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Birth Control and Mating Choice

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Identify a situation where you may need to research a question related to human behavior where an evolutionary perspective may provide useful insights.  

MY RESEARCH QUESTION: You are working for a pharmaceutical company and some research is starting to come in suggesting that hormonal birth control may influence women’s mate choices.  You are tasked with researching whether or not this occurs for women taking hormonal birth control and identifying potential implications if it does.

The purpose of this paper is to give you the opportunity to explore a topic in human behavioral ecology that we have discussed in class (or possibly have not discussed in class) in more detail.  The paper should be at least 8 pages, double-spaced, and no larger than 12-point font.  You will need to include at least 5 peer-reviewed references (although more is generally better when it comes to references).

First pick a question you wish to explore.  This may be the research question you end up developing a thesis around, or may lead you to narrow down your area of interest to something more focused.  Once you have your research question, you are expected to generate a thesis (main argument of the paper).  The main purpose of the paper is to support this claim using data from the primary literature (while not ignoring evidence that does not support your claim).  You will need to have a title, introduction, main body, conclusion, and references section.  The main body can include whatever sub-headings you deem appropriate.

Introduction – present your specific question, discuss your general theoretical framework, and provide necessary background information.  Use the introduction to explain how you are going to be addressing the question you have posed. Your framework should include evolutionary theory and/or a theory specific to human behavioral ecology.  Be sure to discuss how you predict people should behave based on evolutionary theory or whether you predict the behavior is adaptive or not.

Main body – present an unbiased evaluation of the primary literature.  Do not simply summarize the papers you cite, organize your paper around key points to support your hypothesis.  Feel free to use subheadings to help your reader.  Do not include long quotes from other sources.

Conclusion – briefly review your main argument and link back to the introduction.

References – Use APA (American Psychological Association) reference style.

About once a week from weeks 7-11, I will ask you to submit a summary of the article you read for your paper.  In your summary please provide:

  1. The full citation of the paper
  2. Article type (empirical, review, etc.)
  3. Research Question / Hypothesis of the paper
  4. Results of the paper
  5. Main conclusion (do the results support the hypothesis?)
  6. Any other information that you feel is important
  7. Next steps.  What do you still need to find? Any good references you’d like to read in the future?

Note: You cannot do the evolution of religion.  You cannot do a medical anthropology topic that is not evolutionary in nature.

Having trouble coming up with a topic? Read some of the abstracts from the journals:

Evolution and Human Behavior

Human Nature

Example of Outline:

Topic: Kin Effects on Fertility

Question: Does the presence of kin, for example a women’s mother or mother-in-law, increase or decrease a woman’s number of offspring? 


  1. Introduce topic.
  2. Discuss HBE explanations
    1. Kin selection – kin should help each other out when the benefit reduced by the factor of relatedness is greater than the cost
    1. Kin conflict – not perfect alignment of interests – in some situations we might expect conflict
      1. Theoretical papers on conflict (Kokko & Jennions, 2008; Moya et al., 2016; Cant & Johnstone, 2008)
        1. Parents may prefer offspring to stay as helpers-at-the-nest than start own reproduction (Moya et al., under review)

Part 1: When do kin help

  1. Describe empirical studies of when kin improve reproductive outcomes (Sear & Coall, 2011; Voland & Beise 2002)
  2. Discuss who helps (potentially break this section up into help from parents, help from parents-in-law, help from siblings, help from others)
  3. How do they help (Snopkowski & Sear, 2013; Snopkowski & Sear, 2016)

Part 2: When don’t kin help

  1. Empirical studies of kin actually hurting one’s fertility (Leonetti et al. 2005)
  2. Discuss by type of kin
  3. Discuss potential mechanisms of hurting one’s fertility (Flinn 1986)

Part 3: Summarize results

  1. How often do we find helping vs. hurting (vs. no effect) – possibly make table or chart
  2. Trends?  Perhaps we see that kin are more helpful when resources are plentiful and there is more competition when resources are scarce?

Part 4: Problems with the literature?

  1. Help is measured in many different ways making comparisons difficult across different studies 
  2. Positive effects of mothers are interpreted in a different way than positive effects of mothers-in-laws

Part 5: Conclusion



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