The Evolutionary Psychology FAQ

Edward H. Hagen, Institute for Theoretical Biology, Berlin

If my 'genes made me do it', am I still responsible?

Yep. Sorry. If you tell the judge that your genes made you do it, she can tell you that her genes are making her throw you in jail. It is likely that humans possess a sophisticated suite of cognitive adaptations for negotiating social contracts. One aspect of social contract psychology no doubt involves evaluating the costs and benefits of violating the social contract, another involves detecting such violators (the famous cheater detection module), and yet another surely involves strategies for punishing such violators. In other words, each of us possesses the cognitive ability to break the law as well as uphold it. Not a very radical idea, actually. In fact, legal systems tend to be organized around just this principle. Laws are designed to prevent people from doing things that they might construe as being in their interest but which would impose costs on everyone else: theft, assault, neglect of important but onerous responsibilities, etc. Banks recognize that it is an enduring feature of human nature to take valuable things that belong to others, especially if they are strangers. But, just because it might be human nature to steal doesn't mean it's OK to do so. That's why banks spend a lot of money on vaults with massive steel doors, timed locks, survey cameras, and armed guards. If you're caught robbing a bank, you will pay a hefty social cost (e.g., jail time).

Copyright 1999-2002 Edward H. Hagen