The Evolutionary Approach to Self Deception.

Deceiving ourselves into believing our own lies is probably evolutionarily beneficial. After all, everyone does do this on some level. According to Robert Trivers, an evolutionary biologist, we believe our own lies in order to better deceive others. This way we can excel in various social situations with very little effort. This makes good sense, until you take into account the lack of falsifiability that is present in all evolutionary hypotheses.

Then again, there is evidence to support the idea that self deception has been beneficial to our survival. Sackeim and Gur (1979) devised categories or deception to test the amount of impact that self deception has on people. They found that self deception held more influence over most people than any other form of deception that they measured. That this was true for their participants suggests that it is true for humans in general, and this would suggest that there was some evolutionary advantage to the behaviour (and perhaps this advantage is still present). However, this study only had 250 participants so can’t possibly be generalised to wider society, let alone across the history of our species. Another problem with this experiment is that the categories that they created may not be ecologically valid.

Trivers has also said that self deception has the drawback of making people more susceptible to manipulation by others. The idea that humans are intrinsically flawed is supported by Forgas and Williams (2003), who say that our judgement among other things is terribly imperfect. This doesn’t go against the evolutionary approach, as evolution doesn’t create perfect species, and the fact that most people have the tendency to deceive themselves shows that evolution has at the least kept this trait alive by coincidence. I disagree that there is necessarily an advantage to every trait that human beings have, though, which is what the evolutionary approach seems to put forward.


Is the use of child participants ever ethical?

Informed consent is commonly used by psychological researchers to make sure that their research is ethical. How, though, can a researcher obtain informed consent from someone who could not possibly be completely informed. The use of children in research, for example,can be seen as unethical because most children can’t comprehend the intent of the research, let alone fully understand every aspect of what is asked of them. This problem is usually resolved by obtaining informed consent from the children’s parent or guardian, but does this suffice?

John Money’s cruel experimentation in the case of David Reimer ( is a prime example of a child being used to prove a theory after having been accounted for by parents. I won’t go into detail, so have left the link for you to read, but this person’s life was effectively ruined because his parents gave “informed” consent to John Money. However, this case is an extreme one, and there are examples of research on children that are less harsh on their psyches.

Albert Bandura’s experiment on social learning theory and aggression (1978) was famous for its use of children participants. Although the children showed aggression, there was no traumatic experience involved in it, and the findings were useful in putting forward that aggression is copied by young children when they see it in the media. Then again, I am not putting forward that only studies that are mentally scarring to children are unethical. What I am putting forward is that the use of informed consent from people other than those being subjected to participating (i.e. parents or guardians) is in itself unethical.

I do understand that research using children participants is useful, and I agree with using them in that research. I am simply questioning the moral reasoning behind this ethical loophole. Where does it end? With this reasoning it could be seen as acceptable to obtain informed consent from family of adult participants, because there are certainly adults that might not comprehend the full meaning behind psychological research. We could subject the mentally handicapped, the old aged, or (using the logic of informed consent from someone who better understands the research) any adult who might not have a comprehensive understanding of scientific research. This could mean anyone, even other scientists, because nobody has a truly comprehensive understanding of all scientific research and might therefore not understand the research that they could potentially be signed up for unwittingly.

This opens many possibilities, and many morally wrong studies, but the ethical guidelines that psychologists use don’t read black and white. There are many shades of grey which could be seen as acceptable for at least a short while.

What gender do people love to learn from?

Do people prefer to learn from males or females and why should there be a difference? There could be a preference for the opposite gender, or there could be a preference for either a maternal or paternal teacher/lecturer/etc.. I’m hoping that this blog will make you think about your own learning preferences, and whether gender of the teacher even plays a part in a happy education at all.

It may be the case that most people have an idea of the ideal person that they would like to learn from, and in some cases this may include a gender preference. Peoples’ answers as to whether they prefer males or females as teachers seem to vary, which may be because each student prefers a teacher as similar to them as possible. In a study by Ehrenberg, Goldhaber and Brewer (1), it was found that critical subjective evaluations made by teachers improved when the student was of the same race and gender. However students weren’t necessarily happier with teachers of similar gender in this study, they could only be interpreted to have been because of better evaluations from the teachers. Have a look for yourself, as the researchers themselves admit that the findings are open to different interpretations: It is also important to realise that this study was undertaken in the 1990s on 8th to 10th graders, and that there were apparently either slightly different ratios of men to women in academia, or perhaps there were preconceptions by the researchers.

Another fascinating idea is that humour affects learning. How, though, does gender come into this? In a study by Gorham and Christophel (2), the results indicated that the use of humour in the classroom influenced learning, and even went as far as to say that those affected most (for good or bad) were males of both student and teacher roles. On the other hand, female use of humour was found to be of much the same type, only less influential to learning. This study was also done in the early 1990s, though, and there are other questionable aspects to it.

These studies are outdated to some extent, and use observational scales of measurement that hold little ecological validity (especially the “HUM” measurements of humour in the second listed study). If you take a look at both of these studies you will also notice that there is not even so much as a simple questionnaire given to the students or the teachers to ask them about their preferences plainly. This may have given the studies greater insight into what they were researching. (As well as what I needed to gain from them, why didn’t they consider me)

So, when considering the link between teachers and happiness in learning environments, it seems that the difference is not of a natural gender ability. Instead the difference lies in each student preferring a teacher similar to them in any way. Going by these studies, though, happiness doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to academic achievement, which is something to think about in itself.

Reference List:

  1. “Do Teachers’ Race, Gender and Ethnicity Matter?: Evidence from NELS88″ – Ronald G. Ehrenberg, Daniel D. Goldhaber, Dominic J. Brewer. Issued in May 1995.
  2. “Communication Education. Volume 39, Issue 1. The relationship of teachers’ use of humour in the classroom to immediacy and student learning” – Joan Gorham & Diane M. Christophel. Issued in 1990.