Lunchtime workshop, 1 till 2pm, Room 3.29, Maths Tower, University of Manchester.


Evolutionary psychology (EP) is an emerging research area in the social sciences stressing the evolutionary origins of human psychology and behaviour. Over the 1990s, claims made by evolutionary psychologists have been extensively debated on a popular level in the UK, particularly through the publication of ‘popular science’ books on the subject, and by the appearance of many academics in the media discussing the topic. My research is a case study of these popular debates, focussing on the UK press and other media from 1990 until 2001. I have carried out quantitative (content analysis) and qualitative analyses of the media coverage of the subject, alongside in-depth interviews with academics and media professionals who have been involved with the area.

I will present my findings from this work to show several ways in which this coverage has been strikingly different to the general pattern of media coverage of the sciences. I will then draw upon interview and other material to explore the various reasons behind this different treatment of the subject. There are two major aspects to this, which I will briefly explore here. Firstly, there has been a generalised understanding amongst academics and media professionals that EP issues made for ‘good’ media stories, which are relevant to everyday life, and easily communicated, understood and discussed by non-scientists. Secondly, the evolutionary psychology case is a good example of how scientists utilise the mass media to communicate directly with various audiences and each other. In particular, popular science has in this case provided a ‘creative space’ for scientists outside of the constraints of ordinary academic discourse, in which they can reach across disciplinary boundaries to make claims for legitimacy over the study of human behaviour.