Evolutionary Psychology: A Review

2. What Is Evolutionary Psychology?

Book cover: Evolutionary Psychology: A Critical Introduction by Christopher Badcock

Evolutionary psychology, in the broad sense in which this term is used, is a scientific approach to human behaviour that seeks to explain its psychological causes in terms of our evolutionary history. In this sense, it includes the fields of human behavioural ecology, memetics and dual-inheritance theory. In its narrower sense, Evolutionary Psychology (EP) is one approach within this broader stream of study of the evolutionary origins of the human psyche. The narrower sense is signified by the capitalization of the phrase.[1] This approach had its beginnings in the 1980s when the psychologist Leda Cosmides and the anthropologist John Tooby, both from Harvard University, teamed up with the anthropologist Donald Symons at The University of California.

The central tenets of their approach are that human behaviour is the result of a series of adaptions in our evolutionary past set in the Pleistocene era (the period spanning approximately 1.8 million years ago to 10,000 years ago) when humans lived in small nomadic hunter-gatherer societies. During this long evolutionary period, our cognitive mechanisms adapted to solve specific problems in the environment (what Evolutionary Psychologists call the environment of evolutionary adaptedness or EEA for short). What sets Evolutionary Psychologists apart from other researchers in this field are two highly controversial claims.

Firstly, they contend that further substantive evolution of these cognitive mechanisms have not occurred since modern times (agriculture, industrial, urban, technology) as the time period is too short. Secondly, they claim that each of these cognitive mechanisms is purpose-built through selective pressures to solve just one problem. They claim that there is no domain-general computing architecture in the human brain and, furthermore, there are in fact hundreds, perhaps thousands, of domain-specific computers working in our brains.


  1. [1] Introduced by Buller [2000, 2005a]

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