What is Evolutionary Psychology?

Evolutionary psychology is a study based on both natural and social sciences. Also referred to as EP, it takes a look at the psychological structure from the perspective of evolution and adaptation. Those who view psychology from an evolutionary standpoint believe that humanity has utilized psychological adaptations in order to develop behaviors over time to solve various problems throughout evolution.

Principles of Evolutionary Psychology

Those practicing this approach to psychology feel that psychological adaptations are universally applied to common problems faced throughout ancestral histories. They seek to integrate psychological concepts into the natural sciences, particularly biology. The roots of this branch of psychology lie in evolutionary biology, along with cognitive psychology. Other sciences incorporated into the study are zoology, genetics, anthropology, archaeology, artificial intelligence and behavioral ecology. It is a synthesis of a vast number of pursuits.

Core tenets of EP are that the brain processes information and produces a behavioral response to inputs, both external and internal. The adaptation mechanisms of the brain are influenced through natural and sexual selection. It is theorized that problems encountered through the evolutionary past of the human race have caused specialized neural mechanisms to develop.

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EP practitioners also believe that there are deeply ingrained neural functions that have developed as means of protection and problem solving and served humans as far back as the stone ages. They theorize that complicated neural mechanisms are used to solve some complex problems at an unconscious level, making them seem simple and automatic. Finally, it is thought in EP that psychology is comprised of numerous specialized mechanisms influenced by different types of inputs and that these individual mechanisms work together to elicit behaviors.

History of EP

Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection seems to be the beginning and the foundation of this branch of psychology. His work in this field has led to a great deal of information on the function of the human brain. EP developed with influences from evolutionary theory of ancient peoples, paleoanthroplogy and psychology. This combination of animal behavior and human psychology have combined to lead to the modern views on the psychology of evolution.

It was in the 1930’s that the study of modern evolutionary synthesis began to emerge as an academic discipline, focusing on the study of animal behavior. The 1960’s and 70’s saw developments in EP centering on parental investment and the combination of evolutionary theory with the study of animal behavior. The fields of sociobiology and behavioral ecology were born during this time.

Evolutionary biology was a term that became widespread in academics throughout the 1980’s. One of the more recent fields to come out of the EP school of thought is that of behavioral genetics, which looks at the relationship between genes, brain function and behavior.

Areas of Research

Major areas of research to develop from the historical origins of EP are vast. Practitioners study such concepts as sensation, perception and consciousness. Theories on the motivation of emotions, learning adaptations, personality, cognition and language have come out of the merging of the natural and social sciences. Theories as to how humans mate, parent and interact as family units come from this discipline. As do in-depth studies on the ways in which culture has evolved.

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Evolutionary psychology is a complex field of study. It lends itself well to those with a passion for learning about the human experience through both psychology and biology.