On our best behavior: optimality models in human behavioral ecology

This paper discusses problems associated with the use of optimality models in human behavioral ecology. Optimality models are used in both human and non-human animal behavioral ecology to test hypotheses about the conditions generating and maintaining behavioral strategies in populations via natural selection. The way optimality models are currently used in behavioral ecology faces significant problems, which are exacerbated by employing the so-called ‘phenotypic gambit’: that is, the bet that the psychological and inheritance mechanisms responsible for behavioral strategies will be straightforward. I argue that each of several different possible ways we might interpret how optimality models are being used for humans face similar and additional problems. I suggest some ways in which human behavioral ecologists might adjust how they employ optimality models; in particular, I urge the abandonment of the phenotypic gambit in the human case.
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsc.2009.03.005
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