EDGE: You and your colleagues may not make the same mistakes but there are countless zealots with different political, religious, and class interests who will be more than happy to make them for you.

MILLER: There are serious considerations, serious downsides to studying individual differences. Evolutionary psychology has been successful in teaching people how to think properly about sex differences already, which used to be a really contentious area, now people are starting to cope positively with the idea that there might be important differences between male and female psychologies, especially in terms of social and sexual behavior-and that used to be a totally taboo area, that used to be outlawed, to talk about evolutionary or genetic differences between the sexes. People's sophistication about the sex difference issues is starting to catch up with the sciences.

In the area of individual differences it's going to be a really hard fight to teach the general public the concepts and attitudes that they need to properly understand research in this area—to properly understanding the genetics.

One thing to understand is some of the positive sides, especially for parents, of understanding the importance of genetic inheritance and individual differences—now toy manufacturers and purveyors of educational materials are doing a very good job of convincing parents that they have to give their kids the optimal environment for intellectual growth, and that if they don't spend the money to do that, on—the money spent on toys, on the right child care, on the right private schools, the right universities, then the child's going to be a failure. And that if they don't push their child and motivate them, and be worried for the entire time that they're growing up about what they're going to become, then they're going to be failures. That's completely the wrong attitude, and Robert Plomin has been very good at pointing out that the more you understand about genetics, the more you can just relax and love your kids for who they are, and who they turn out to be, and the interests that they show, and you can abandon this idea that the kids are born as formless blobs and you have to shape all of their desires and their capacities yourself. It removes some of the burden and anxiety from parents.

Also, for educational policy, understanding individual differences is absolutely crucial. In Britain we have things called league tables for ranking high schools. They rank them by the outcome of high school exams called A levels. Always the private schools that cost the most come out at the top of the league tables. Of course they might come out because they're taking in brighter students, and the brighter students do well and it has nothing to do with the quality of the teaching.

To properly measure the quality of education, the quality of teaching, you have to measure what the students are like when they come into a school and then what they're like when they go out. You have to have a value-added measure. The only way to do that is to have some good tests of their capacities and their knowledge when they come in. At the moment nobody's doing that in Britain, and very few people are doing it in America. It's going to be difficult for people to cope with ideas that there are just a few measures that can describe—not just their intelligence but their personalities, and that some of those differences might be relatively stable across their lifetime, and relatively hard to change. But look, in a sense we all know this already, and we especially know it for other traits, like physical attractiveness, and height. Kids are growing up and they sort themselves out into little social hierarchies based on all kinds of things, and we all have to learn to cope with the traits and abilities we have-how physically attractive we are, how tall we are, how athletic we are, as well as what our intellectual capacities are, and what our personalities are. It will be nothing new coping with this new marriage between evolutionary psychology and the new genetic research. It's just a matter of learning to be realistic about ourselves in an area where we've been allowed to get away with wishful thinking for a long time.

EDGE: Let's talk about sex.

MILLER: It's extraordinary what's been happening in biology, and so few people in the social sciences know about it. Over a century ago Darwin's idea of sexual selection through mate choice published in his best book, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex—that was the full title—the book came out and this wonderful idea of female choice-the idea that female animals of many species choose their mates for all kinds of traits, not just physical appearance, but behavioral traits, songs, and dances, and courtship behaviors. A wonderful scientific theory that Darwin advanced hundreds of pages of evidence for, and it fell like a stone and was widely rejected by Victorian biologists, who refused to believe that this psychological process of female choice could be a causal force in evolution.

This theory of mate choice languished in a sort of scientific limbo for over a century, and it's only been revived in biology in the last 15 years, but its rise has been meteoric; it dominates the best evolution journals, the best animal behavior journals, and everybody who works in a biology department knows that the study of mate choice is now the hottest topic in the study of animal behavior. This revolution has passed psychology and social science by almost completely. All of psychology, anthropology, the humanities, political science, economics in the 20th century, developed without any understanding of how sexual selection could have shaped human behavior. It was just not on the table as an idea. Everything that we are, every aspect of human nature, had to be explained through survival selection—natural selection. And that imposed such serious restrictions on what we could explain—it seemed easy to explain tool making; it seemed hard to explain music. It seemed easy to explain parenting, but hard to explain courtship. All that's changed now. We've got from biology some powerful new principals about sexual selection that are just ripe for applying to human nature. That's what I'm trying to do; lots of other people are doing it as well, and it's the most exciting area to be working on in psychology at the moment.


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