Martie G. Haselton and Andrew Galperin (2011)
Error management theory (EMT) proposes that when the costs of different types of errors are asymmetrical in their fitness consequences, natural selection will create biased cognitive mechanisms that maximize the least costly error (Haselton & Buss, 2000; Haselton & Nettle, 2006). Since the time of its initial publication, EMT has produced dozens of new hypotheses and empirical results characterizing human cognition. With a focus on the last decade of research developments, we summarize evidence of error management biases across a variety of social psychological domains, ranging from perceptions of romantic attraction to social prejudices, cooperative behaviors, and the judgment of personality traits. We then cover emerging theoretical developments, such as the role of context in affecting the magnitude of biases predicted by EMT. We conclude by addressing a recent challenge to the theory – the notion that selection should preserve true beliefs, and therefore is expected only to bias behavior, and not underlying beliefs (cognition), in order to manage error costs (McKay & Dennett, 2009; McKay & Efferson, 2010). We discuss several hypotheses about why, in order to manage error costs, selection targets beliefs.