Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life: A Psychologist Investigates How Evolution, Cognition, and Complexity are Revolutionizing our View of

Overview

“Kenrick writes like a dream.”—Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Biology and Neurology, Stanford University; author of A Primate’s Memoir and Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers
 
What do sex and murder have to do with the meaning of life? Everything.

In Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life, social psychologist Douglas Kenrick exposes the selfish animalistic underside of human nature, and shows how it is intimately ...

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Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life: A Psychologist Investigates How Evolution, Cognition, and Complexity Are Revolutionizing Our View of Human Nature

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Overview

“Kenrick writes like a dream.”—Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Biology and Neurology, Stanford University; author of A Primate’s Memoir and Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers
 
What do sex and murder have to do with the meaning of life? Everything.

In Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life, social psychologist Douglas Kenrick exposes the selfish animalistic underside of human nature, and shows how it is intimately connected to our greatest and most selfless achievements. Masterfully integrating cognitive science, evolutionary psychology, and complexity theory, this intriguing book paints a comprehensive picture of the principles that govern our lives. As Kenrick divulges, beneath our civilized veneer, human beings are a lot like howling hyenas and barking baboons, with heads full of homicidal tendencies and sexual fantasies. But, in his view, many ingrained, apparently irrational behaviors—such as inclinations to one-night stands, racial prejudices, and conspicuous consumption—ultimately manifest what he calls “Deep Rationality.”

Although our heads are full of simple selfish biases that evolved to help our ancestors survive, modern human beings are anything but simple and selfish cavemen. Kenrick argues that simple and selfish mental mechanisms we inherited from our ancestors ultimately give rise to the multifaceted social lives that we humans lead today, and to the most positive features of humanity, including generosity, artistic creativity, love, and familial bonds. And out of those simple mechanisms emerge all the complexities of society, including international conflicts and global economic markets. By exploring the nuance of social psychology and the surprising results of his own research, Kenrick offers a detailed picture of what makes us caring, creative, and complex—that is, fully human.

 Illuminated with stories from Kenrick’s own colorful experiences -- from his criminally inclined shantytown Irish relatives, his own multiple high school expulsions, broken marriages, and homicidal fantasies, to his eventual success as an evolutionary psychologist and loving father of two boys separated by 26 years -- this book is an exploration of our mental biases and failures, and our mind’s great successes. Idiosyncratic, controversial, and fascinating, Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life uncovers the pitfalls and promise of our biological inheritance.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Kirkus
“Kenrick’s gift for speaking directly to the reader and making the abstract concrete through humor and homely examples make [Sex, Murder, and The Meaning of Life] an accessible and engaging exploration of how human behavior is connected to the behavior of our primitive ancestors.” 

Richard Wrangham, Ruth B. Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard University; author of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human
“Kenrick’s irreverent potpourri of personal anecdote, background science and catchy experiments makes evolutionary social psychology both entertaining and profound. Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life is a disturbing and fascinating read. It will make you wonder who you are.”


Steven Pinker, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University; Author of How the Mind Works, The Language Instinct, and The Stuff of Thought
“Douglas Kenrick is one of the most important scientists studying the evolutionary shaping of human drives and emotions. By highlighting the author’s own research, this lively book introduces readers to new evidence on how the mind works, presented in a cohesive framework.”
 
Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University; Author of Stumbling on Happiness
“Several decades ago, Doug Kenrick married evolutionary biology to social psychology and he has been a leader in this important field ever since. Unlike many scientists, he sees the big picture and writes with humor, wisdom, and verve. I’m eager to read his book!”
 
Dan Ariely, James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics, Duke University; Author of Predictably Irrational
Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life helps us understand our complex, odd and quirky nature. It is a fascinating journey that brought us here and Douglas Kenrick is a master in helping us understand our real nature.”
 
Sonja Lyubomirsky, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside; Author of The How of Happiness
“Douglas Kenrick is a brilliant thinker, gripping speaker, and a writer whose style is so engaging, probing, and full of irreverence and wit that is unmatched by anyone I know in academia. On top of his profound mastery of the study of evolution and behavior, he has a fascinating and quirky life story that adds color and richness to his academic expertise. He is also that rare individual with whom you’d be equally likely to want to have a drink and/or seek out to obtain keen insights into human motivation and behavior (and ideally both at the same time).”
 
Noah Goldstein, UCLA Anderson School of Management; Author of New York Times best-selling Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive
“One of the Founding Fathers of modern evolutionary psychology, Doug Kenrick is also regarded as one of the most brilliant, creative, and accessible scholars in all of the social sciences. But a conventional scholar he is not: One part academic, one part comedian, and one part street fighter from Queens, Kenrick has ruffled a few feathers in his time. His crisp and witty writing, and his willingness to put scientific correctness before political correctness, will make readers think, laugh, and blush all at the same time.”
 
Bert Hölldobler, Foundation Professor of Life Sciences, Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity, Arizona State University; Author of Superorganism
“Douglas Kenrick is a pioneer in Evolutionary Psychology. His scientific contributions to this relatively young field are impressive. In his psychology textbooks he demonstrates his remarkable gift as a teacher and his creativity as a science writer. All these credentials are reflected in the new book Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life. This volume promises to become one of the most exciting and authoritative books on the topic of evolution and human behavior, accessible to a broad readership.”
 

Booklist
“Undeniably provocative.”
 

CHOICE “[Kenrick] writes well and is wonderfully self-deprecating….Kenrick’s reach—or, more accurately, bite—is big, but the book is focused and well paced….Recommended.”

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465032341
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 1/8/2013
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 786,856
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Douglas T. Kenrick is Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University. He serves as a member of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society executive council, and has published over 150 scientific articles, books (including the best-selling Social Psychology, now in its fifth edition), and book chapters (in the Handbook of Social Psychology and the Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology), the majority applying evolutionary ideas to human behavior and thought processes. Much of his work has been funded by NIMH and NSF and has been reported in highly prestigious journals, including Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Psychological Review, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and Evolution and Human Behavior, in addition to being covered in national media, including Newsweek, the New York Times, and Psychology Today. Kenrick lives in Tempe, Arizona.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: You, Me, Charles Darwin, and Dr. Seuss vii

1 Standing in the Gutter: How did an innocent young student accidentally fall in with a band of intellectual revolutionaries? 1

2 Why Playboy Is Bad for Your Mental Mechanisms: When is beauty bad for you? 9

3 Homicidal Fantasies: Why have most of us had at least one fantasy about committing murder? 23

4 Outgroup Hatred in the Blink of an Eye: Why can't we all just get along? 41

5 The Mind as a Coloring Book: Why doesn't cultural variation support the blank-slate view of the mind? 61

6 Subselves: The three faces of thee. 75

7 Reconstructing Maslow's Pyramid: Where are the missing bricks in the classic pyramid of needs? 97

8 How the Mind Warps: Why do men and women forget different people and regret different things? 115

9 Peacocks, Porsches, and Pablo Picasso: Why do men go out of their way to avoid a Consumer Reports Best Buy? 127

10 Sex and Religion: When is godliness just another mating strategy? 145

11 Deep Rationality and Evolutionary Economics: Why are behavioral economists only half right when they say that our economic choices are irrational? 159

12 Bad Crowds, Chaotic Attractors, and Humans as Ants: Why your parents were right about the company you keep 175

Conclusion: Looking Up at the Stars: How does research on unsavory and taboo topics converge into a grand view of human nature and answer the question: What is the meaning of life? 195

Notes 207

References 219

Index 235

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