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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2006 Sep;91(3):513-8.

Can manipulations of cognitive load be used to test evolutionary hypotheses?

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  • 1Department of Anthropology, University of California-Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.


D. DeSteno, M. Y. Bartlett, J. Braverman, and P. Salovey proposed that if sex-differentiated responses to infidelity are evolved, then they should be automatic, and therefore cognitive load should not attenuate them. DeSteno et al. found smaller sex differences in response to sexual versus emotional infidelity among participants under cognitive load, an effect interpreted as evidence against the evolutionary hypothesis. This logic is faulty. Cognitive load probably affects mechanisms involved in simulating infidelity experiences, thus seriously challenging the usefulness of cognitive load manipulations in testing hypotheses involving simulation. The method also entails the assumption that evolved jealousy mechanisms are necessarily automatic, an assumption not supported by theory or evidence. Regardless of how the jealousy debate is eventually settled, cognitive load manipulations cannot rule out the operation of evolved mechanisms.

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