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Evolutionary psychology
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Evolutionary psychology

Evolutionary psychology or (EP) proposes that human cognition and behavior could be better understood by examining them in light of human evolutionary history. Specifically, EP proposes that the brain comprises a large number of functional mechanisms, called psychological adaptations, that evolved by natural selection to effect or facilitate the reproduction of the organism. These mechanisms are universal in the species, with the exception that some will be specific to one sex or the other. Uncontroversial examples of psychological adaptations include vision, hearing, memory, and motor control. More controversial examples include male and female mating preferences and strategies, incest avoidance mechanisms, and cheater detection mechanisms.

The main sources of evolutionary psychology are: cognitive psychology, genetics, ethology, anthropology, biology, and zoology. The term evolutionary psychology was probably coined by Ghiselin in his 1973 article in Science. Leda Cosmides and John Tooby popularized the term in their highly influential 1992 book The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and The Generation of Culture (ISBN 0195101073).

Evolutionary psychology has been applied to the study of many fields, including economics, aggression, law, psychiatry, politics, literature, and sex.

Table of contents
1 Theoretical background
2 Controversies
3 Well-known evolutionary psychologists
4 Reference
5 See also
6 External links

Theoretical background

Evolutionary psychology is based on the presumption that since cognitive processes have structure that seems to be widely or even universally shared amongst humans, that structure must have a genetic basis, and therefore must have developed under the influence of evolution and natural selection. Evolutionary psychologists seek to understand cognitive processes by positing the evolutionary context in which they might have developed.


Studies of animal behavior have long recognized the role of evolution; the application of evolutionary theory to human psychology, however, is controversial. There are many families of criticism of the idea.

Because little is known about the evolutionary context in which humans developed (including population size, structure, lifestyle, eating habits, habitat, and more), there is little basis on which evolutionary psychology may operate (except for gross examples, such as the claim of an evolutionary basis for innate fear of snakes). Some of its propositions are not falsifiable, and thus it is often labeled as a pseudoscience by its critics. Some studies have been criticized for their tendency to attribute to genetics elements of human cognition that may be attributable to sociology (e.g. preference for particular physical features in mates).

Most alternatives to evolutionary psychology maintain that elements of human behaviour are irreducible to their component parts. By way of illustration, in the work of the Peter Hobson, human consciousness is identified as the product principally of intersubjective learning, albeit on a platform of emotional tools provided by human nature. As a social process, such a construction of minds would not be describable in the cellular components of individual organisms.

Evolutionary psychologists point to the structure of Universal Grammar as evidence of innate cognitive machinery. Universal Grammar, however, is itself controversial.

Some people worry that evolutionary psychology will be used to justify harmful behavior, and have at times tried to suppress its study. They give the example that a husband may be more likely to cheat on his wife, if he believes his mind is evolved to be that way.

Well-known evolutionary psychologists

In addition to Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, some of the best-known authors in the field are:


See also

External links