Evolutionary Behavioral Ecology
Department of Biology, Castetter Hall, Room 110
University of New Mexico
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131 USA
Tel. (505) 277-3505 (o)
(505) 681-3391 (c)
Fall Semester 2013
The Evolution of Religiosity and Human Coalitional Psychology
Offered for Three Biology (419/519) or Religious Studies Credits (447).
Click for more information.
Building deep relationship skills is a life long, quintessentially human project. In the journey toward deeper relationships, we face many difficulties, often very cryptic, rooted in both human genetics and cultural conditioning. Few things lead to more suffering for ourselves and our social partners than our weaknesses in compassionate relating.
Whether we know it or not, and in spite of our best conscious intentions, we work on our relationships under the weight of evolved tendencies toward pursuing self-interest. Hence, we unknowlingly build models of others, and of ourselves, designed to manage relationships to serve surprisingly narrow fitness-enhancing goals. Even amongst friends and family, natural selection has programmed our development to lead to habitual use of contingent, situational caricatures of self versus other to manage our relationships, largely unconsciously. Our intentional "self," to the extent we can say one even exists, is tragically passive in all of this. Under the cryptic influence of our instinctual relationship modeling systems, we become locked into cheap, albeit "effective and efficient" (i.e., potentially biologically adaptive) forms of hyper-intersubjectivity with virtually everyone. We easily can come to accept this "board game" as all we reasonably can hope for in our relationships. Humans are in a unique position, however, to experience dissatisfaction with this state of affairs. Moreover, as humans, we are privileged to be in a position, with help and practice, to do something about it, that is, to build mutually reinforcing intellectual and emotional skills that, at least occasionally, allow us to escape the instinctual and habitual prisons that so limit the quality of our relations.
Former UNM evolutionary biology doctoral student, Dr. William LaRue, synthesizes perspectives from evolutionary psychology and neuroscience with traditional meditative and introspective methods to help individuals at all life stages build skills to foster more vivacious, fulfilling, and joyful relationships that more fully reflect real Human potentials. See: CompassionateRelating.org for more on upcoming Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos workshops.
Research Assistant Professor, February 1991 - present, University of New
October 1995 - present, University of Montana
Self-employed, privately and publicaly funded research biologist, 1981 - present.
Biology, 1988. Cornell
of Neurobiology and Behavior,
Major: Behavioral Biology,
Minor 1: Ecological Genetics, T. Eisner.
Minor 2: Bioorganic Chemistry, J. Meinwald.
Minor 3: Neurobiology,
Doctoral Thesis: The Adaptive
Functions of Sequential Polyandry in the
Spider Linyphia litigiosa (Linyphiidae). (Linyphia litigiosa = Neriene litigiosa).
B.A. Zoology & B.A. Botany / High Honors, 1981. University of Montana,
's Thesis: Freezing LowTemperature Tolerance in the
Opuntia fragilis (Cactaceae).
- NATO-NSF Fellow, 1989-1991. Sexual selection and disease
in the spider Linyphia litigiosa.
Sexual selection and disease research; environmentalmicrobiological training. (16 months). University of Oxford, UK.
Department of Zoology, William
D. Hamilton principal sponsor;NERC Institute of Virology and
Environmental Microbiology, D.H.L. Bishop and P. Nuttall
- NSF Postdoctoral Research
Associate, 1988-1989. Research on same
topic as NATO fellowship. Funds provided as supplement to research grant
of R. Thornhill and D. Ligon based on
independent proposal by Watson (12 months). University of New Mexico, Biology Department, R. Thornhill and O. Baca advisors.
My research focuses on the evolution of social and sexual behavior in
taxa ranging from arthropods to humans. My nearly
continuous studies of the sexual selection system of the
sierra dome spider, Neriene (= Linyphia) litigiosa (Linyphiidae), are now in their 33rd year.
NOTICE: I am looking for a student or postdoc "heir" to the sierra dome system. It deserves continued scientific attention. I'll meet you in the field and show you how its done.
I thank the late Dr. Allen Stokes for getting me started on my research with sierra dome spiders. I took his field course in animal behavior at Flathead Lake Biological Station in the summer of 1980. Dr. Stokes' intelligence, indefatigable curiosity, and unwavering encouragement got me started on a project that profoundly influenced my personal and professional life by revealing to me a window, straight into the heart of nature, that is always wide open. Feel that crystal breeze, if you dare.
My ongoing sierra dome spider studies seek
to elucidate: (1) the information content of male and female courtship signals
and cues, (2) the conditionality of choice mechanisms and sexual preferences,
(3) trade-offs amongst sexual preferences, (4) the importance of antagonistic
coevolution with diseases in its effect on the evolutionary dynamics of mate
choice, (5) the use of polyandry as a tactic to mitigate problems of intersexual competition, harassment, and mate
selection, and (6) the multivariate decision rules
males use to modulate their fighting behavior and intersexual courtship
intensity. I continue this work primarily at the University of Montana's Flathead Lake Biological Station.
Shorter term insect studies include environmentally determined mate
choice criteria and the energetics of intersexual conflict in Mormon crickets
and water striders, the energetics of feeding preferences in a seed-eating bug,
sensory and behavioral adaptations for facultative hematophagy in a sap-sucking
plant bug, and the ecological and life history correlates of ritualized versus
injurious competitive displays in microlepidopteran moths.
I am a member of the University of New Mexico's Human Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences faculty. My work with humans is on a heuristic,
theoretical level, although several of my students do empirical research on Homo
sapiens evolutionary psychology. I am interested in developing evolutionarily principled conceptual
models of human intrapsychic organization. I am especially interested in the adaptive
function of conscious experience and the relationship between phenomenal
consciousness and unconscious information processing. As a window into the organization and regulation of subjective experience as as a fascinating phenomenon in and of itself, the evolution of religiosity is a special interest (see link to my current course, above). I also have an ongoing interest in the adaptive significance of various forms of psychological pain which
the unconscious mind imposes on our conscious world. Drs. Edward H. Hagen, Paul W. Andrews, J. Anderson (Andy) Thomson, and I have worked together to publish in-depth modern analyses of the potential evolutionary adaptive
functions of unipolar depression. I run interactive workshops for mental
health professionals, as well as members of the general public who seek a better understanding of evolutionary ideas
concerning religiosity, psychological pain, and mental disorders, often with my Gestalt Therapist colleague John D. Wymore and through the Oasis continuing education program. I also interact with practitioners of various contemplative traditions who have an interest in
understanding more scientifically the source and meaning of their common and
expanded inner experiences. I involve a number of graduates and advanced
undergraduates in my research and also spend a good deal of time advising
students in their own projects.
Humans are built to be intensely curious
about the workings of minds. We instinctively hunger for insights that will allow us to predict and influence the operation of the minds of fellow humans, animals. Less commonly, people are non-superficially curious about their own minds and the hyper-subjective self-models and world-models they create "for us." Behavioral ecology is essentially the
analysis of animal and human mental design from the combined perspectives of
ecology and evolutionary
biology. The analyses conducted by evolutionarily oriented behaviorists
often include work to elucidate the functional design of a specific component
of the subject species' mind (i.e., how it gathers and processes information
relevant to a given fitness-related opportunity or threat, and responds with
behavioral outputs), as well as the fitness consequences and phylogenetic history
of mental design. My interests center on the
evolutionary adaptiveness of contingent responses of animal and human minds to
problems associated with sexual reproduction and social living.
In my work with animals, I focus on
interdisciplinary studies of invertebrates designed to reveal the information
content of sexual signals, and thus the adaptive significance of decision rules
used to choose mates and determine which mates contribute genetically to
offspring. Methodologically, my research is rooted deeply in observation and
experimentation in nature. However, it also includes laboratory components
involving carbon dioxide and oxygen respirometry
to measure individual variation in metabolic capacities and rates of aging, as
well as morphometric analysis to
quantify variation in developmental competence via measures of fluctuating
asymmetry. These aspects of my research help me to understand how sexual
signals convey information about fundamental aspects of individual viability
In my research on the metabolic
capacities demonstrated by male sierra dome spiders during their elaborate strenuous copulatory courtship, I
have found that both metabolic efficiency (microwatts consumed per unit of
courtship performance) and maximum metabolic rate (sustainable aerobic
capacity) are positively selected by females. Two overt male traits
independently predict fertilization success, body mass and copulatory vigor
(measured as intromission rate - the number of separate genitalic connections
made by the male per unit time during copulatory courtship). Metabolic
efficiency is correlated with male body mass (even after compensating for the
expected allometric relationship) and aerobic capacity with copulatory vigor.
Interestingly, due to some fundamental physiological trade-off (maybe to do with
accelerating rates of oxygen free-radicals with increasing metabolic rates)
efficiency and maximum metabolic rate are negatively
correlated in the general male population. By simultaneously
selecting positively for both of these traits, females are effectively shopping
for the least negative trade-off between these two viability-enhancing
physiological traits. In other words, by cross-referencing body mass and
courtship performance, females are sexually selecting for metabolic power: the maximum rate at
which the male can perform useful metabolic
work (as opposed, for example, to "work" wasting calories
in the production of heat or unnecessary movement.
My respirometric studies also suggest that males sierra domes that are more sexually competitive early in
life, have more rapid rates of physiological senescence (as measured by their
resting and active metabolic rates). Rates of aging of prospective sires may be
a major issue for female sierra dome spiders. In my study population, variable
proportions (up to 85 percent!) of gravid females die each year just before
they are able to oviposit. They apparently succumb
just a bit too early to a rickettsial disease, but
their susceptibility may be related to their level of senescence. While a given
female's sons can hope to reproduce early in adult life, and so not have their
reproductive fitness threatened by the sexual competitiveness/senescence rate
trade-off, daughters may be reproductively crippled by genes received from of a
rapidly aging father because females always need to live long to have a chance
to yolk up a sizeable clutch of eggs. Early reproduction is not an option for
females, so they cannot easily escape the competitiveness/senescence rate
trade-off.Thus, to protect their daughters, female sierra dome spiders may need
to resist always mating with only the most sexually impressive males in thepopulation, especially early in the mating season before the ravages of aging
have taken their toll on the superstuds of the
I also have a longstanding interest in human evolutionary psychology.
Here is a an excellent introduction to evolutionary psychology specifically geared to understanding the evolution of violence in humans and other animals, including especially intraspecific violence.
I have long been exploring implications of a Darwinian analysis of human cognitions and emotions for psychotherapeutic
methodologies. My most detailed work in this area, with Dr. P.W. Andrews and several other colleagues,
addresses the possible adaptive functions evolution of
unipolar depression. I presented an integrated "social niche change" or "social navigation" model covering both minor and major depression, as well as associated suicidality, to the Human Behavior
and Evolution Society and, as an invited keynote address, to the Across Species Comparisons and
Psychopathology (ASCAP) group, in July 1998. Another keynote address was
invited by The Association for the
Advancement of Philosophy and Psychiatry and given at their regional New
York City meeting on Evolutionary Theory and Psychopathology, in November 1999.
A paper on this topic has been published in the Journal of Affective
Disorders (October 2002; v. 72, pp. 1-14; get
PDF); more recent related papers by myself and colleagues are available on my evolution of depression web site.
A lifelong special interest concerns how
insights from evolutionary
psychology may critically, practically, and constructively illuminate the
"sacred psychologies" and introspective methods of contemplative traditions such as Zen Buddhism, Sufism and Gnostic Christianity.
To the extent that philosophical positions rely on thought unchecked by evidence, and both confuse and
close doors to further inquiry, they are likely to be wrong. Scientists everywhere readily embrace this attitude. I contend that this
same attitude long has been a cornerstone of genuine spiritual work - a radically
empirical albiet introspective personal activity that
predates yet can compliment western science in one's pursuit for self-knowledge. For
more on this, click here to see the description of my workshops at the Esalen Institute, Big Sur,
Current & Recent Grants
Dr. Jacek Radwan (
) has been awarded a 9 month Fullbright
Fellowship (9 mos, from September 2000)
to collaborate with me in a study of sexual selection in acarid mites. Radwan has
been studying these mites since 1990. In several species of this family,
two male morphs co-occur within the same populations: fighter males have a
thickened and sharply terminated third pair of legs, whereas scramblers
have unmodified legs. Modified legs are used during fights to stab (often
mortally) other males. A male’s morph is determined in different ways
(genetically or environmentally) in different species, and thus this
system provides a unique opportunity to identify ecological factors
favoring male dimorphism against monomorphism
and those favoring environmental morph determination against genetic. The
study will have two main objectives: 1. To
determine if individuals possessing phenotypes associated with lower
fitness (scramblers) carry more deleterious mutations. 2. To determine
whether superior metabolic competence and lower fluctuating asymmetry are
associated with low mutational load and to resolve which of these measures
is a better candidate for a general fitness index.
- Hypoxia and
larval care in the bumble
bee, Bombus occidentalis
(12 mos, from May 1996),
Montana's NSF EPSCoR program. With
Drs. P. Kukuk and D.L. Kilgore.
Energetics and the Heritability of Metabolic Competence (24 mos, from July 1994-96), National
Science Foundation. Behavioral and respirometric
research on the sierra dome spider Linyphia
- REU supplement
to support undergraduate summer research relating rates of aging to sexual
competitiveness in the sierra dome spider (6 mos),
- New York State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Distinguished Teaching Award,1986.
Research Associate, 1986. Four month
Seewiesen, Germany. Established lab for protein electrophoresis, and
performed paternity studies for doctoral research and population genetic
analyses of the social spiders Stegodyphus dumicola
and S. mimosarum.
Profs. W. Wickler and U. Reyer, sponsors.
- National Institute of Mental
Health Integrative Training Grant, 1985. For
work on chemical communication and courtship in the red-spotted
newt (Notophthalmus viridescens)and the spider Linyphia
litigiosa (1 yr tuition,stipend and
- National Institute of Mental
Health Integrative Training Grant, 1984.
Chemical communication and courtship in the red-spotted
newt (1 yr tuition, stipend and supplies).
- NSF Dissertation Improvement
Grant, 1983. Reproductive behavior
of the spider Linyphia litigiosa.
- Society for the Study of
Amphibians and Reptiles Graduate Research Grant, 1983. Sexual selection and chemical communication
and courtship in the red-spotted
- Sigma Xi Grant-in-Aid (Cornell Chapter), 1983. Reproductive behavior of
the spiderLinyphia litigiosa, and chemical
communication in the red-spotted
- Graduate Research
Assistantship, 1983. Performed electrophoretic paternity analyses on Belding's ground
squirrel (Spermophilus beldingi)
and the spider Linyphia litigiosa,
with Paul W. Sherman and Bernard May (one semester tuition, stipend and research allowance).
- Sigma Xi Grant-in-Aid (National), 1982 and 1983. Reproductive behavior of
the spiderLinyphia litigiosa.
- Watson, P.J.
and Vasquez, M. 1981. Comparative ecology of Woodsia scopulina
sporophytes and gametophytes. American Fern Journal 71, 3-9. (Thanks to the amazing Dr. Herb Wagner for helping me perform my first published research.) get PDF
- Watson, P.J.
1986. Transmission of a female sex pheromone thwarted by males in the
spider Linyphia litigiosa
(Linyphiidae). Science 233, 219-221. get PDF or view abstract
; view unpublished photo of web reduction in progress; there is also this.
- Watson, P.J.
1988. The adaptive function of sequential polyandry in the spider Linyphia litigiosa (Linyphiidae). Ph.D.
Thesis. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University.
- Watson, P.J.
1990. Female-enhanced male competition determines the first mate and
principal sire in the spider Linyphia
litigiosa (Linyphiidae). Behavioral Ecology and
Sociobiology 26,77-90. get PDF
- Watson, P.J.
1991. Multiple paternity and first mate sperm precedence in the sierra dome
spider, Linyphia litigiosa.
Animal Behaviour 41, 135-148. get PDF
- Watson, P.J.
1991. Multiple paternity as genetic bet-hedging
in female sierra dome spiders (Linyphia
litigiosa: Linyphiidae). Animal Behaviour
41, 343-360. get PDF
- Watson, P.J.
1993. Foraging advantage of polyandry for female sierra dome spiders (Linyphia litigiosa: Linyphiidae)
and assessment of alternative direct benefit hypotheses. American
Naturalist 141, 440-465. get
PDF or view
- Watson, P.J.
and Thornhill, R. 1994. Fluctuating asymmetry and sexual selection. Trends
in Ecology and Evolution 9, 21-25. get PDF or view abstract
- Watson, P.J.
and Lighton, J.R.B. 1994. Sexual selection and
the energetics of copulatory courtship in the sierra dome spider, Linyphia litigiosa. Animal
Behaviour 48, 615-626. get
PDF or view
- Watson, P.J.
1995. Dancing in the dome. Natural History 104(3), 40-43. link to full article or get quality PDF
- Watson, P.J.
1998. Nonrandom multi-male mating by females increases offspring growth
rates in the spider Neriene
litigiosa (Linyphiidae). Animal Behaviour 55, 387-403. get
PDF or view
- Watson, P.J., Arnqvist,
G. and Stallman, R.R. 1998. Sexual conflict and the energetic costs of
mating and mate choice in water striders. American Naturalist 151,
- Watson, P.J. and
Andrews, P.W. 2002. Toward a revised evolutionary adaptationist analysis
of depression: the social navigation hypothesis. Journal of Affective
Disorders 72, 1-14. get PDF
- Radwan, J., Watson,
P.J., Farslow, J., and Thornhill, R. 2003.
Procrustean analysis of fluctuating asymmetry in the bulb mite, Rhizoglyphus robini
Acaridae). Biological Journal of the Linnean
Society 80, 499-505. get
- deCarvalho, T.N., Watson,
P.J., and Field, S. 2004. Costs increase as ritualized fighting
progresses within and between phases in the sierra dome spider, Neriene
litigiosa. Animal Behaviour 68, 473-482. get
K., and Watson, P.J. 2005. Investigating major depressive disorder
from an evolutionary adaptationist perspective: fitness hindrances and the
social navigation hypothesis. In: Focus on Depression Research. Devito, J.T., editor. Nova Science Publishers, Inc. Hauppauge, NY
. get info.
- Hagen, E.H., Watson, P.J. and Hammerstein, P. 2008. Gestures of Despair and Hope:
A View on Deliberate Self-harm From Economics and Evolutionary Biology. Biological Theory 3, 123-138. get
- Keil P.L., and Watson, P.J.
of self, opponent, and resource assessment during male-male contests in the sierra dome spider, Neriene litigiosa: Linyphiidae.
Animal Behaviour 80, 809-820. get PDF
- For additional results concerning decision-making processes during male-male fights in sierra dome spiders, see the doctoral dissertation of my graduate student Pamela L. Keil.
, M., Watson, P.J., and Bercovitz,
R. Submitted, under revision. Contingent behavioral incitation of
male-male fighting by penultimate female sierra dome spiders. Animal
Carleton College press release.
- Hagen, E., Watson, P.J., and Thomson, J.A. Submitted.
Loves’ Labours Lost: Major depression as an
evolutionary adaptation to obtain help from those with whom one is in
- Keil, P., Watson,
P.J., Field, S., and deCarvalho, T.N. Factors affecting the escalation of
male-male fights in the sierra dome spider, Neriene litigiosa
(Linyphiidae). In Prep.
- deCarvalho, T.N., and
Watson, P.J. Energetic consequences for soapberry bugs of feeding on
preferred versus non-preferred chemically protected seeds. In Prep.
- Watson, P.J.
The energetic costs of copulatory courtship in the sierra dome spider and
female choice for metabolic power. In Prep.
- Watson, P.J.
Female choice: a genetic trade-off between sexually competitive and rapidly
ageing sires in the sierra dome spider. In Prep.
- Watson, P.J., Fagerlund, R., Willingham, M., Polinsky,
K, Kang, J. and Kayser, A. Submitted,
extended MS In Prep. Evidence of injurious
male-male aggression and female chemical incitation in the lek mating system of a new species of fairy moth (Incurvariidae; Lepidoptera). view
ADDITIONAL PROJECTS - front and back burners
- Data Gathering: I am collaborating with Amber Dukes, Katherine Cauthen, and Leonardo Gutierrez on a test of my informational boundaries hypothesis - a novel honest commitment signaling of hypothesis of religiosity. We are doing an experiment designed to pit the IBH against the famous "pathogen (contagion evasion) hypothesis" of religiosity, developed by my colleagues Randy Thornhill and Corey Fincher. Briefly, we predict that the information security hypothesis will do a much better job of explaining individual variation in religiosity per se, while the pathogen hypothesis will do a better job of explaining shifts in generalized xenophobia.
- Ongoing Data Analysis: I continue to work up accumulated data from many years of field and lab studies of the sierra dome spider for publication. Most of the work remaining to be published concerns the energetics of copulatory courtship and what it suggests about the female sierra dome's strategy for selecting males with high metabolic and developmental competence. Another project left to be done would use morphometric techniques examine male sierra dome facial features, documented in hundreds of photos, related to mating and fertilization success in the field.
- Associate Editor, Frontiers in Evolutionary Psychology.
- My current major writing projects are manuscripts on the evolution of
human consciousness and the evolution of religiosity. You'll have to wait a while for most of these, so if you are wondering what I'm thinking, take my course!
- Local physiological
adaptation and the energetic costs of alternative morphs in the soapberry
bug, Jadera haematoloma
(Hemiptera). Respirometric studies of
different populations across North America
in search of divergences in basic physiological
- Feeding preferences and the
energetics of food detoxification. Collaborating with Dr. Tagide
deCarvalho investigating the
energetic costs of dealing with plant defensive secondary compounds in
preferred and non-preferred foods in soapberry bugs
- The role of male-male
competition and female pheromones in the lek
mating system of a fairy moth, Adela sp. (Adelidae).
Examining the role of female pheromones and male-male assaults in a new
species of fairy moth. Collaboration with taxonomist Richard Fagerlund and students from my summer
- Evolutionary Psychology
Workshops. In collaboration with evolutionary Gestalt
psychotherapist John D. Wymore, these conceptual
and experiential workshops are designed for mental health
professionals, personal growth counselors, and interested lay people.
Various 1-2 day workshops explore evolutionary insights into (1) the
structure of the human mind and the possible adaptive functions of
diverse forms of psychological pain and "dysfunction," (2) the
dynamic properties of human attention and the fundamental nature of
awareness and self-awareness, and (3) the functional
significance of unipolar depression in human social life, introducing
a detailed new adaptive model of both minor and major depression with
rich clinical implications. Overall, these workshops are aimed at persons
having a serious interest in the adaptive design of the human psyche, the
potential adaptive value of psychological pain, and the potential
therapeutic or personal growth value of enhanced awareness and more
objective self-understanding. Contact us for information on upcoming
- Fluctuating asymmetry and
sexual success in male mayflies.
- The adaptive function of sexual
mimicry of males by female damselflies. Collaborating with undergraduates from my 1994
& 1996 field courses.
- Multi-week zero-benefit
guarding of aphid colonies by carpenter ants:
slave-making aphids or investing ants?
- The effects of operational
sex ratio and female hunger on mating propensity and duration in three
water strider species (Aquarius remigis, Gerris buenoi, G. incurvatus). Collaborating with undergraduates from my summer
- A Darwinian critique of
psychotherapeutic intervention strategies. I continue research for a book
aimed at evaluation of treatment methods used in a spectrum of
I would love to find a coauthor.
- Development of methods to
quantify levels of fluctuating
asymmetry using morphometric programs based
on thin plate splines relative warp analysis.
- Nutrition, re-mating
propensity and contingent female sexual preferences in mormon crickets. Field and laboratory study conducted by my Animal
Behavior field course from 1994-2000.
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