Evolutionary Psychology

Evolutionary Psychology

Evolutionary psychology or EP is a concept in social psychology that analyzes psychological attributes such as language, memory, and perception in the context of a modern evolutionary perspective. Because humans are very social species, there are several adaptive problems affiliated with maneuvering the social world. These may include interacting with people, maintaining friends, and managing hierarchies among others. Many discoveries have been made by researchers in the new discipline of evolutionary social psychology such as social cognition, attitudes, emotions, leadership, group dynamics, cross-cultural differences, and person perception among others. The modern evolutionary perspective, also referred to as neo-Darwinian synthesis, millennium synthesis or evolutionary synthesis is a 20th century collection of concepts from a number of biological specialties which give a broadly acknowledged account of evolution (Von, 2012). The objective of evolutionary psychology includes analyzing human behavior as a result of evolved psychological mechanisms which depends on the internal and external environmental input for development, stimulation, and expression in apparent behavior. EP seeks to analyze which human psychological attributes are evolved adaptations. Evolved adaptations are those that are the direct result of sexual selection or natural selection.         Adaptationist reasoning about psychological mechanisms, for instance lungs, heart, immune system and the circulatory system is widespread in evolutionary biology. A number of evolutionary psychologists have applied the same rationale to psychology, contending that the mind is made of a modular structure analogous to that of the human body, and that unique modular adaptations serve unique purposes. Evolutionary psychologists contend that most of the human behavior is as a result of psychological adaptations through evolution in order to solve habitual challenges in the human past environment. There is a steady increase in popularity of the adaptationist concept in the general discipline of psychology. Evolutionary psychologists submit that EP is not merely a sub-discipline of psychology.  They argue that the evolutionary theory can serve as the foundation and framework to consolidate the whole field of psychology in a manner similar to that in biology. Evolutionary psychologists believe that attitudes and traits that are present across all cultures are excellent opportunities for evolutionary adaptations (Nairne, 2000).  Such traits include the ability to cooperate with others, differentiate family from non-family, and deduce other’s emotions. The theories and research in evolutionary psychology are useful in many fields such as law, environment, politics, psychiatry, literature, health, and economics.

Evolutionary psychology is established upon several fundamental premises. First, that the human brain is a device for processing information, and which yields behavior as a feedback to internal and external inputs. Second, that the adaptive mechanisms of the brain were influenced by natural selection and sexual selection, and that the brain evolved different neural mechanisms designed to solve challenges that recurred over a broad evolutionary time. Lastly, that most processes and contents of the brain are not conscious, and that the seemingly easy to solve mental problems are in fact acutely difficult and are only solved unconsciously by elaborate neural mechanisms (Burgess & MacDonald, 2005).  Evolutionary psychologists argue that humans have been afforded psychological adaptation through natural selection in a similar manner that it brought about physiological and anatomical adaptations. Not all attributes are adaptations. Some traits may be byproducts of adaptation, exaptations (change in the role of a trait during evolution), or incidental deviation between individuals.

Figurative adaptations are thought to be congenital or comparatively easy to attain, and to be discernible in cultures worldwide. For instance, the ability of babies to learn language with little or no training might be seen as a psychological adaptation. On the other hand, human ancestors did not engage in reading or writing, therefore today, the process of knowing to read and write needs elaborate training, and is likely a byproduct of cognitive processing which utilizes psychological adaptations intended for other functions. Nonetheless, differences in apparent behavior can be as a result of universal mechanisms enduring in varying local environments. For instance, when a Caucasian moves from a temperate climate to the equatorial regions, their skin pigmentation becomes darker. While the skin pigment regulation action is no altered, the change input that influences that such action causes a different output. Among the functions of evolutionary psychology include distinguishing the psychological attributes that might be adaptations, random variations, or byproducts (Elias, 2012).

A consequence of the evolutionary scrutiny is that organisms may be superficially broken down into practical sub-units or parts. This process is not random, but rather emulates the practicable aspects selected by evolution. A popular correlation is that organs can in the same manner be analyzed as functional pieces of the entire organism, and the organs further categorized into subcomponents. Evolutionary psychology supposes that this scenario is also the same for the mind. Many scientists assume that the mind is made of several functionally specialized parts, instead of a few general-function parts. The rationale of this thought is in the computational logic. The brain, as a knowledge-processing tool, functions only to the extent that it performs necessary computations on information. Additionally, for any particular computation to be deciphered, the more elaborate the nature of the problems that a mechanism is intended to solve are, the poorer the mechanism will be at solving them. On the other hand, the more restricted the problems are, the better the computational mechanism will be at solving them. Because of this fact, evolution appears to benefit functionally specific computational mechanisms that are more restricted in their functions, and whose design objectifies the aspects of the problems that require solutions. Since the human mind can perform assorted tasks, it is argued that it must consist of several functionally specific mechanisms, with each mechanism embodying the principles pertaining to the sphere for which it is intended to function.

The question that arises regarding adaptation is if it is mostly obligating (comparatively flourishing in light of the usual environmental changes) or facultative (perceptive to typical environmental changes). The sugary taste that on gets from a ripe juicy fruit and the pain resulting from a burn are the results of moderately obligate physiological adaptations; ordinary environmental changes during development do not alter their operation. On the other hand, facultative adaptations somewhat resemble the “if-then” statements. For instance, the inclination to nurture close, trusting connections with others depends upon whether an individual’s childhood experiences occurred in an atmosphere where the people surrounding him/her could be trusted to give dependable care and attention.  The skin’s adaptation to tanning is dependent upon exposure to solar radiation.

When talking about facultative psychological adaptation, evolutionary psychologists interest themselves with the manner in which environmental and developmental inputs affects the characterization of the adaptation (Roberts, 2012).  They insist that behavior or characteristics that manifest universally across all cultures are excellent choices for evolutionary adaptations. Examples of cultural universals are, for instance, behaviors related to gender roles, social roles, language, technology, and cognition. Evolved psychological adaptations, for example the ability to master a language, combine with other cultural inputs to yield specific behaviors. An example of such behavior may be the particular language learned. Key gender differences, including elevated sexual appetite among men and pronounced shyness among women are described as sexually dimorphic adaptations that reflect the various reproductive approaches of the different genders. Evolutionary psychologists distinguish their concept to what they refer to as “standard social science model”, which suggests that the mind is general-purpose device that is influenced almost exclusively by culture.

The key research areas in evolutionary psychology are broadly categorized according to the adaptive problems that emanate from the evolution theory itself. Many experts have suggested that the intention of perception is knowledge, although evolutionary psychologists insist that its principal purpose is to direct action. For instance, the perception of depth appears to have evolved not for the purpose of assisting us to judge distance between objects but rather to assist us navigate in space. Evolutionary psychologists point out that animals, form lesser insects to flies use sight primarily for collision avoidance, implying that vision is fundamentally for guiding action, not stimulating knowledge (Crawford & Krebs, 2008).  Maintaining sensory organs is metabolically very expensive. Because of this, the organs only evolve when they enhance an organism’s fitness. Research indicates that more than fifty percent of the brain is concerned with processing sensory information. It has been suggested that the brain itself consumes about twenty-five percent of an individual’s metabolic resources. This means that the senses must be of exceptional asset to fitness. The world can be precisely mirrored through perception; animals acquire precise and useful information using their senses. Researchers studying sensation and perception have for a long time known the human senses to be adaptations (Nicholas, 2003).

The perception of depth involves the processing of several visual signals, each of which depends on the persistence of its physical nature. Sight evolved in response to the limited range of electromagnetic spectrum which does not penetrate objects. Sound waves can navigate through obstacles which creates an intricate pattern that gives valuable information regarding the source and its proximity to objects. Naturally, larger animals produce low-pitched sounds due to their size. On the other hand, the distance over which an animal is able to hear is purely influenced by adaptation. Several senses, including heat, cold pressure, pain, and tickle constitute the sense of touch. Pain, while depressing, is adaptive (Shackelford & Weekes-Shackelford, 2012).  A very critical sensory adaptation is the range shifting. This is a mechanism by which an organism becomes transiently more or less responsive to sensation. For instance, the human eye inevitably adjusts to excess or less ambient light. Evolutionary psychologists say that perception is a demonstration of the principle of modularity. In this case, functional mechanisms handle specific perception tasks. This can be seen in people who have damage to specific parts of the brain exhibiting defects that are related to the functioning of that part of the brain.

Evolutionary psychology presupposes that learning is accomplished via evolved capacities, facultative adaptations to be exact. Facultative adaptations manifest themselves in various forms, depending on the environmental input. In some cases, the input occurs in the course of development, further augmenting the development. Learning capacities in some cases demonstrate the differences in sexes. For instance, in most animal species, males are able to solve spatial problems quicker and more precisely than females. This is because of the influence of male hormones during the development process. This might also be the case for humans. Emotion guides and activates behavior, while emotions give the perceptual constituent to emotion.

Social emotions obviously evolved to encourage social behavior. For instance, malevolence appears to work an individual, although it can entrench an individula’s repute as one to be dreaded. Humiliation and ego can incite behavior that help an individual to maintain a certain standing in the community, and pride is the yardstick of one’s standing and status. Cognition is an individual’s internal representation of his environment and the internal processing of information. From an evolutionary psychology standpoint, cognition is never “general purpose”. It utilizes investigative approaches that largely increase the possibility of finding solutions to problems that human ancestors regularly faced. EP is essentially focused on finding common traits among people, or the intrinsic psychological nature of humans. Form an evolutionary point of view, the fact that humans have basic discrepancies in personality traits may initially be a cause of confusion. Personality traits are explained by evolutionary psychologists as resulting from facultative adaptation (Wilson, 1975).  Like differences in height of individuals, some traits may be merely a reflection of inter-individual deviation around a natural and habitual optimum.

The study of religion using the evolutionary psychology theory is referred to as evolutionary psychology of religion. As is the case with other organs and functions of such organs, the brain has been said to have some genetic foundation, and therefore is subject to the influences of evolution and natural selection. Just like the other tissues and organs, this functional organ should be universal amongst human beings and should help in solving critical issues of reproduction and survival. Evolutionary psychology seeks to decipher cognitive processes, such as religion in this case, through the scrutiny of reproductive and survival functions that these processes might serve (Kirkpatrick, 2005). There seems to be a general consensus among scientists that the tendency to indulge in religion evolved during the early stages of human existence. Nonetheless, there is a dispute on the precise mechanism that occasioned the evolution of religion. One school of thought has it that religion was a consequence of natural election, and is therefore an adaptation, while another contends that religious beliefs may have surfaced as by-products of related adaptive attributes without first being selected due to their own advantages. Evolutionary psychology broadly assumes that the mind, just like the body, is a collection of several evolved modular adaptations.






Burgess, R. G., & MacDonald, K. B. (2005). Evolutionary perspectives on human development.    Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Elias, S. A. (2012). Origins of human innovation and creativity. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Kirkpatrick, L. A. (2005). Attachment, evolution, and the psychology of religion. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Nairne, J. S. (2000). Psychology: The adaptive mind. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson             Learning.

Nicholas, L. J. (2003). Introduction to psychology. Landsdowne: UCT Press.

Roberts, S. C. (2012). Applied evolutionary psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Crawford, C., & Krebs, D. (2008). Foundations of evolutionary psychology. New York, NY:           Lawrence Erlbaum Associates/Taylor & Francis Group.

Shackelford, T. K., & Weekes-Shackelford, V. A. (2012). The Oxford handbook of evolutionary   perspectives on violence, homicide, and war. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Von, S. M. (2012). From Darwinian Metaphysics towards Understanding the Evolution of             Evolutionary Mechanisms – A Historical and Philosophical Analysis of Gene-Darwinism             and Universal Darwinism. Göttingen: Universitätsverlag Göttingen.

Wilson, E. O. (1975). Sociobiology: The new synthesis. Cambridge, MC: Belknap Press of             Harvard University Press.










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