Error management theory

Error management theory

Error Management is a theory that looks at history of cognitive biases throughout evolution. It was put forth by David Buss and Martie Haselton. Such biases and heuristics over the vast time line of evolutionary history could have only existed if they held at least slight reproductive benefits. The drive to reduce or manage costly reproductive errors is the root of the theory. However, since evolution is purposeless--it has no "intentions"--EM adaptations are not aimed at accuracy but are "designed to err in the direction of lower survival or reproductive cost"cite web
url =
title = Error Management Theory: Overview and Significance
publisher = UCLA
author = Haselton, Martie
accessdate = 2007-11-13
] .

The theory itself is still in its early stages of development, although similar ideas have been touched on since the beginning of evolutionary psychology. The authors are currently "testing and refining" the theory.

Error Management Theory

In the decision making process, when faced with uncertainty, the subject can make two possible errors: Type I or Type II. A Type I error, is a false-positive or in layman's terms, playing it safe. A fire alarm that later turns out to be a false alarm is a type I error. A Type II error is a false-negative, or the siding with skepticism. Ignoring the fire alarm because it is often wrong, but it later turning out to be accurate is a type II error. [Buss, David. (2000) Error Management Theory: A New Perspective on Biases in Cross-Sex Mind Reading] Accessed November 13 2007]

Satoshi Kanazawa applied EMT in an attempt to explain why men tend to infer sexual interest from relatively benign interactions such as smiling, arm touching or conversation. [ [,23599,19992785-36398,00.html Beautiful people have girls] ,, 2 August 2006] [Cite journal
last = Kanazawa
first = Satoshi
title = Beautiful parents have more daughters: A further implication of the generalized Trivers-Willard hypothesis (gTWH)
url =
format = PDF reprint
journal = Journal of Theoretical Biology
volume = 244
issue = 1
date = January 7, 2007
pages = 133–140
doi = 10.1016/j.jtbi.2006.07.017

exual Differences

Error Management theory asserts that such errors had an important role in human evolution, with certain errors benefiting certain sexes. In males, a type I error of assuming sexual interest on the part of a female is less costly than assuming the female is not interested when in fact she is. The former costs embarrassment, rejection and in rare cases the anger of her current mate. The latter (type II) cost is the loss of an interested reproductive partner. In women, a type I error is assuming that a man is dedicated to resource commitment when he is not is more costly than assuming he is not when he is. The former is costly in that woman has been abandoned and tricked by the male into giving reproductive access. The latter, she has given up nothing and missed out on one of many commitment-oriented men.

Accordingly, men may be predisposed due to evolutionary incentives to over-perceive female sexual interest whereas females are oriented to under-perceive male commitment signals.

Other Examples

Similar examples can also be seen in the judgment of whether a noise in the wilderness was a predator when it was more likely the wind-humans who assumed it was a predator were less likely to be attacked by prey overtime than those who were skeptical. This is similar to the animistic fallacy.

ee also

*Savanna principle


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