This essay assignment will test your ability to synthesize the theories and tools you have learned in the course so far and assess your capability to apply them to an evolutionary puzzle.
Your essay should contain the following sections:
What evolutionary puzzle will your essay examine? Why is it important? How will you examine this problem theoretically? How will your essay be organized?
2. Evolutionary Background:
In this section, clearly explain the logic underlying an evolutionary approach to the human life cycle, including a discussion of the multiple levels of explanation that can be applied to problems in biology. In presenting the ultimate level of explanation, you should also give an accurate and succinct explanation of how natural selection works, particularly with respect to behavior. To accomplish this you will need to make careful use of terms explained in lecture and the readings. PLEASE NOTE, however, that you should avoid any direct quotations from other sources (but still cite as appropriate); I want to see an illustration of your own knowledge and ability to explain the processes involved.
3. Your Evolutionary Puzzle:
Your task is to apply Tinbergen’s levels of explanation to a evolutionarily puzzling human behavior. I am not seeking the “correct” answers to this puzzle. There will be many possible explanations at each level, but some will be better than others. What I am looking for is a thoughtful analysis of the behavior in question. Consider some of the following questions while developing your paper: Under what circumstances might the trait have evolved and/or is the strategy employed? What are the benefits and costs involved, and to whom do they apply? What trade-offs or conflicts of interest does the trait present for individuals? Under what environmental conditions might we expect variation in the trait to be observed? If you proposed multiple alternative hypotheses for a given level, which one do you think is the best explanation, and why? Examples from other species (from lectures or readings) should be used to help you develop these arguments! You should use the lecture material, the assigned readings, and outside materials. Figures are welcome additions. Again, I am interested in your understanding of evolutionary logic and your ability to brainstorm and reason about the question. You will be graded on your proper and insightful use of the levels of explanation and evolutionary theory, as well as your ability to write in a clear and organized way.
Return to some of the points raised in your introduction. What has your essay done? Has an evolutionary approach given new insights into the trait? Try to avoid vague generalities (e.g., “From the beginning of time, man has evolved…”)
Essay Logistics Checklist:
___ answer all parts of the assignment in 5-8 pages or less
___ double-spaced, pages numbered, and stapled together (use 1” margins and a 12pt font)
___ include citations whenever appropriate
___ list of full references cited within your paper (does not count towards your page limit)
Give Yourself Time I will have high expectations both for the logic and depth of your analyses, as well as for the grammatical accuracy and clarity in writing style. I strongly recommend proofreading your paper and leaving yourself time to have someone else (e.g., another student, family member, or someone from the writing center) read it over for you. This is not a traditional “research paper” in the sense that I expect you to spend a lot of time at the library looking for outside sources (just a few will do). You should be able to write a thorough and interesting essay based on the course readings, lectures, discussions and most importantly your own creative thinking about the evolutionary biology of the topic. That said, this is also not an essay that you can easily throw together at the last minute. One of the best strategies for success is to give yourself plenty of time—to make sure you understand all aspects of the assignment, to carefully construct your essay, and to thoroughly revise and proofread. And remember, this is a scientific paper written for a science course. Do not use a conversational style of writing (text speak, slang, etc) and avoid contractions.
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