The Echoes of the Mind (16) Evolutionary Psychology

Evolutionary Psychology

Evolved psychological mechanisms generate human behavior and culture. ~ Leda Cosmides, Jerome Barkow, & John Tooby

After his 1859 work on “natural selection” as the vehicle of evolution, English naturalist Charles Darwin turned his attention to studying animal emotions and psychology. (Darwin wrote 2 books about evolutionary psychology: The Descent of Man, Selection in Relation to Sex (1871), and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872).) Darwin’s writing in this realm founded evolutionary psychology, which is the study of behavior from the perspective of biological affinity, with especial regard to its evolution.

(Darwin’s work in evolutionary psychology was largely ignored in the 1st half of the 20th century. Only from the 1950s, following interest in ethology, were Darwin’s contributions acknowledged by scholars of psychology; and it was not until the late 1990s that Darwin was mentioned in introductory psychology books.)

Major tenets of evolutionary psychology descended from Darwin. Foremost was sexual selection, which explained animal traits that seemed unrelated or contrary to survival, such as a peacock’s phantasmagorical tail. Darwin also introduced group selection to explain altruism among related animals: “selection may be applied to the family, as well as to the individual.” Darwin inspired William James’s functionalist approach to psychology, which had a lasting influence.

The term evolutionary psychology was introduced by American biologist Michael Ghiselin in a 1973 article. The term was popularized by the 1992 book The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and The Generation of Culture, written by Canadian anthropologist Jerome Barkow, American psychologist Leda Cosmides, and American anthropologist John Tooby.

To propose a psychological concept that is incompatible with evolutionary biology is as problematic as proposing a chemical reaction that violates the laws of physics. ~ Jerome Barkow, Leda Cosmides, & John Tooby