September 30, 2009

Margo Wilson (1942 - 2009)

I recently learned over the weekend, through the Human Behavior and Evolution Society email listserv, that Professor Margo Wilson died due to complications with lymphoma. This is very sad news.

Margo Wilson was a professor at McMaster University in Canada. And she was a pioneer in the field of evolutionary psychology, along with her longtime collaborator, Martin Daly. She was a past president of HBES and founding editor of the society's flagship journal, Evolution and Human Behavior. And she was also a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Dr. Wilson might be best known for her classic work on homicide, in collaboration with Daly. Their influential book on the topic analyzes historical and anthropological data from around the world through an evolutionary framework. They argued that the most common type of homicide (that between two conflicting young men who know each other) is a by-product of behavior that is selectively advantageous for controlling the reproductive behavior of women.

She has also done some interesting work on the "Cinderella effect." The Cinderella effect describes phenomena wherein step-parents mistreat their step-children at much higher rates than their mistreatment of their own genetic offspring. This effect is robust across cultures and stays strong, even controlling for socioeconomic factors. For instance, they found that children in the UK were 100 times more likely to be beaten by stepfathers than by genetic fathers.

She has done great work in the field, and has helped build a strong foundation on which evolutionary psychology could grow, and her death is a significant loss to the field.