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Barber, Nigel 1955–

Barber, Nigel 1955–

(Nigel William Thomas Barber)

PERSONAL:

Born November 7, 1955, in Tullamore, Ireland; immigrated to the United States, 1982; son of George and Rebecca Barber; married Trudy Callaghan, June 25, 1979; children: David. Education: Hunter College of the City University of New York, Ph.D., 1989.

CAREER:

Bemidji State University, Bemidji, MN, instructor, 1989-90; Birmingham-Southern College, Birmingham, AL, former assistant professor, beginning 1990; currently freelance writer and researcher.

MEMBER:

American Psychological Association, Human Behavior and Evolution Society.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Independent publishing award, 2003, for The Science of Romance: Secrets of the Sexual Brain.

WRITINGS:

Parenting: Roles, Styles, and Outcomes, Nova Science Publishers (Commack, NY), 1998.

Why Parents Matter: Parental Investment and Child Outcomes, Bergin & Garvey (Westport, CT), 2000.

Encyclopedia of Ethics in Science and Technology, Facts on File (New York, NY), 2002.

The Science of Romance: Secrets of the Sexual Brain, Prometheus Books (Amherst, NY), 2002.

Kindness in a Cruel World: The Evolution of Altruism, Prometheus Books (Amherst, NY), 2004.

SIDELIGHTS:

Evolutionary psychologist Nigel Barber's first two books focus on parenting, and his third, Encyclopedia of Ethics in Science and Technology, reaches out to young adult and adult readers with discussions that include the law, scientific phenomena and their ethical implications, and controversial medical issues, including the use of RU-486, the "morning after" pill. Barber's subjects include such figures as Karen Silkwood, William Masters and Virginia Johnson, Aristotle, Johan Gutenberg, and Josef Mengele. He provides references and sources for further reading in his work, along with an index and appendix of resources, organizations, and Web sites. A Booklist reviewer felt that "the strength of the encyclopedia is its coverage of specific technologies and events and their controversial aspects. The author has done a good job of treating many of the technologies—such as contraception and genetic engineering—that we see in the daily news."

The Science of Romance: Secrets of the Sexual Brain studies the evolution of sex, including how sex hormones affect the sexual development of the brain, how biological and social factors have impacted evolution, and how human standards for attractiveness are determined. Barber studies sexual customs and habits and such issues as teen pregnancy, aggressive behavior of male teens, dating competition, sexual signals, sexual harassment, sexual dysfunction, jealousy, monogamy, infidelity, divorce, fetishism, and the sex-related differences in the development of the body and the brain. Amy D. Lykins and Marta Meana noted in Archives of Sexual Behavior that the first chapter is "a brief primer on the brain's role in gender identity, gender roles, sexual orientation, and sexual arousal. It is a twenty-six-page whirlwind tour of sex differences in the brain, drawing from the literatures on gender differences in brain structure, functional and cognitive abilities, inter-sex conditions and sex reassignment failures, and homosexuality."

In this chapter, Barber includes an explanation of the "chemistry of love," and the parts played by phenylethylinine (PEA), oxytocin, and pheromones. Lykins and Meana wrote that, in the conclusion, Barber "advocates for a science of romance, not just in the pursuit of truth, but in the name of practicality and conflict resolution. The argument is sufficiently convincing, but it alerts the reader to the fact that this book was nowhere near enough about romance as its title suggests it would be, evolutionarily speaking or otherwise. It is as if Barber became so excited with the explanatory potential of his adopted theory that he started conquering more than the topic at hand. The result is a fascinating but somewhat scattered review of a very comprehensive set of phenomena from falling in love to reckless driving to miniskirts."

Barber introduces the agonized love lives of celebrities Billie Holiday and Marilyn Monroe in making his points. Malcolm Potts wrote in American Scientist that Barber "takes a problem-solving approach. He is especially interesting when exploring how the ratio of eligible men and women in the marriage market helps determine divorce rates, and when explaining patterns of childbearing in African-American communities." Booklist reviewer Bonnie Johnston felt that for those interested in human sexuality, gender studies, or psychology in general, The Science of Romance is "must reading." And School Library Journal contributor Carol DeAngelo called the volume "an accessible scientific explanation for sexually motivated behaviors."

In a review of Kindness in a Cruel World: The Evolution of Altruism Booklist contributor Carol Haggas said that Barber "analyzes the motivations behind our most selfless actions to reveal their genetic, cultural, and sociological origins." Barber studies the roles of parental influence, religion and politics, then altruism's impact on the individual and humankind at large. A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that Barber's definition of altruism differs from that of most evolutionary biologists, who feel that an altruistic action must carry a cost greater than the benefit. But the author, said the reviewer, "sees altruism in virtually every behavior and form of social cooperation." Barber discusses altruism in the context of parents caring for their young and the heroism of those in the military. He also includes discussions of celibacy and pedophilia in the clergy, criminology, adoption, and environmentalism.

Barber once told CA: "I am scientist first and a writer second. My greatest fortune has been to live at a time when we are beginning to understand ourselves as an evolved species. As Wordsworth said of a very different revolution: ‘Bliss was it in the dawn to be alive/But to be young was very heaven!’

"The Science of Romance is the favorite of my own books. The overarching theme is the Darwinian order to be found in human nature. The book begins with the biology of romance in the brain and traces concentric circles outwards through the ecology of reproductive competition, culminating with evolutionary explanation for societal differences in romantic behavior (in terms both of psychological development and evolved responses to ‘marriage-market’ conditions). The book also introduces general readers for the first time to a natural-science interpretation of phenomena such as single parenthood, crime, and fashions. If my work is remembered after my lifetime, it will likely be for these contributions to research."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

American Scientist, November-December, 2002, Malcolm Potts, review of The Science of Romance: Secrets of the Sexual Brain, p. 573.

Archives of Sexual Behavior, October, 2004, Amy D. Lykins and Marta Meana, review of The Science of Romance, p. 515.

Biology Digest, January, 2005, review of Kindness in a Cruel World: The Evolution of Altruism, p. 127.

Booklist, May 1, 2002, Bonnie Johnston, review of The Science of Romance, p. 1486; August, 2002, review of Encyclopedia of Ethics in Science and Technology, p. 2007; October 1, 2004, Carol Haggas, review of The Science of Romance, p. 284.

Human Nature Review, December 12, 2002, Andrew J. Petto, review of The Science of Romance, pp. 551-554; October 12, 2003, Nigel Barber, "Letter to the Editor," response to Petto review, pp. 438-439.

Library Journal, August, 2002, Teresa Berry, review of Encyclopedia of Ethics in Science and Technology, p. 76.

Psychological Record, winter, 2004, Harry Schlinger, review of The Science of Romance, p. 163.

Publishers Weekly, August 16, 2004, review of Kindness in a Cruel World, p. 53.

Quarterly Review of Biology, September, 2005, Daniel J. Kruger, review of Kindness in a Cruel World, p. 379.

School Library Journal, August, 2002, Shauna Yusko, review of Encyclopedia of Ethics in Science and Technology, p. 135; January, 2003, Carol DeAngelo, review of The Science of Romance, p. 174.

Sexuality and Culture, winter, 2004, Melanie Schlesiger, review of The Science of Romance, pp. 138-142.

Skeptic, winter, 2005, Henry Schlinger, review of The Science of Romance, p. 81.

Skeptical Inquirer, May-June, 2005, Peter Lamal, review of Kindness in a Cruel World, p. 55.

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