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A Review of When Men Behave Badly by David Buss: The Background

Part 1 of 3: Transitioning from personality to evolutionary psychology.

Key points

  • David Buss had little support for looking at personality science through the lens of evolutionary psychology.
  • But he persisted with the influence of strong evolutionary thinkers at Harvard such as biologist E. O. Wilson and anthropologist Irven DeVore.
  • Others have also helped him develop an approach to studying human behavior from an evolutionary perspective.

I have followed David Buss's research from the time we were both graduate students in the late 1970s—David studied at UC Berkeley and I, at Johns Hopkins. We were in similar situations, both enrolled in graduate programs in personality psychology, but probably only because there were at that time no graduate programs in evolutionary psychology, which was our true interest. Personality psychology was probably the most hospitable home for aspiring evolutionary psychologists, given that at least some personality theories assumed there was such a thing as evolved human nature. I was fortunate in that my graduate school advisor was actively developing such a theory, which he eventually named socio-analytic theory (Hogan, 1983).

However, most personality psychologists in the 1970s focused more on personality measurement than theory, much less evolutionary theory. Such was the case at Berkeley, so David had little professional support for his evolutionary interests. I recall reading one of his graduate school manuscripts that he had submitted for publication, a paper in which he argued for looking at personality from an evolutionary perspective. Whoever reviewed the manuscript thoroughly trashed it. I was horrified by the reviewers' savage comments, which made me pessimistic about David's budding career as an evolutionary psychologist and about the nascent field of evolutionary psychology in general.

Fortunately, David Buss was—and still is—a remarkably tenacious psychologist. Initially marketing himself as a personality psychologist, he landed his first job at Harvard. [As a personal side note, I had interviewed for the same position right before David interviewed, and was told by the chair of the department that they were planning on offering me the position until David was interviewed. Which is fine with me in retrospect. I doubt that I could have used the Harvard position as effectively as David.] Harvard was an excellent environment for an aspiring evolutionary psychologist, not because the Department of Psychology and Social Relations had evolutionary thinkers but because of strong evolutionary thinkers in other departments (e.g., E. O. Wilson in Biology and Irven DeVore in Anthropology). David persisted, and eventually, the graduate school manuscript that had been so harshly criticized was published in psychology's premier professional journal, the American Psychologist (Buss, 1984).

While at Harvard, David was extremely fortunate to meet two students in the Anthropology Ph.D. program, John Tooby and Leda Cosmides. Tooby and Cosmides, after establishing themselves at UC Santa Barbara, are credited with helping to found evolutionary psychology as a recognized scientific field. David's continued interactions with Tooby and Cosmides, as well as Donald Symons (also established at UC Santa Barbara and recognized as a founder of evolutionary psychology) helped him to develop an approach to studying human behavior from an evolutionary perspective.

[Continue to Part 2 of 3 of this book review]


Buss, D. M. (1984). Evolutionary biology and personality psychology: Toward a conception of human nature and individual differences. American Psychologist, 39(10), 1135–1147.

Buss, D. M. (2021). When men behave badly: The hidden roots of sexual deception, harassment, and assault. NY: Little Brown Spark.

Hogan, R. (1983). A socioanalytic theory of personality. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, 55–89.

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