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Evolutionary psychology

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Evolutionary psychology is the term used to describe the science of studying mental function, psychological habits and cognitive development and interpreting the results according to evolutionary theory. Evolutionary psychology is a biologically informed approach to the study of human behavior.[1] Because of this view within the 20th century assumptions formed in line with Darwinian evolution by way of mutation and natural selection.

Denyse O'Leary who is a journalist succinctly defines evolutionary psychology by stating;

the point of evolutionary psychology was that modules inherited from prehuman ancestors govern our thinking.[2]

Recent experimental science is forming new assumptions that fall in line with epigenetic inheritance research of the last decade.

Professor Johan Bolhuis and colleagues describe how the field of evolutionary psychology had been dominated by a set of widely held assumptions — e.g., that human behavior is unlikely to be adaptive in modern environments, that human cognition is task-specific, and that there is a universal human nature. However, new findings and approaches from genetics, neuroscience and evolutionary biology now question these assumptions. For example, many human genes have been subject to recent selection in the past few thousand years, which means that humans cannot accurately be portrayed as being adapted only to a Stone Age environment. Experimental and theoretical findings also suggest that humans play an active, constructive role in co-directing their own development and evolution. How humans think and behave varies from individual to individual and place to place. Moreover, experimental evidence suggests that human minds frequently utilize very general learning rules rather than a more modular account of cognition.[3]


How does evolution explain selfless behavior such as that of Mother Teresa?
Main Article: Altruism

Creationists frequently challenge evolutionists on the point of morality. Evolution proposes that the human instinct and psyche is geared towards survival and personal benefit. Thus, the quandary is proposed; why should any one person act in a manner considered "good" towards others?

(A question exists, not necessarily related to evolutionary psychology, of why there should be any standard or understanding of "good" at all.) Why, for example, would one person open the door for a stranger, or permit a stranger on a crowded highway to merge into the lane? Evolutionists suggest that this is an action taken with the expectation of future utility. In other words, if person A allows person B to merge into the lane, person B may then reciprocate the benevolent action, and both persons will come away benefitting from the exchange.

Critics, however, note that it is unclear whether the performance of a good deed can in fact be classified as "good" if the deed is performed solely for the purpose of receiving some similar good in payment at a later time.


Why would someone murder another when the consequences are contrary to survival and benefit?
If evolution's proposed solution to the quandary of good behavior is altruism, then a new challenge arises; how does evolution explain egoism? Why do people behave selfishly if it is to their detriment? If Person A is aware that a good deed performed now will be reciprocated later, why would they defy the instinct to survive and improve the state of life? Especially if Person A has knowledge that behaving badly will likely cause recipricated behavior to those he mistreats.


Main Article: Naturalism

Since evolution limits itself strictly to natural explanations, it is questionable whether or not the human mental condition (intangible by nature) can be studied accordingly. No empirical values can be assigned to human emotions for quantitative comparison.

As well, if psychological processes are to be boiled down exclusively to the natural, then it suggests that emotions such as love or hate are merely biological actions or reactions, and not the result of human free will. Nor could blame or responsibility be assigned to violent individuals, if they are unable to control mental processes.


  1. Evolutionary Psychology, First published Fri Feb 8, 2008 By Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  2. Circus wagons of evolutionary psychology getting a makeover? Or is the discipline officially kaput? By Denise O'Leary for Uncommon Descent
  3. Evolution of the evolutionarily minded By PysOrg. July 19, 2011

See Also