Does the selection task detect cheater-detection?

Evolutionary psychology—in its ambitious version well formulated by Cosmides and Tooby (e.g., Cosmides & Tooby 1987, Tooby & Cosmides 1992) —will succeed to the extent that it causes cognitive psychologists to rethink central aspects of human cognition in an evolutionary perspective, to the extent, that is, that psychology in general becomes evolutionary. The human species is exceptional by its massive investment in cognition, and in forms of cognitive activity—language, metarepresentation, abstract thinking—that are as unique to humans as echolocation is unique to bats. The promise of evolutionary psychology is thus to help explain not just traits of human psychology that are homologous to those of many other species, but also traits of human psychology that are genuinely exceptional and that in turn help explain the exceptional character of human culture and ecology. However, most of the work done in evolutionary psychology so far is on aspects of human psychology that are not specifically human except in their details. Showing, for instance, how human preferences in mate choice are fine -tuned in the way the theory of evolution would predict is of great interest (see e.g., Buss 1994) but it can be done on the basis of a relatively shallow psychology. This makes work on distinctly human adaptations involving higher cognition of particular importance for defenders of a psychologically ambitious evolutionary psychology. What is often presented (e.g., Pinker, 1997) as the signal achievement of cognitive evolutionary psychology in this respect is the experimental testing of Cosmides’ (1989) hypothesis that there exists an evolved competence to deal with social contracts, and, in particular to detect cheaters. We want to argue that, because of faulty methodological choices—the quasi-exclusive reliance on the four-cards selection task—, the hypothesis has in fact not yet been tested. The plan of this chapter is as follows: We begin, with a short presentation of Cosmides’s social contract hypothesis, of Wason selection task, and of Cosmides’s reasons to use the task in order to test the theory..
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