available for a child or other dependent, please let me know in advance, and get a phone with a silent vibrating call alert.

Do not come to class if you are too tired, ill, injured, depressed, hung over, etc. to pay attention properly. Get your rest and stay healthy.

Eat a decent lunch before class. Students get sleepy in the mid-afternoon. Come to class well-fed with a decent lunch that will not make you suffer a hypoglycemic blood sugar crash half-way through class. Your brain needs a good, steady supply of protein and complex carbohydrates.

If you are a parent: If you need to bring a baby or young child to class occasionally, that’s ok, but please see me as soon as possible.

If you are on a UNM sports team, please let the TA know in advance when you will need to miss classes and quizzes due to travel and sports events.

If you have a disability, I will make every effort to accommodate your needs. Please see me or the TA in office hours or send an email explaining your situation. If you have a disability, the UNM Accessibility Office is good at organizing assistive technology, reading and note-taking services, and so forth; see
6. The course’s distinctive intellectual challenges

This course presents some striking new evolutionary theories and data about emotionally-charged aspects of human behavior. Sometimes, the behaviors, data, or theories may upset you in some way. This can mean a couple of things. Perhaps the course material is pushing your intellectual boundaries, leading you to question received wisdom, making you confront your biases and assumptions, clarifying conflicts between different ideological positions, or broadening your imagination. All of these are good things that I want to promote – they are the very purpose of a liberal arts education at a university. Or, perhaps I have presented the course material in an insensitive and upsetting way that needs to be acknowledged and changed. This is a bad thing that I want to avoid. To know when I am broadening your minds versus needlessly upsetting your emotions, I need your honest feedback, both positive and negative.

If you are genuinely offended or upset by my presentation of any of the course content, please talk to me in my office hours, call, or email me, and we’ll try to resolve things positively.

This course includes detailed lectures and readings about emotionally charged topics such as sex, infidelity, rape, jealousy, violence, warfare, family conflict, mental illness, parasites, disease, genetic mutations, death, and birth. The suggested videos to watch are mostly rated R, because most good adult dramas that portray evolutionarily relevant behaviors usually include some sex, violence, and strong language. Please try to remember that the more emotionally intense a human behavior is, the more important it is to understand scientifically – especially if we want to improve our society. If you are not comfortable watching videos and lectures that present graphic images of human violence, sexuality, and conflict, this is not the right course for you.

Also, this course may be personally challenging if you have a strong literal belief in the creation stories of the Old Testament, the Koran, the Hindu Rig-Veda and Upanishads, the Native American cultures, or other traditions. Evolutionary psychology is based on evolutionary biology, the fossil evidence for human evolution, our behavioral similarities to other primates, and other theories and facts that can be hard to reconcile with Creationism or the new ‘Intelligent Design’ movement. If you have Creationist beliefs, you’ll have to make your own decision about whether this course is right for you. You are very welcome to attend, but you’ll need to master the course material as it’s presented.

Alternatively, this course may be challenging if you have strong post-modernist, relativist, secular beliefs about the role of parents, culture, ideology, or gender roles in shaping human behavior. If you’ve taken typical introductory courses in women’s studies, cultural anthropology, literary theory, sociology, or even developmental psychology, you may face some interesting challenges in trying to reconcile those viewpoints with this course’s content. On the other hand, you may be pleasantly surprised by some of evolutionary psychology’s liberal, egalitarian, and feminist implications.

I am happy to discuss in a mutually respectful way any of your concerns about these topics, and I will seek workable solutions that try to reconcile your right to religious and political freedom of belief, my right to academic freedom in teaching, and the university’s need to maintain intellectual standards in teaching and grading.

7. Grades

Your grade for this course will depend on two types of assessment:

  • Quizzes. There will be about 30 in total, one in each class. They will determine 70% of your overall grade, and are described in section 8 below

  • Video analysis reports. There will be 3 in total, due Feb. 22, March 29, and May 1. They will determine 30% of your overall grade, and are described in section 9 below.

So you can know how well you are doing, every quiz grade and video analysis report grade will be posted on the WebCT site for this class as soon as the grade is entered in our records. For this to work, you must sign up for a UNM Net ID by Thursday Jan. 18, if you do not already have one. This will make you ‘visible’ on the course Web CT site so your grades can be entered there. If you do not have a UNM Net ID, please log on from any computer with internet access (e.g. at any UNM computer pod) and look at this website: Follow the instructions there.
8. Quizzes

Research shows that exams cause great anxiety, and do not help students to stay on top of the readings and the lecture material. They encourage rote memorization and last-minute cramming. This course has no exams. No midterm; no final. Instead, it has a lot of little quizzes that will add up to determine most of your grade.

At the beginning of every class, there will be a short, 8-minute quiz that includes 8 multiple-choice questions. They begin with the second class on Thursday, Jan. 18. By the end of the semester, you will have taken about 30 quizzes, and performance on these will determine 70% of your final grade.

Thus, each quiz is worth only about 2% of your course grade. Do not panic if you miss a few. The quizzes will be added together at the end of the semester and there will be a grading curve such that even if you miss a few quizzes, you will be able to get a very good grade in the course.

Details about the quizzes:

Each quiz will cover the previous class lecture and the textbook reading assigned for that day of class. If you regularly read and understand the textbook assignments, and pay attention in class, you will do well on the quizzes. If you miss a class, you lose in two ways: you get a zero for that day’s quiz, and you’ll also have trouble with the quiz in the following class, since about half of its questions will cover the lecture material that you missed. This makes class attendance very important.

Quizzes will be graded on a 0 to 10 scale. You will get a minimum of 2 points just for showing up and taking the quiz, even if you get all of the answers wrong. Then you will get one additional point for each right answer on the 8 questions. There is no penalty for guessing. If you show up late for class, you will not be able to take that day’s quiz. This should encourage prompt, regular attendance.

The quiz questions will range from very easy to very hard. Most of the questions should be very easy if you have kept up with assigned readings and attended lectures. There may be a couple of questions that require a bit of thought, and which I do not expect most students to get right. If you consistently get 7 or 8 out of 10 on the quizzes, you are doing very well, and would probably get at least a B in the course.

The multiple-choice quizzes will be computer-graded by CIRT. For each quiz, you will receive two pieces of paper: one question sheet with the day’s quiz questions, and one answer sheet for marking your name, your ID number, and your answers. You can write on the question sheet if that helps you to figure out the right answers, but the question sheets will not be collected; you should keep them.

On the answer sheet for each day’s quiz, you MUST fill in the circles to identify your NAME and your STUDENT ID NUMBER. If you do not fill both of these in, you will not get any credit for the quiz because we will not know whose answer sheet we are grading. You must mark your answers (as A, B, C, D, or E) in the first 8 answer rows on the form. If you mark your answers in the wrong rows, the marking computer will not be able to read them properly, and this will harm your quiz grade. Please bring a number 2 pencil to every class in order to mark your quiz answers on the answer sheet.

Quizzes will be open-book. You can refer to the textbook or to your notes if you want. However, since you will have only one minute to answer each question, you will probably not be able to find the right answers if you have not read the textbook assignments ahead of class, and if you did not attend the previous class. The open-book policy is to minimize rote memorization and maximize your ability to apply ideas from the course to real-life and hypothetical situations. Most real jobs are also “open-book” – but you’ll need to know where to look, to quickly find the information you need, whether you go into medicine, law, business, research, or whatever.

You may not talk with other students during the quiz, and you may not copy their answers. You may not call or text-message anyone either. Violations will be subject to the normal university procedures and penalties.

Immediately after each quiz, I will reveal the correct answers, which you can mark on your question sheet. CIRT should be able to grade your quizzes fairly quickly, so you should also be able to look up your grade on the WebCT system within a few days of each quiz

No particular quiz matters very much. You can miss a few and still get an A. But if you miss most of them or do badly on them, your grade will be poor. Final grades will be determined by a fairly generous grading curve, and in the past, most students have received a higher final grade than they expected based on the percentage correct that achieved on their quizzes.

Why quizzes?

Quizzes will encourage regular, prompt attendance, so you actually get the benefits out of being at a real university with real students and a real live professor – rather than just reading the textbook at home, or watching psychology videos.

You’ll know how well you’re doing in the class all the way through the semester. There won’t be the usual uncertainty and anxiety. Instead, you’ll be getting immediate, accurate feedback about whether you’re understanding the textbook and the lectures, so you can modify your study style if you are not happy with your grades.

Multiple choice does not mean mindless. Some of the questions will require critical thinking, imagination, and a good understanding of how to apply the course content to new situations.

Mid-term and final exams give unfair advantages to students who cope better with high-stress situations. Quizzes are fairer, and more accurately reflect knowledge rather than just stress-coping ability.

Taking lots of little quizzes rather than two big exams provides a more accurate, reliable assessment of how well you really know the material. With two big exams, if you happen to break up with a boyfriend/girlfriend the night before the midterm, and get a cold before the final exam, you might do poorly for excusable reasons. With lots of quizzes, you might feel rotten for a few of them, but all the other students will too on some of them, so it all evens out more fairly.

9. Video analysis reports

I want you to be able to apply ideas from the course to understand how our evolved psychological adaptations function in real life. But how can I assess this? We don’t share the same experiences, so I can’t see whether you really understand your life in a deeper way from learning evolutionary psychology. Well, in modern society, one way we can share the same experience is by watching the same video. This gives us some common reference points – common characters, behaviors, and relationships – that you can write about in the light of what you have learned about evolutionary psychology. You’ve probably watched a total of about 15,000 hours of television before coming to UNM, so I expect your ‘video literacy’ should be well developed, and your ability to interpret and to critically analyze what you watch should be well-honed.

Video analysis reports are short, concise, thoughtful reactions to videos that I will suggest as relevant to particular parts of the course. You will buy or rent these somewhere and watch them wherever you have access to a VCR or DVD machine and a television (probably at home, whenever it’s convenient for you.)

Each report will be a maximum of ONE PAGE, with no more than 600 words on that page. They must be printed out from a computer on standard white 8½ by 11 inch paper. You must print them out single-spaced in 11 point font in font type “Arial” (which I prefer) or “Times New Roman”, with one-inch margins at top, bottom, and sides. If you don’t print your reports single-spaced, you won’t be able to fit your 600 words on one page, and I will only read one page. Do not use smaller font, weird font, or any print color other than black. Do not use colored or scented stationary.

At the top of the paper you must put the following information exactly as it is shown below:

Evolutionary psychology theme(s) X(,Y, Z, etc) in:

The title of the video you are analyzing:

By your name, your student number, your email address, your phone number
For example,

Women’s long-term mate choice in:

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

By Eric Cartman, 341-44-9999,, 976-6969

You will turn in three (3) video analysis reports for this course:

  1. the first on Thurs. Feb. 22, related to lectures 1-10 and their readings

  2. the second on Thurs. March 29, related to lectures 11-19 and their readings

  3. the third on Tues. May 1, related to lectures 20-28 and their readings

Each report will be graded on a scale of 0 to 10. You’ll get at least two points if you turn in a report in the required format, on time, that demonstrates you watched the video attentively. You’ll get more points if you interpret the video’s characters, behaviors, and relationships in the light of new things you learned in this class. I give 10 full points very rarely, if you turn in a very interesting, creative, thoughtful, and knowledgeable report. You’re doing very well if you consistently get 7 or 8 points on the video reports.

Warning: The suggested videos are mostly rated R, and contain a fair amount of violence, sex, nudity, drug use, and/or bad language. I’ve tried to describe which of these themes appear in which videos, so you can make informed choices. If you are not comfortable watching videos that present graphic violence, sexuality, nudity, drug use, bad language, and dramatic conflict, this is not the right course for you.

What is a video analysis report?

It is NOT a summary of the plot, or a review of the movie, or a record of your emotional reactions to the movie.

It is a way for you to show me how you can apply ideas and insights from class to understand human nature in new and deeper ways. Movies include lots of characters, behaviors, and relationships. Do not write about all of them. Choose just one or two as your focus. Talk about how an evolutionary psychologist would interpret the character’s thoughts, feelings, actions, strategies, interests, and relationships Use the ideas, terms, and theories from the textbook and lectures, to show how they can help you understand real human life (or at least, life as depicted in videos).

For each report, you will be able to pick from a list of six recent, high-quality, well-acted films that are widely available in video rental stores. For each report, I will try to include a range of films that appeal to the range of students in this course, including both sexes, different personality types, and different interests.

All of the videos should be widely available on VHS and DVD, e.g. from local video rental stores Blockbusters and Hollywood Video (at the south-west and south-east corners respectively of Central & Girard). They are also available through online rental services such as Netflix, or to buy new or used from Hasting’s or other stores.

I recommend that you watch each video twice. A second viewing often helps in understanding the nuances of character motivation and behavior. It also decreases your chances of making serious errors of interpretation. The best tactic would be to watch the video once, and make some notes immediately afterwards about possible themes and events to write about. Then, a few days later, watch the video again, and make more detailed notes for writing your first draft.

In these reports I expect you to show a university-level mastery of English writing, including not just good grammar, spelling, and composition, but the ability to grab me with your first sentence, to fascinate me by the end of your first paragraph, to get to your main point quickly and clearly, and to support it with well-reasoned arguments and insights.

Do NOT turn in a first draft – something you dashed off the night before it was due. I want a polished report that has been developed and improved over at least a week. I expect you to have done a good outline, a first draft, a revision of your first draft (perhaps with the help of a class-mate or friend), a thorough proof-reading for grammar, spelling, and clarity, and a letter-perfect final version. This is reasonable to ask for a one-page report.

In the real-life jobs you get after graduation, you will probably have to do lots of things similar to writing reports like this – presenting concise, to-the-point analyses of situations in the light of your expert knowledge. This may be a much more useful skill to learn than the sorts of literary criticism essays you may be used to writing in English Composition courses.

When referring to characters in your report, please use the proper character name (e.g. “Tyler Durden”), not the actor’s name (e.g. “Brad Pitt”) or some descriptive shorthand (e.g. “Crazy Soap-Making Revolutionary”). To look up the proper character names, freeze-frame at the end credits and write down the names, or go to’s or IMDB’s web page for the film and look under “Cast list”, or go to the film’s own web site. I recommend using to search the net efficiently.
So you can make an informed choice about which film to watch for each VAR, I’ve included a lot of detail about each film below: title, date, genre, stars, director, total length in minutes, and average IMDB quality rating, from 1 (worst) to 10 (best). I’ve also included the MPAA ratings (e.g. PG or R), and, in parentheses, the estimates of overall sex, violence, and swearing in each film, each on a scale from 0 (most mild) to 10 (most severe and explicit). For example, a film with a kids-in-mind rating of 2.2.0 (e.g. Groundhog Day) has mild kissing (2/10), very mild violence (2/10), and no swearing (0/10). A film with a kids-in-mind rating of 7.10.10 (e.g. Fight Club) depicts fairly graphic intercourse (7/10), extremely brutal violence (10/10), and pervasive graphic swearing (10/10).
For Video Report 1 (due Thurs. Feb 22): The key topics are: evolution, genetics, human nature, human evolution, survival challenges, sexual selection, attractive bodies and minds. Write on one of the following six film choices:

American Beauty (1999). Modern American family drama. Starring Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley. Directed by Sam Mendes. 122 minutes, IMDB 8.5. Rated R (8.6.7).

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). Science fiction romance. Starring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst. Directed by Michel Gondry. 108 minutes, IMDB 8.5. Rated R (6.5.7).

Gattaca (1997). Science fiction drama/romance. Starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law. Directed by Andrew Niccol. 101 minutes, IMDB 7.6. Rated PG-13 (2.4.5).

King Kong (2005). Romantic adventure. Starring Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody. Directed by Peter Jackson. 187 minutes, IMDB 7.9. Rated PG-13 (3.7.3).

Kinsey (2004). Biographical drama of biologist/sex researcher Alfred Kinsey. Starring Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Chris O’Donnell, Peter Sarsgaard. Directed by Bill Condon. 118 minutes, IMDB 7.4. Rated R (10.4.7).

The Island (2005). Science fiction drama/romance. Starring Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Sean Bean, Djimon Hounsou. Directed by Michael Bay. 136 minutes, IMDB 6.9. Rated PG-13 (5.7.5).
For Video Report 2 (due Thurs. March 29): The key topics are: perception, cognition, memory, decision-making, heuristics, consciousness, emotions, motivations, aggression, morality. The film choices are:

Fight Club (1999). Strange, provocative drama. Starring Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter. Directed by David Fincher. 139 minutes, IMDB 8.6. Rated R (7.10.10).

Groundhog Day (1993). Existential romantic comedy. Starring Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliot. Directed by Harold Ramis. 101 minutes, IMDB 8.0. Rated PG (2.2.0).

Memento (2000). Existential mystery about amnesia. Starring Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano. Directed by Christopher Nolan. 113 minutes, IMDB 8.6. Rated R (kids-in-mind ratings not available; fairly violent).

The Matrix (1999). Science fiction drama. Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving. Directed by the Wachowski Brothers. 136 minutes, IMDB 8.6. Rated R (2.7.5).

The Usual Suspects (1995). Crime drama with a twist. Stars Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey, Benicio del Toro. Directed by Bryan Singer. 106 minutes, IMDB 8.7. Rated R (2.7.9).

United 93 (2006). Terrorism drama about 9/11. Starring Christian Clemenson, Trish Gates, David Alan Basche. Directed by Paul Greengrass. 111 minutes, IMDB 7.9. Rated R (2.7.6).
For Video Report 3 (due Tuesday May 1): The key topics are: health, nutrition, exercise, drugs, stress, beauty, pets, mental illnesses, kinship, families, children, social interaction, ingroup bias, race, language, and art. The film choices are:

A Beautiful Mind (2001). Starring Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly. Directed by Ron Howard. 135 minutes, IMDB 7.8. Rated PG-13 (4.5.4).

As Good as it Gets (1997). Starring Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear, Cuba Gooding Jr. Directed by James L. Brooks. 139 minutes, IMDB 7.7. Rated PG-13 (3.6.6).

American History X (1998). Modern family drama about racism in California. Starring Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D’Angelo. Directed by Tony Kaye. 119 minutes, IMDB 8.5. Rated R (7.10.10).

Frida (2002). Biographical drama of painter Frida Kahlo. Starring Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush. Directed by Julie Taymor. 123 minutes, IMDB 7.4. Rated R (7.7.6).

Hotel Rwanda (2004). Dramatized real-life story of Hutu/Tutsi conflict. Starring Don Cheadle, Nick Nolte, Hakeem Kae-Kazim. Directed by Terry George. 121 minutes, IMDB 8.5. Rated PG-13 (4.7.5).

Magnolia (1999). Los Angeles family drama. Starring Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Robards. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. 188 minutes, IMDB 8.0. Rated R (7.6.10).

On the following page is an example of a pretty good video analysis report that should give you some idea what I am looking for.

Male strategies for displaying fitness, status, and sensitivity in:

Pretty Woman (starring Julia Roberts as Vivian and Richard Gere as Edward)

By Geoffrey Miller, (student ID number),, 277-1967

In Pretty Woman, business tycoon Edward Lewis shows that in sexual courtship, people must use a wide range of both conventional and innovative self-presentation strategies to display their fitness indicators to best advantage. Edward’s main challenge is to combine his conventional, well-polished displays of competence and status with new tactics for appearing romantically likable. To demonstrate his status, it was sufficient for Edward to maintain the standard businessman image: dressing in Armani suits, being driven around in a white limo, and sponsoring charity polo games. He embodies all the status-projection strategies mentioned in class: displaying status artifacts (the Lotus Elise, the penthouse suite at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, the constant cell-phone calls, the business entourage), conspicuous consumption (buying Vivian elegant clothes, loaning her the $250,000 necklace, flying her to San Francisco on a private jet for an evening), basking in the reflected glory of being friends with a U.S. Senator, and demonstrating supreme confidence in his body language and facial expressions. Likewise, to demonstrate his physical courage and dominance, it was enough to face down Hollywood drug dealer Carlos and his thugs.

However, to become more likable, to demonstrate his kindness and sensitivity to Vivian as a potential good provider and good parent , Edward had to become much more innovative in his self-presentation, treading the fine line between overly obvious sensitivity-displays (which would have been hard to accept) and overly subtle signals (which might have gone unnoticed). For example, to overcome Vivian’s suspicion that he was a heartless profit-seeker, Edward had to stage a performance of his musical sensitivity – a late-night session of soulful piano-playing in the hotel lounge – hoping that Vivian would wander down and appreciate his virtuosity. Likewise, he has to convert an ostensibly status-oriented event – enjoying opening night at the opera from a private box – into a credible demonstration of his own musical romanticism, and of his sensitive mentorship of Vivian’s emerging taste for the good life.

Edward also had to combine his usual competence-displays with a new set of vulnerability-displays, including projecting modesty by admitting his incompetence with the Lotus Elise’s manual transmission, revealing troubled family dynamics by admitting his hatred of his recently deceased father, and emphasizing that both he and Vivian make their livings by “fucking people for money”. This psychological loosening-up is symbolized by Edward shedding his formal suits in favor of relaxed leisure wear for horse-riding and barefoot picnics.

Ultimately, to win Vivian’s heart, Edward must reject three major aspects of his previous life and learn to play new social roles with courage and panache. First, he must reject his persona as a business vulture who buys and breaks up companies with no compassion for their founders or workers, by keeping intact the company founded by aging ship-building magnate James Morse. Second, he must reject the associated habits and social relationships of that business-robot persona, overcoming Vivian’s fears about his workaholism by taking an unprecedented day off work, and her fears about the company he keeps by punching and firing his long-time lawyer friend Philip Stuckey after Stuckey tries to rape Vivian. Third, he must reject his self-image as a man “hopeless at relationships” – after a failed marriage and a recent break-up with his New York girlfriend – through making a grand romantic gesture for Vivian: climbing her fire escape despite his fear of heights, to deliver a bouquet of roses symbolic of his willingness to marry her. Pretty Woman offers hope that, like Edward, we can break free of our loneliness by breaking free of our habitual status-signalling strategies.

Suggestions for writing the video analysis reports

In the five previous undergraduate lecture courses in which I have assigned video analysis reports, the most common content problems were:

  • Too much plot summary. Just mention characters, scenes, or plot developments briefly – specifically enough that we know which one you mean, but not in so much detail that you spend many sentences summarizing what happened.

  • Not enough reference to specific psychology ideas from text and lectures – many students started out with a good title and thesis statement, but then lost their focus halfway through the report, drifting off into plot summary or character evaluation.

  • Inappropriate or ‘throwaway’ use of psychology terms without making it clear how they’re relevant to the film or whether you really know what they mean. Don’t define the terms, but do use them properly in context. Then support your claims with specific details from the film.

  • Not enough supporting details from the film to justify your claim that a particular psychology idea is relevant to some character, scene, or plot theme.

  • Not enough specific behaviors by specific characters being mentioned to justify your generalizations. Note: in my one-page example analysis of Pretty Woman (see above), I included at least 25 specific examples of self-display tactics by the “Edward Lewis” character; many students included only 2 or 3 specific details from their films.

  • Too much focus on the main character’s situation or motivations, without connecting that character analysis to your psychology points and themes – e.g. whole paragraphs discussing Verbal’s story-telling skill in The Usual Suspects, or Alfred Kinsey’s confused bisexuality in Kinsey. Only discuss these if you illuminate them with specific evolutionary psychology concepts and specific behaviors.

The most common writing problems were:

  • Title and thesis statement were too vague to keep your essay well-focused throughout

  • Poor organization of ideas, without a clear, logical progression from one paragraph to the next.

  • Misspelling character names, mis-identifying characters, or failing to mention specific characters when they would be useful examples of some psychology point you’re making.

  • Need to vary sentence length and structure more. Use a variety of sentence types to keep things interesting. You should have some 3 to 5 word sentences for emphasis, and maybe some that are much longer when you are conveying a complex idea.

  • Too many run-on sentences that could be chopped up into shorter, stronger pieces.

  • Failure to proof-read carefully, to check spelling, grammar, sentence structure.

10. How to ace this course

It should be easy to get a terrific grade in this class, if you attend class, read the readings, do the video reports on time, and think about what you are learning. If you read the textbook assignments and listen closely to the lectures, you will probably do very well on the quizzes. If you watch the videos attentively and polish your rough drafts into good final versions, you will probably do very well on the video analysis reports. I love giving A’s to students who learn a lot and who think about their lives and relationships in new ways by learning evolutionary psychology.

On the other hand, if you treat this course as a soft option, you will do badly. If you skip lectures, fail to do your assigned readings, and do last-minute video reports, you will get a disappointing grade. I am not at all afraid to give a C, D, or F to someone who deserves one. Nor can I be talked out of giving the appropriate grade by a last-minute appearance in my office hours.

You will get a lot of ongoing feedback in this course: about 30 quiz grades, and 3 video report grades. These will all be available on WebCT. If you find that you are coming to class and doing the work, but are not doing as well on these as you would wish, please see me or the TA to discuss how you can do better. We will be glad to help.
Here are some key things to do, in order to excel in this course:

  • Get a three-ring binder and keep everything related to the course in it, including this syllabus, any course handouts, all of your graded quizzes and video analysis reports, and your own notes on the readings, lectures, and in-class exercises.

  • Read the readings on time, when you’re awake, lucid, and attentive. Read them before the class when they’ll be discussed. Take notes on them. Digest them. Be ready to ask some reasonable questions about the readings in class.

  • After watching the video you choose, give yourself at least a week to do each video analysis report. Don’t leave them to the last minute. Watching the video twice, with a couple of days in between viewings, can be very useful in picking up nuances of character and behavior. 5-day video rentals make this easy.

  • Come to my office hours and to the T.A.’s office hours. Ask me questions. Get my feedback. Show me you care!

Note: University can be stressful. It is very common for students (and faculty!) to experience anxiety, depression, and other psychological problems. There is no shame in this; the silly thing is not to get help if you need it. If you have any problems that are interfering with your studies or your life, please do not hesitate to seek help from any of the following resources:

  • AGORA – the UNM Crisis Center (open 24 hours): 277-3013

  • Student Health Center (including Counseling and Therapy Services): 277-3136

  • Psychiatric Emergency Services (open 24 hours): 272-2920 or 247-1121

  • UNM Psychiatric Consultants: 272-4763

  • UNM Family Practice Center, Psychiatry Department: 272-2223

11. Course Schedule: List of assignments, readings, and topics for each class

No assignments before the first class

1: Jan 16 Tuesday Introduction to the course

For the second day of class (Jan. 18):

Read this syllabus carefully

Buy textbooks from UNM bookstore or elsewhere

Get your UNM Net ID by Jan. 18 (if you don’t already have one)

Read Gaulin Chapter 1, pp. 1-24 (24 pp)

Prepare for the first quiz at the beginning of this class,

covering this syllabus, and Gaulin Chapter 1

2: Jan 18 Thursday Basics of Evolutionary Psychology


For the third day of class (Jan. 23):

Read Gaulin Chapter 2a, pp. 25-40

(until start of ‘Ancestral Environments’ section (16 pp)

Prepare for the second quiz, based on the last (Jan. 19) lecture,

and the Gaulin Chapter 2 reading

3: Jan 23 Tuesday Natural Selection and Adaptations


Read Gaulin Chapter 2b, pp. 40-56 (17 pp)

Prepare for the third quiz, based on the last lecture,

the Gaulin chapter 2 reading (etc. for rest of semester…)

4: Jan 25 Thursday The EEA, Psychological Adaptations, Sexual Selection

Read Miller Chapter 1, 1-32 (32 pp)

5: Jan 30 Tuesday Brain Evolution


Read Gaulin Chapter 3, pp. 57-80 (23 pp)

6: Feb 1 Thursday Genes


Read Miller Chapter 4, pp. 99-137 (38 pp)

7: Feb 6 Tuesday Fitness Indicators


Read Miller Chapter 6a, 177-194 (18 pp)

8: Feb 8 Thursday: Ancestral Environments I


Read Miller Chapter 6b, 194-223 (30 pp)

9: Feb 13 Tuesday Ancestral Environments II

Day before Valentine’s Day!


Read Gaulin Chapter 12, pp. 257-289 (33 pp.)

10: Feb 15 Thursday Human Mating

Read Miller Chapter 7, pp. 224-257 (33 pp)

11: Feb 20 Tuesday Mate Choice for Body Traits

Read Gaulin Chapter 4, pp. 81-100 (20 pp)

First video analysis report due (on American Beauty, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Gattaca, King Kong, Kinsey, or The Island).

12: Feb 22 Thursday Perception


Read Gaulin Chapter 5, pp. 101-120 (20 pp)

13: Feb 27 Tuesday Consciousness

Read Gaulin Chapter 6, pp. 121-142 (22 pp)

14: March 1 Thurs. Motivation and Emotion

Read Miller Chapter 9a, 292-318 (27 pp)

15: March 6 Tues. Moral Virtues I

Read Miller Chapter 9b, 319-340 (23 pp)

16: March 8 Thurs. Moral Virtues II

(no classes March 13 or 15: spring recess)


Read Gaulin Chapter 7, pp. 143-170 (28 pp)

17: March 20 Tues. Cognition

Read Gaulin Chapter 8, pp. 171-196 (25 pp)

18: March 22 Thurs. Learning

Read Gaulin Chapter 9, pp. 197-219 (23 pp)

19: March 27 Tues. Intelligence and Personality

Read Gaulin Chapter 10, pp. 220-238 (19 pp)

Second video analysis report due (on Fight Club, Groundhog Day, Memento, The Matrix, The Usual Suspects, or United 93.)

20: March 29 Thurs. Health


Read Gaulin Chapter 11a, pp. 239-251 (13 pp)

21: April 3 Tues. Mental Illnesses I

Read Gaulin Chapter 11b, pp. 251-256 (5 pp)

22: April 5 Thurs. Mental Illnesses II

Read Gaulin Chapter 13a, pp. 290-310 (21 pp)

23: April 10 Tues. Families

Read Gaulin Chapter 13b, pp. 311-322 (12 pp)

24: April 12 Thurs. Development

Read Gaulin Chapter 14, pp. 323-352 (30 pp)

25: April 17 Tues. Social Behavior

Read Miller Chapter 10a, pp. 341-366 (25 pp)

26: April 19 Thurs. Language I

Read Miller Chapter 10b, 366-391 (25 pp)

27: April 24 Tues. Language II

Read Miller Chapter 8, pp. 258-291 (34 pp)

28: April 26 Thursday Art

Read Gaulin Chapter 15, pp. 353-373 (21 pp)

Third video analysis report due (on A Beautiful Mind, As Good as it Gets, American History X, Frida, Hotel Rwanda, or Magnolia).

29: May 1 Tuesday Culture

Read Miller Chapter 11, pp. 392-425 (34 pp)

30: May 3 Thursday Last class: Creativity and Ideology

Complete ICES course evaluation forms


(Final exams May 7-11: No final exam in this course)

The database is protected by copyright © 2016
send message

    Main page