Evolutionary psychology: Wikis


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Evolutionary psychology (EP) attempts to explain psychological traits—such as memory, perception, or language—as adaptations, that is, as the functional products of natural selection or sexual selection. Adaptationist thinking about physiological mechanisms, such as the heart, lungs, and immune system, is common in evolutionary biology. Evolutionary psychology applies the same thinking to psychology.

Evolutionary psychologists (see, for example, Buss, 2005; Durrant & Ellis, 2003; Pinker, 2002; Tooby & Cosmides, 2005) argue that much of human behavior is generated by psychological adaptations that evolved to solve recurrent problems in human ancestral environments. They hypothesize, for example, that humans have inherited special mental capacities for acquiring language, making it nearly automatic, while inheriting no capacity specifically for reading and writing. Other adaptations, according to EP, might include the abilities to infer others' emotions, to discern kin from non-kin, to identify and prefer healthier mates, to cooperate with others, and so on. Consistent with the theory of natural selection, evolutionary psychology sees organisms as often in conflict with others of their species, including mates and relatives. For example, mother mammals and their young offspring sometimes struggle over weaning, which benefits the mother more than the child. Humans, however, have a marked capacity for cooperation under certain conditions as well.

Evolutionary psychologists see those behaviors and emotions that are nearly universal, such as fear of spiders and snakes, as more likely to reflect evolved adaptations. Evolved psychological adaptations (such as the ability to learn a language) interact with cultural inputs to produce specific behaviors (e.g., the specific language learned). This view is contrary to the idea that human mental faculties are general-purpose learning mechanisms.

Fields closely related to EP are animal behavioral ecology, human behavioral ecology, dual inheritance theory, and sociobiology.



Evolutionary psychology (EP) is an approach to the entire discipline that views human nature as a universal set of evolved psychological adaptations to recurring problems in the ancestral environment. Proponents of EP suggest that it seeks to heal a fundamental division at the very heart of science --- that between the soft human social sciences and the hard natural sciences, and that the fact that human beings are living organisms demands that psychology be understood as a branch of biology. Anthropologist John Tooby and psychologist Leda Cosmides note:

"Evolutionary psychology is the long-forestalled scientific attempt to assemble out of the disjointed, fragmentary, and mutually contradictory human disciplines a single, logically integrated research framework for the psychological, social, and behavioral sciences—a framework that not only incorporates the evolutionary sciences on a full and equal basis, but that systematically works out all of the revisions in existing belief and research practice that such a synthesis requires."[1]

In the distant future I see open fields for far more important researches. Psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation. Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history.
—Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species

Just as human physiology and evolutionary physiology have worked to identify physical adaptations of the body that represent "human physiological nature," the purpose of evolutionary psychology is to identify evolved emotional and cognitive adaptations that represent "human psychological nature." EP is, to quote Steven Pinker, "not a single theory but a large set of hypotheses" and a term which "has also come to refer to a particular way of applying evolutionary theory to the mind, with an emphasis on adaptation, gene-level selection, and modularity." EP proposes that the human brain comprises many functional mechanisms,[2] called psychological adaptations or evolved cognitive mechanisms or cognitive modules designed by the process of natural selection. Examples include language acquisition modules, incest avoidance mechanisms, cheater detection mechanisms, intelligence and sex-specific mating preferences, foraging mechanisms, alliance-tracking mechanisms, agent detection mechanisms, and others. EP has roots in cognitive psychology and evolutionary biology (See also sociobiology). It also draws on behavioral ecology, artificial intelligence, genetics, ethology, anthropology, archaeology, biology, and zoology. EP is closely linked to sociobiology, but there are key differences between them including the emphasis on domain-specific rather than domain-general mechanisms, the relevance of measures of current fitness, the importance of mismatch theory, and psychology rather than behaviour. Most sociobiological research is now conducted in the field of behavioral ecology.

The term evolutionary psychology was probably coined by American biologist Michael Ghiselin in a 1973 article published in the journal Science.[3] Jerome Barkow, Leda Cosmides and John Tooby popularized the term "evolutionary psychology" in their highly influential 1992 book The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and The Generation of Culture.[4] EP has been applied to the study of many fields, including economics, aggression, law, psychiatry, politics, literature, and sex.

EP uses Nikolaas Tinbergen's four categories of questions and explanations of animal behavior. Two categories are at the species level; two, at the individual level, as noted in the table below.

How vs. Why Questions: Sequential vs. Static Perspective
Historical/ Developmental
Explanation of current form in terms of a historical sequence
Current Form
Explanation of the current form of species
How organisms' structures function
Developmental explanations for changes in individuals, from DNA to their current form
Mechanistic explanations for how an organism's structures work
Why organisms evolved the structures (adaptations) they have
The history of the evolution of sequential changes in a species over many generations
A species trait that evolved to solve a reproductive or survival problem in the ancestral environment

The species-level categories (often called "ultimate explanations") are

  • the function (i.e., adaptation) that a behavior serves and
  • the evolutionary process (i.e., phylogeny) that resulted in the adaptation (functionality).

The individual-level categories are

  • the development of the individual (i.e., ontogeny) and
  • the proximate mechanism (e.g., brain anatomy and hormones).

Evolutionary psychology mostly focuses on the adaptation (functional) category.


Evolutionary psychology is a hybrid discipline that draws insights from modern evolutionary theory, biology, cognitive psychology, anthropology, economics, computer science, and paleoarchaeology. The discipline rests on a foundation of core premises. According to evolutionary psychologist David Buss, these include:

  1. Manifest behavior depends on underlying psychological mechanisms, information processing devices housed in the brain, in conjunction with the external and internal inputs that trigger their activation.
  2. Evolution by selection is the only known causal process capable of creating such complex organic mechanisms.
  3. Evolved psychological mechanisms are functionally specialized to solve adaptive problems that recurred for humans over deep evolutionary time.
  4. Selection designed the information processing of many evolved psychological mechanisms to be adaptively influenced by specific classes of information from the environment.
  5. Human psychology consists of a large number of functionally specialized evolved mechanisms, each sensitive to particular forms of contextual input, that get combined, coordinated, and integrated with each other to produce manifest behavior.

Similarly, pioneers of the field Leda Cosmides and John Tooby consider five principles to be the foundation of evolutionary psychology:

  1. The brain is a physical system. It functions as a computer with circuits that have evolved to generate behavior that is appropriate to environmental circumstances
  2. Neural circuits were designed by natural selection to solve problems that human ancestors faced while evolving into Homo sapiens
  3. Consciousness is a small portion of the contents and processes of the mind; conscious experience can mislead individuals to believe their thoughts are simpler than they actually are. Most problems experienced as easy to solve are very difficult to solve and are driven and supported by very complicated neural circuitry
  4. Different neural circuits are specialized for solving different adaptive problems.
  5. Modern skulls house a stone age mind.[5]

Evolutionary psychology is founded on the computational theory of mind, the theory that the mind, our "inner world," is the action of complex neural structures in the brain. For example, when a child shrinks in fear from a spider, the child's brain has attended to the spider, computed that it's a potential threat, and initiated a fear response.

General evolutionary theory

Main article: Evolution

Evolutionary psychology is rooted in evolutionary theory, especially animal ethology as represented by the work of Niko Tinbergen and Konrad Lorenz. It is sometimes seen not simply as a sub-discipline of psychology but as a way in which evolutionary theory can be used as a meta-theoretical framework within which to examine the entire field of psychology.[5] A few biologists challenge the basic premises of evolutionary psychology.[6]

Darwin's illustrations of beak variation in the finches of the Galápagos Islands.

Natural selection

Natural selection, a key component of evolutionary theory, involves three main ingredients:

  • Genetically based inheritance of traits - some traits are passed down from parents to offspring in genes,
  • Variation - heritable traits vary within a population (now we know that mutation is the source of some of this genetic variation),
  • Differential survival and reproduction - these traits will vary in how strongly they promote the survival and reproduction of their bearers.

Selection refers to the process by which environmental conditions "select" organisms with the appropriate traits to survive; these organisms will have such traits more strongly represented in the next generation. This is the basis of adaptive evolution. The insight of Wallace and Darwin was that this "natural selection" was creative - it could lead to new traits and even new species, it was based on differential survival of variable individuals, and it could explain the broad scale patterns of evolution.

Sexual selection

Many traits that are selected for can actually hinder survival of the organism while increasing its reproductive opportunities. Consider the classic example of the peacock's tail. It is metabolically costly, cumbersome, and essentially a "predator magnet." What the peacock's tail does do is attract mates. Thus, the type of selective process that is involved here is what Darwin called "sexual selection." Sexual selection can be divided into two types:

  • Intersexual selection, which refers to the traits that one sex generally prefers in the other sex, (e.g. the peacock's tail).
  • Intrasexual competition, which refers to the competition among members of the same sex for mating access to the opposite sex, (e.g. two stags locking antlers).

Inclusive fitness

Inclusive fitness theory, which was proposed by William D. Hamilton in 1964 as a revision to evolutionary theory, is essentially a combination of natural selection, sexual selection, and kin selection. It refers to the sum of an individual's own reproductive success in addition to the effects the individual's actions have on the reproductive success of their genetic relatives. General evolutionary theory, in its modern form, is essentially inclusive fitness theory.

Inclusive fitness theory resolved the issue of how "altruism" evolved. The dominant, pre-Hamiltonian view was that altruism evolved via group selection: the notion that altruism evolved for the benefit of the group. The problem with this was that if one organism in a group incurred any fitness costs on itself for the benefit of others in the group, (i.e. acted "altruistically"), then that organism would reduce its own ability to survive and/or reproduce, therefore reducing its chances of passing on its altruistic traits. Furthermore, the organism that benefited from that altruistic act and only acted on behalf of its own fitness would increase its own chance of survival and/or reproduction, thus increasing its chances of passing on its "selfish" traits. Inclusive fitness resolved "the problem of altruism" by demonstrating that altruism can evolve via kin selection as expressed in Hamilton's rule:

cost < relatedness × benefit

In other words, altruism can evolve as long as the fitness cost of the altruistic act on the part of the actor is less than the degree of genetic relatedness of the recipient times the fitness benefit to that recipient. This perspective reflects what is referred to as the gene-centered view of evolution and demonstrates that group selection is a very weak selective force. However, in recent years group selection has been making a comeback (albeit a controversial one) as multilevel selection, which posits that evolution can act not just on the "gene" level but on many levels of functional organization, including the "group" level.


System level and problem
Basic ideas
Example adaptations

System Level:



How to survive?

Charles Darwin (1859)
Natural Selection (or "survival selection")

The bodies and minds of organisms are made up of evolved adaptations designed to help the organism survive in a particular ecology (for example, the fur of polar bears).

Bones, skin, vision, pain perception, etc.

System Level:



How to attract a mate and/or compete with members of one's own sex for access to the opposite sex?

Charles Darwin (1859)
Sexual selection

Organisms can evolve physical and mental traits designed specifically to attract mates (e.g., the Peacock's tail) or to compete with members of one's own sex for access to the opposite sex (e.g., antlers).

In most species with pronounced sexual selection, the adaptations are in males. These adaptations tend to evolve in species in which a successful male mates with multiple females. For instance, they appear in peacocks but not raptors, which are generally monogamous. Females rarely evolve such adaptations because being the "top female" doesn't improve a female's reproductive career as much as being "top male" improves a male's reproductive outcome.

Peacock's tail, antlers, courtship behavior, etc

System Level:
Family & Kin

Problem: Gene replication. How to help those with whom we share genes survive and reproduce?

W.D. Hamilton (1964)
Inclusive fitness (or a "gene's eye view" of selection, "kin selection") / The evolution of sexual reproduction

Selection occurs most robustly at the level of the gene, not the individual, group, or species. Reproductive success can thus be indirect, via shared genes in kin. Being altruistic toward kin can thus have genetic payoffs. (Also see Gene-centered view of evolution) Also, Hamilton argued that sexual reproduction evolved primarily as a defense against pathogens (bacteria and viruses) to "shuffle genes" to create greater diversity, especially immunological variability, in offspring. In order for an individual's genes to survive in the gene pool, it is first necessary to recognize one's own kin. Relatives can identify their kin through odor, exposure in childhood/association, and kin terminology (Buss, p. 237). In a study done by Webster (2003), the factors of genetic relatedness, relatedness uncertainty, and wealth and sex, influenced one's decision to help their kin. It was found that those closest in genetic relatedness received the most aid in terms of monetary help. Those with the highest degree of relatedness uncertainty received less help. It is known that grandmothers invest more in their grandchildren because they are 100% certain that the fetus is the mothers. Relatedness uncertainty also plays a role in parental investment. If the child looks more like the father, the father will have a more positive relationship towards their child. Studies have even gone further to suggest that offspring resemblance to the father can affect violence in the family (Buss, p. 237).

Altruism toward kin, parental investment, the behavior of the social insects with sterile workers (e.g., ants).

System Level:
Kin and Family

How are resources best allocated in mating and/or parenting contexts to maximize inclusive fitness?

Robert Trivers (1972)
Parental Investment Theory / Parent - Offspring Conflict / Reproductive Value

The two sexes often have conflicting strategies regarding how much to invest in offspring, and how many offspring to have.

Parents allocate more resources to their offspring with higher reproductive value (e.g., "mom always liked you best"). Parents and offspring may have conflicting interests (e.g., when to wean, allocation of resources among offspring, etc.)Based on the theory of Parent-Offspring conflict, there also exists mother-offspring conflict in utero. The fetus has to do everything it can to avoid a spontaneous abortion even before the mother knows that she is pregnant. This is the beginning of the conflict in utero where the fetus utilizes certain adaptations in order to survive. This includes secretion of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) and elevation of mother's blood pressure. These mechanisms allow the fetus to remain implanted and facilitate the delivery of nutrients to the fetus. In both instances, the fetus is trying to get more resources from the mother than she is willing to give at her own expense. (Buss, pg.225)

Sexually dimorphic adaptations that result in a "battle of the sexes," parental favoritism, timing of reproduction, parent-offspring conflict, sibling rivalry, etc.

System Level:
Non-kin small group


How to succeed in competitive interactions with non-kin? How to select the best strategy given the strategies being used by competitors?

John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern (1944);
John Maynard Smith (1982)

Game Theory / Evolutionary Game Theory

Organisms adapt, or respond, to competitors depending on the strategies used by competitors. Strategies are evaluated by the probable payoffs of alternatives. In a population, this typically results in an "evolutionary stable strategy," or "evolutionary stable equilibrium" -- strategies that, on average, cannot be bettered by alternative strategies.

Facultative, or frequency-dependent, adaptations. Examples: hawks vs. doves, cooperate vs. defect, fast vs. coy courtship, etc.
System Level:
Non-kin small group


How to maintain mutually beneficial relationships with non-kin in repeated interactions?

Robert Trivers (1971)
"Tit for Tat" Reciprocity

One can play nice with non-kin if a mutually beneficially reciprocal relationship is maintained across multiple social interactions, and cheating is punished.

Cheater detection, emotions of revenge and guilt, etc.
System Level:

Non-kin, large groups governed by rules and laws


How to maintain mutually beneficial relationships with strangers with whom one may interact only once?

Herbert Gintis (2000, 2003); and others.
Generalized Reciprocity

(Also called "strong reciprocity"). One can play nice with non-kin strangers even in single interactions if social rules against cheating are maintained by neutral third parties (e.g., other individuals, governments, institutions, etc.), a majority group members cooperate by generally adhering to social rules, and social interactions create a positive sum game (i.e., a bigger overall "pie" results from group cooperation).

Generalized reciprocity may be a set of adaptations that were designed for small in-group cohesion during times of high inter-tribal warfare with out-groups.

Today the capacity to be altruistic to in-group strangers may result from a serendipitous generalization (or "mismatch") between ancestral tribal living in small groups and today's large societies that entail many single interactions with anonymous strangers. (The dark side of generalized reciprocity may be that these adaptations may also underlie aggression toward out-groups.)

To in-group members:

Capacity for generalized altruism, acting like a "good Samaritan," cognitive concepts of justice, ethics and human rights.

To out-group members:

Capacity for xenophobia, racism, warfare, genocide.

System Level:
Large groups / culture.

How to transfer information across distance and time?

Richard Dawkins (1976)
Memetic Selection

Genes are not the only replicators subject to evolutionary change. "Memes" (e.g., ideas, rituals, tunes, cultural fads, etc.) can replicate and spread from brain to brain, and many of the same evolutionary principles that apply to genes apply to memes as well. Genes and memes may at times co-evolve ("gene-culture co-evolution").

Language, music, evoked culture, etc. Some possible by-products, or "exaptations," of language may include writing, reading, mathematics, etc.


Middle-level evolutionary theories

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Middle-level evolutionary theories are theories that encompass broad domains of functioning. They are compatible with general evolutionary theory but not derived from it. Furthermore, they are applicable across species. During the early 1970s, three very important middle-level evolutionary theories were contributed by Robert Trivers[8][9][10]

  • The theory of parent-offspring conflict rests on the fact that even though a parent and his/her offspring are 50% genetically related, they are also 50% genetically different. All things being equal, a parent would want to allocate their resources equally amongst their offspring, while each offspring may want a little more for themselves. Furthermore, an offspring may want a little more resources from the parent than the parent is willing to give. In essence, parent-offspring conflict refers to a conflict of adaptive interests between parent and offspring. However, if all things are not equal, a parent may engage in discriminative investment towards one sex or the other, depending on the parent's condition.

Additional middle-level evolutionary theories used in EP include:

  • The Trivers-Willard hypothesis, which proposes that parents will invest more in the sex that gives them the greatest reproductive payoff (grandchildren) with increasing or marginal investment. Females are the heavier parental investors in our species. Because of that, females have a better chance of reproducing at least once in comparison to males, but males in good condition have a better chance of producing high numbers of offspring than do females in good condition. Thus, according to the Trivers-Willard hypothesis, parents in good condition are predicted to favor investment in sons, and parents in poor condition are predicted to favor investment in daughters.
  • r/K selection theory, which, in ecology, relates to the selection of traits in organisms that allow success in particular environments. r-selected species, (in unstable or unpredictable environments), produce many offspring, each of which is unlikely to survive to adulthood, while K-selected species, (in stable or predictable environments), invest more heavily in fewer offspring, each of which has a better chance of surviving to adulthood.

Evolved psychological mechanisms

At a proximal level, evolutionary psychology is based on the hypothesis that, just like hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys, and immune systems, cognition has functional structure that has a genetic basis, and therefore has evolved by natural selection. Like other organs and tissues, this functional structure should be universally shared amongst a species, and should solve important problems of survival and reproduction. Evolutionary psychologists seek to understand psychological mechanisms by understanding the survival and reproductive functions they might have served over the course of evolutionary history.

While philosophers have generally considered human mind to include broad faculties, such as reason and lust, evolutionary psychologists describe EPMs as narrowly evolved to deal with specific issues, such as catching cheaters or choosing mates.

Some mechanisms, termed domain-specific, deal with recurrent adaptive problems over the course of human evolutionary history. Domain-general mechanisms, on the other hand, deal with evolutionary novelty.

Environment of evolutionary adaptedness

EP argues that to properly understand the functions of the brain, one must understand the properties of the environment in which the brain evolved. That environment is often referred to as the environment of evolutionary adaptedness, or EEA for short.[11]


The term environment of evolutionary adaptedness was coined by John Bowlby as part of attachment theory. It refers to the environment to which a particular evolved mechanism is adapted. More specifically, the EEA is defined as the set of historically recurring selection pressures that formed a given adaptation, as well as those aspects of the environment that were necessary for the proper development and functioning of the adaptation. In the environment in which ducks evolved, for example, attachment of ducklings to their mother had great survival value for the ducklings. Because the first moving being that a duckling was likely to see was its mother, a psychological mechanism that evolved to form an attachment to the first moving being would therefore properly function to form an attachment to the mother. In novel environments, however, the mechanism can malfunction by forming an attachment to a dog or human instead.

Human EEA

Humans, comprising the genus Homo, appeared between 1.5 and 2.5 million years ago, a time that roughly coincides with the start of the Pleistocene 1.8 million years ago. Because the Pleistocene ended a mere 12,000 years ago, most human adaptations either newly evolved during the Pleistocene, or were maintained by stabilizing selection during the Pleistocene. Evolutionary psychology therefore proposes that the majority of human psychological mechanisms are adapted to reproductive problems frequently encountered in Pleistocene environments.[12] In broad terms, these problems include those of growth, development, differentiation, maintenance, mating, parenting, and social relationships.


If humans are mostly adapted to Pleistocene environments, then some psychological mechanisms should occasionally exhibit "mismatches" to the modern environment, similar to the attachment patterns of ducks. One example is the fact that although about 10,000 people are killed with guns in the US annually,[13] whereas spiders and snakes kill only a handful, people nonetheless learn to fear spiders and snakes about as easily as they do a pointed gun, and more easily than an unpointed gun, rabbits or flowers.[14] A potential explanation is that spiders and snakes were a threat to human ancestors throughout the Pleistocene, whereas guns (and rabbits and flowers) were not. There is thus a mismatch between our evolved fear-learning psychology and the modern environment.[15][16]

Research methods

Evolutionary psychologists use several methods and data sources to test their hypotheses, as well as various comparative methods to test for similarities and differences between: humans and other species, males and females, individuals within a species, and between the same individuals in different contexts. They also use more traditional experimental methods involving, for example, dependent and independent variables.

Evolutionary psychologists also use various sources of data for testing, including archeological records, data from hunter-gatherer societies, observational studies, self-reports, public records, and human products.[17]

Areas of research

Areas of research in evolutionary psychology can be divided into broad categories of adaptive problems that arise from the broader theory of evolution itself: survival, mating, parenting, kinship, and group living.


The Hunting Hypothesis might explain the emergence of human coalitions as a psychological mechanism. With men being the providers for the family, their lives depended on hunting wild game. They could not risk going about such an arduous task on their own. If they did it alone they risked not catching anything at all sometimes. Also, the meat would spoil if they caught a large animal and could not finish it on their own. Therefore, they hunted together with other men and shared their food. These human coalitions can be seen today. One form of evolutionary adaptiveness can be found in morning sickness in women during their first trimester. Over thousands of years, women's bodies have adapted to the dangers that the environment may pose to the developing fetus when they eat something. Therefore, during this time many women experience disgust and even vomiting when eating certain foods which may be toxic to the fetus. Vomiting is the body's way of coping with the toxins in the environment and keeping them from reaching the child during this critical period when the vital organs are being formed. The function of this physiological reaction was to protect the fetus.


Given that sexual reproduction is the means by which genes are propagated into future generations, sexual selection plays a large role in the direction of human evolution. Human mating, then, is of interest to evolutionary psychologists who aim to investigate evolved mechanisms to attract and secure mates.[18] Several lines of research have stemmed from this interest, such as studies of mate selection[19][20],[21] mate poaching,[22] and mate retention,[23] to name a few.

Much of the research on human mating is based on parental investment theory,[24] which makes important predictions about the different strategies men and women will use in the mating domain (see above under "Middle-level evolutionary theories"). In essence, it predicts that women will be more selective when choosing mates, whereas men will not, especially under short-term mating conditions. This has led some researchers to predict sex differences in such domains as sexual jealousy [25][26] (however, see also,)[27], wherein females will react more aversively to emotional infidelity and males will react more aversively to sexual infidelity. This particular pattern is predicted because the costs involved in mating for each sex are distinct. Women, on average, should prefer a mate who can offer some kind of resources (e.g., financial, commitment), which means that a woman would also be more at risk for losing those valued traits in a mate who commits an emotional infidelity. Men, on the other hand, are limited by the fact that they can never be certain of the paternity of their children because they do not bear the offspring themselves. This obstacle entails that sexual infidelity would be more aversive than emotional infidelity for a man because investing resources in another man's offspring does not lead to propagation of the man's own genes.

Another interesting line of research is that which examines women's mate preferences across the ovulatory cycle[28].[29] The theoretical underpinning of this research is that ancestral women would have evolved mechanisms to select mates with certain traits depending on their hormonal status. For example, the theory hypothesizes that, during the ovulatory phase of a woman's cycle (approximately days 10-15 of a woman's cycle)[30], a woman who mated with a male with high genetic quality would have been more likely, on average, to produce and rear a healthy offspring than a woman who mated with a male with low genetic quality. These putative preferences are predicted to be especially apparent for short-term mating domains because a potential male mate would only be offering genes to a potential offspring. This hypothesis allows researchers to examine whether women select mates who have characteristics that indicate high genetic quality during the high fertility phase of their ovulatory cycles. Indeed, studies have shown that women's preferences vary across the ovulatory cycle. In particular, Haselton and Miller (2006) showed that highly fertile women prefer creative but poor men as short-term mates. Creativity may be a proxy for good genes.[31] Research by Gangestad et al. (2004) indicates that highly fertile women prefer men who display social presence and intrasexual competition; these traits may act as cues that would help women predict which men may have, or would be able to acquire, resources.

Evolutionary Developmental Psychology

In evolutionary theory, what matters most is that individuals live long enough to reproduce and pass on their genes. So why do humans live so long after reproduction? Many evolutionary psychologists have proposed that living a long life improves the survival of babies because while the parents were out hunting, the grandparents cared for the young.

According to Paul Baltes, the benefits granted by evolutionary selection decrease with age. Natural Selection has not eliminated many harmful conditions and nonadaptive characteristics that appear among older adults, such as Alzheimer disease. If it were a disease that killed 20 year-olds instead of 70 year-olds this may have been a disease that natural selection could have destroyed ages ago. Thus, unaided by evolutionary pressures against nonadaptive conditions, we suffer the aches, pains, and infirmities of aging. And as the benefits of evolutionary selection decrease with age, the need for culture increases.[32]


19th century

After his seminal work in developing theories of natural selection, Charles Darwin devoted much of his final years to the study of animal emotions and psychology. He wrote two books;The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex in 1871 and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals in 1872 that dealt with topics related to evolutionary psychology. He introduced the concepts of sexual selection to explain the presence of animal structures that seemed unrelated to survival, such as the peacock's tail. He also introduced theories concerning group selection and kin selection to explain altruism. Darwin pondered why humans and animals were often generous to their group members. Darwin felt that acts of generosity decreased the fitness of generous individuals. This fact contradicted natural selection which favored the fittest individual. Darwin concluded that while generosity decreased the fitness of individuals, generosity would increase the fitness of a group. In this case, altruism arose due to competition between groups.[33] Darwin anticipated evolutionary psychology with this quote from the Origin of Species:

In the distant future I see open fields for far more important researches. Psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation.
-- Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859, p. 449.

Post world war II

While Darwin's theories on natural selection gained acceptance in the early part of the 20th century, his theories on evolutionary psychology were largely ignored. Only after the second world war, in the 1950s, did interest increase in the systematic study of animal behavior. It was during this period that the modern field of ethology emerged. Konrad Lorenz and Nikolaas Tinbergen were pioneers in developing the theoretical framework for ethology for which they would receive a Nobel prize in 1973.


In 1975, E O Wilson built upon the works of Lorenz and Tinbergen by combining studies of animal behavior, social behavior and evolutionary theory in his book Sociobiology:The New Synthesis. Wilson included a chapter on human behavior. The specific chapter caused considerable controversy as it reignited the nature versus nurture debate.

E O Wilson argues that the field of evolutionary psychology is essentially the same as sociobiology.[34] According to Wilson, the heated controversies surrounding Sociobiology:The New Synthesis, significantly stigmatized the term "sociobiology". Evolutionary psychology emerged as a more acceptable term in the 1980s that was not tainted by earlier controversies, and also emphasized that organisms are "adaptation executors" rather than "fitness maximizers" (which can help to explain maladaptive behaviors due to "fitness lags" given novel environmental changes).[35][36]


Applying evolutionary theory to animal behavior is uncontroversial. However, adaptationist approaches to human psychology are contentious, with critics questioning the scientific nature of evolutionary psychology, and with more minor debates within the field itself.[37][38] Criticisms of the field have also been addressed by scholars.[39]

See also


  1. ^ Tooby & Cosmides 2005, p. 5
  2. ^ evolutionary psychology Psyche Games. Accessed August 22, 2007
  3. ^ Ghiselin MT (1973). "Darwin and Evolutionary Psychology: Darwin initiated a radically new way of studying behavior". Science 179 (4077): 964–968. doi:10.1126/science.179.4077.964. PMID 17842154.  
  4. ^ Tooby, John; Barkow, Jerome H.; Cosmides, Leda (1995). The Adapted mind: evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-510107-3.  
  5. ^ a b Cosmides, L; Tooby J (1997-01-13). "Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer". Center for Evolutionary Psychology. http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/primer.html. Retrieved 2008-02-16.  
  6. ^ See for example:Gould, Stephen Jay (2002). The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674006135.  
  7. ^ Mills, M.E. (2004). Evolution and motivation. Symposium paper presented at the Western Psychological Association Conference, Phoenix, AZ. April, 2004.
  8. ^ Trivers, Robert L. (March 1971). "The evolution of reciprocal altruism". Quarterly Review of Biology 46 (1): 35–57. doi:10.1086/406755. http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0033-5770%28197103%2946%3A1%3C35%3ATEORA%3E2.0.CO%3B2-S.  
  9. ^ Trivers, Robert L. (1972). "Parental investment and sexual selection". in Bernard Campbell. Sexual selection and the descent of man, 1871-1971. Aldine Transaction (Chicago). pp. 136–179. ISBN 0202020053.  
  10. ^ Trivers, Robert L. (1974). "Parent-offspring conflict". American Zoologist (The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology) 14 (1): 249–264. doi:10.1093/icb/14.1.249.  
  11. ^ See also "Environment of evolutionary adaptation," a variation of the term used in Economics, e.g., in Rubin, Paul H., 2003, "Folk economics" Southern Economic Journal, 70:1, July 2003, 157-171.
  12. ^ Symons, Donald (1992). "On the use and misuse of Darwinism in the study of human behavior". The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture. Oxford University Press. pp. 137–159. ISBN 0195101073.  
  13. ^ CDC pdf
  14. ^ Ohman, A.; Mineka, S. (2001). "Fears, phobias, and preparedness: Toward an evolved module of fear and fear learning" (PDF). Psychological Review 108 (3): 483–522. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.108.3.483. http://instruct.uwo.ca/psychology/371g/Ohman2001.pdf. Retrieved 2008-06-16.  
  15. ^ Pinker, S. (1999), How the Mind Works, WW Norton & Co. New York, pp. 386–389  
  16. ^ Hagen, E and Hammerstein, P (2006). "Game theory and human evolution: A critique of some recent interpretations of experimental games". Theoretical Population Biology 69: 339. doi:10.1016/j.tpb.2005.09.005.  
  17. ^ Buss, David (2004). Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc. ISBN 978-0205483389.  
  18. ^ Wilson, G.D. Love and Instinct. London: Temple Smith, 1981.
  19. ^ Buss, D. M. (1994). The evolution of desire: Strategies of human mating. New York: Basic Books.
  20. ^ Buss, D. M., & Barnes, M. (1986). Preferences in human mate selection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 559-570.
  21. ^ Li, N. P., Bailey, J. M., Kenrick, D. T., & Linsenmeier, J. A. W. (2002). The necessities and luxuries of mate preferences: Testing the tradeoffs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 6, 947-955.
  22. ^ Schmitt, D. P., & Buss, D. M. (2001). Human mate poaching: Tactics and temptations for infiltrating existing relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 894-917.
  23. ^ Buss, D. M. (1988). From vigilance to violence: Tactics of mate retention in American undergraduates. Ethology and Sociobiology, 9, 291-317.
  24. ^ Trivers, R. (1972). Parental investment and sexual selection. In B. Campbell (Ed.), Sexual Selection and the Descent of Man. Chicago: Aldine-Atherton.
  25. ^ Buss, D. M. (1989). Sex differences in human mate preferences: Evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 12, 1-49.
  26. ^ Buss, D. M., Larsen, R. J., Westen, D., & Semmelroth J. (1992). Sex differences in jealousy: Evolution, physiology, and psychology. Psychological Science 3(4), 251–255
  27. ^ Harris, C. R. (2002) Sexual and romantic jealousy in heterosexual and homosexual adults. Psychological Science 13(1), 7–12
  28. ^ Haselton, M. G., & Miller, G. F. (2006). Women's fertility across the cycle increases the short-term attractiveness of creative intelligence. Human Nature, 17(1), 50-73.
  29. ^ Gangestad, S. W., Simpson, J. A., Cousins, A. J., Garver-Apgar, C. E., & Christensen, P. N. (2004). Women's preferences for male behavioral displays change across the menstrual cycle. Psychological Science, 15(3), 203-207.
  30. ^ Wilcox, A. J., Dunson, D. B., Weinberg, C. R., Trussell, J., & Baird, D. D. (2001). Likelihood of conception with a single act of intercourse: Providing benchmark rates for assessment of post-coital contraceptives. Contraception, 63, 211-215.
  31. ^ Miller, G. F. (2000b) The mating mind: How sexual choice shaped the evolution of human nature. Anchor Books: New York.
  32. ^ Santrock, W. John (2005). A Topical Approach to Life-Span Development (3rd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. pp.62.
  33. ^ Shermer. The Science of Good and Evil. http://books.google.com/books?id=igN6Q9weoYQC&pg=PA51&lpg=PA51&dq=%22from+competition+between+groups%22&source=web&ots=UU1VYb2KXn&sig=HtYYiQHE83vAx6cuVpeGthkJz54.  
  34. ^ Wilson, EO. Sociobiology. http://books.google.com/books?id=whG6wOFN-A0C&q=ISBN+0674000897&dq=ISBN+0674000897&ei=haVRSZfADIr8lQS9vaBQ&client=firefox-a&pgis=1. "Human sociobiology, now often called evolutionary psychology, has in the last quarter of a century emerged as its own field of study, drawing on theory and data from both biology and the social sciences."  
  35. ^ Controversies in the evolutionary social sciences: a guide for the perplexed
  36. ^ Evolutionary Psychology By Lance Workman, Will Reader
  37. ^ Alcock, John (2001). The Triumph of Sociobiology. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-516335-4.  
  38. ^ Segerstråle, Ullica Christina Olofsdotter (2000). Defenders of the truth : the battle for science in the sociobiology debate and beyond. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-850505-1.  
  39. ^ Tooby, J; Cosmides L (2005) (pdf), Conceptual foundations of evolutionary psychology, http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/papers/bussconceptual05.pdf  ; in Buss, David M. (2005). Handbook of evolutionary psychology. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-471-26403-2.  


  • Barkow, Jerome H. (2006). Missing the Revolution: Darwinism for Social Scientists. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 0-19-513002-2.  
  • Buss, David M. (2004). Evolutionary psychology: the new science of the mind. Boston: Pearson/A and B. ISBN 0-205-37071-3.  
  • Clarke, Murray (2004). Reconstructing reason and representation. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-03322-4.  
  • Joyce, Richard (2006). The Evolution of Morality (Life and Mind: Philosophical Issues in Biology and Psychology). Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-10112-2.  
  • Miller, Geoffrey P. (2000). The mating mind: how sexual choice shaped the evolution of human nature. Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-49516-1.  
  • Pinker, Steven (1997). How the mind works. New York: Norton. ISBN 0-393-04535-8.  
  • Pinker, Steven (2002). The blank slate: the modern denial of human nature. New York, N.Y: Viking. ISBN 0-670-03151-8.  
  • Richards, Janet C. (2000). Human nature after Darwin: a philosophical introduction. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-21243-X.  
  • Wilson, Edward Raymond (2000). Sociobiology: the new synthesis. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-00089-7.  
  • Wright, Robert C. M. (1995). The moral animal: evolutionary psychology and everyday life. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 0-679-76399-6.  
  • Santrock, John W. (2005). The Topical Approach to Life-Span Development(3rd ed.). New York, N.Y: McGraw Hill. ISBN 0-07-322626-2.  

Further reading

External links

Academic societies



Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiversity

Welcome to the Evolutionary Psychology learning project.



Evolutionary Psychology is a scientific exploration of the evolution of mind and patterns of behavior. This learning project provides activities for exploration of psychology from the perspective of evolutionary biology.

Learning materials

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Recommended Texts

  • Evolutionary Psychology: the New Science of the Mind (2nd Ed.). Written by David M. Buss.
  • The Blank Slate: the Modern Denial of Human Nature. Written by Steven Pinker.
  • The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. Written by Jermoe Barkow, John Tooby and Leda Cosmides.

Simple English

Evolutionary psychology is a branch of psychology that suggests some human behaviour is evolved. This might happen when people face the same problem over a very long time and it changes how their brains work to help them solve that problem. These changes can be from the environment around the people or can be from changes in other people. A common term in evolutionary psychology is the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness (EEA). EEA is used to describe the environment and problems that caused an evolved behaviour change.

Evolutionary psychology usually focuses on behaviour most people share. Some of the more common areas evolutionary psychology is focused on are sex, violent behaviour, and social behaviour. Evolutionary psychology usually assumes an evolved behaviour is not a basically bad behaviour.

Evolutionary psychology is related to other fields of science like sociobiology, social psychology, and sociocultural anthropology.

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