Introduction to Evolutionary Psychology

Darwin's finches or Galapagos finches. Darwin, 1845. Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle round the world, under the Command of Capt. Fitz Roy, R.N. 2d edition. 1. (category) Geospiza magnirostris 2. (category) Geospiza fortis 3. Geospiza parvula, now (category) Camarhynchus parvulus 4. (category) Certhidea olivacea

Evolutionary psychology is a general approach in the natural and social sciences that explores psychological arrangement from an evolutionary perspective. It seeks to know which human mental traits are evolved adaptations – that is, the working products of natural or sexual selection in human evolution.

Adaptationist thinking about physiological mechanisms, such as the lungs, heart, and immune system is standard in evolutionary biology. Some evolutionary psychologists apply similar thinking to psychology, arguing that the mind modularity is identical to that of the body and with many modular adaptations serving various functions. These evolutionary doctors believe that much of human behavior is the product of psychological adaptations that evolved to resolve recurrent problems in human ancestral environments.

This subject is a unique discipline compared to other psychology fields. At the core of evolutionary psychology is Charles Darwin’s famous theory of evolution, which means change over time. I want to be clear and note that this shift over time does not mean seeds falling from large trees or an infant growing old. This change over time deals particularly with a descent through genetic inheritance. For instance, the traits we see in an organism, such as green eyes, an enthusiastic personality, the claws on a cat, or even the beautiful feathers on a peacock, are related to the genes that organisms inherited from their parents.

Extrapolating from this belief is the central idea that many of today’s traits are present because they held reproductive and survival advantages for individuals throughout our evolution. In other words, humans had ancestors with several advantageous characteristics. The ancestors with the beneficial traits reproduced more and spread the genes that were connected with those traits.

Let me give you a concrete example of the kind of question evolutionary psychology tries to discuss. It was noted that male gorillas often involved themselves in jumping into the water and dabbling in it every now and then. An erratic observer would dismiss such things as “playful behavior” or the gorilla is bathing when, in fact, it has a different purpose. The gorillas that do this are precisely male gorillas, and they only splash on certain occasions.

An evolutionary approach would claim that such behavior must have offered some reproductive or survival advantage to male gorillas. The genes that are linked with splashing behavior would spread in the gorilla community. It turns out that scientists proposed the idea with evidence that male gorillas engage in water-splashing displays to threaten other males and keep them away from the females. Neat!

After many years of research, the researchers cataloged the splashing exercises of gorillas in the Congo. The demonstrations occurred mostly in wet forest clearings, where many groups of gorillas gathered for feeding. A large portion of the displays was by dominant males and could be seen by other males large distances away. Greater than half of the shows happened when no females were present. This would rule out the likelihood that the splashing was aimed at females.

The behavior is directed at strange males that could threaten the male gorillas’ control of his group. In summary, males who didn’t stop other males from forcing females from their group had a lower chance of leaving offspring than males who did stop this behavior. A countermeasure was adapted in the evolution of male gorillas in the form of splashing to look powerful when unknown males are present because genes associated with those practices gave an evolutionary advantage to allow them to pass on their genes and reproduce.

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