Evolutionary Psychology

Three people warm their hands over a campfire.Evolutionary psychology is the field of psychology dedicated to uncovering the biological, evolutionary roots of human behavior. Evolutionary psychologists believe there was an evolutionary environment of adaptation in early human history that continues to shape human behavior—which cannot evolve as quickly as culture evolves—today.

History of Evolutionary Psychology

While biologists have attempted to uncover the biological bases of behavior for generations, modern evolutionary psychology did not begin until the 1975 publication of E.O. Wilson’s book Sociobiology. The book aimed to examine evolved behavior of animals, and the field was later expanded to cover human behavior and given its current name of evolutionary psychology.

Topics Studied in Evolutionary Psychology

Evolutionary psychologists study a wide range of human behavior. Because humans, like other animals, have had to evolve to meet environmental demands, evolutionary psychologists argue that all behavior has a genetic root, even if the behavior is shaped and influenced by culture. A few notable topics studied by evolutionary psychologists include:

  • Differences between men and women, including the way evolution has shaped them. For example, evolutionary psychologists argue that the plentiful quantity of sperm as opposed to the limited number of eggs make women more invested in childcare and men more invested in procreation. This affects the sexes’ behavior.
  • Aggression and its biological roots, especially the situations that are most likely to cause it.
  • Group social behavior.
  • Sexual jealousy.
  • The ways in which current social demands can interfere with hard-wired biological ones. For example, an evolutionary psychologist might argue that early humans were accustomed to living in small groups, and may be stressed by the demands of social networking and interactions with hundreds of people.

Criticisms of Evolutionary Psychology

Many scientists, including Stephen Jay Gould and Evelyn Fox Keller, have criticized evolutionary psychology as being pseudo-scientific and have argued that evolutionary psychologists contribute little more than just-so stories. Just-so stories are stories that make intuitive sense but that may not be scientifically testable. Many of the claims of evolutionary psychologists are difficult or even impossible to directly test, so these scientists frequently rely on correlational studies and surveys. Further, many groups have lambasted evolutionary psychology as sexist, racist, regressive, and/or deterministic.

References:

  1. Buller, D. J. (2005). Adapting minds: Evolutionary psychology and the persistent quest for human nature. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  2. Rose, S. P. (2003). Lifelines: Life beyond the gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  3. What is the EEA and why is it important? (general answer). (n.d.). What Is the EEA and Why Is It Important? (general Answer). Retrieved from http://www.anth.ucsb.edu/projects/human/epfaq/eea.html

Last Updated: 01-24-2018

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  • Doug S

    Doug S

    August 3rd, 2016 at 1:34 PM

    I love the resource. Very informative and educational.

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