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

Overview


Why do we do what we do? Especially those seemingly inexplicable behaviors—from the disreputable to the downright despicable?

Between what can be learned from evolutionary psychology (thinking that has developed in our species over the millenniums to ensure its propagation) and cognitive science (how our minds literally think) a picture emerges. In Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life, social psychologist Douglas Kenrick fuses these two fields to create a coherent story of ...

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Overview


Why do we do what we do? Especially those seemingly inexplicable behaviors—from the disreputable to the downright despicable?

Between what can be learned from evolutionary psychology (thinking that has developed in our species over the millenniums to ensure its propagation) and cognitive science (how our minds literally think) a picture emerges. In Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life, social psychologist Douglas Kenrick fuses these two fields to create a coherent story of human nature. In his analysis, many ingrained, apparently irrational behaviors—one-night stands, prejudice, conspicuous consumption, even art and religious devotion—are quite explicable and (when desired) avoidable. When combined with insights from complexity theory, Kenrick’s argument reveals how simple mechanisms give rise to complex life.

Through an engaging blend of anecdote, analogy and research findings, Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life takes listeners on a singular tour of the human mind, exploring the pitfalls and promises of our biological inheritance.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Classical Freudian psychology was often mocked for claiming that everything we do is a result of our sexual drives, but evolutionary psychologist and Arizona State professor Kenrick says that his field now believes that isn't far from the truth. Evolutionary psychologists look at how we make decisions based on how they help us survive and pass along our genes, and Kendrick looks at various areas of life in this light. For instance, Kenrick reports on studies showing that reproductive strategies lead people to analyze expressions of anger differently in men and women. Studies also show that not all prejudice has the same motivation: people fear different groups, such as blacks or homosexuals, for different reasons. According to Kenrick, creative acts can also promote reproduction by attracting a mate or conferring status. The author compares the human brain to a coloring book rather than the traditional blank slate to express the interplay of innate qualities and the environment. As with a coloring book, the outlines are with us from birth, but environment influences what colors we choose to complete the images. This briskly written and often witty book will challenge readers on many levels and is sure to provoke debate, if not controversy. (May)
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: 9781611744439
  • Publisher: HighBridge Company
  • Publication date: 4/26/2011
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged; 7.5 hours
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 5.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

DOUGLAS T. KENRICK is a Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University. His work has been covered in Newsweek, the New York Times, and Psychology Today. Kenrick lives in Tempe, Arizona.

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