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Evolutionary Psychology

Evolutionary Psychology

Evolutionary psychology is an area that is still quite small, but that is rapidly growing. It argues that much of our psychology develops because of our genes, which were in turn passed down to us from our ancestors over millions of years of evolution. Because of this, we are biologically prepared to act in certain ways. It is a branch of biological psychology. To begin understanding this approach to psychology, we should start with Darwin’s theory of evolution itself. In this idea, there are slight variations between parents and their offspring in their genetic makeup. These variations are very minor between each generation, but over time can become more and more pronounced. This is due to natural selection. Those with the traits that help them most to survive live to pass on these traits to their offspring. An example of this is when more muscular cavemen may have been more likely to survive and pass on their genes to children, while weak cavemen may have been killed by the dangerous prehistoric environment very quickly. This means that the muscular genes are more likely to be passed on, and so over time humans may have grown much taller and more muscular. Those with variations that make them more attractive to the opposite sex may also have a biological advantage.

Not all of our design is due to successful adaptations. Some characteristics will be by-products of successful adaptations, while some will still just be random and due to chance. Evolutionary psychology works on the same principles as standard evolutionary science but focussing on how the mind has developed due to natural selection. The Standard Social Science model to psychology disagrees with the ideas of evolutionary psychology, suggesting that while there are some reflex actions that are biologically inherent, in general we are completely determined by what we learn during our own lives. Evolutionary psychology obviously argues for a much bigger role of biology than this in determining a human’s personality.

For those who agree with evolutionary psychology, there is the belief that modern people really have a ‘stone-age mind’, since this stage of history is when evolution would have been taking place, and as it takes thousands of years, we are still living with the minds of cave-men, and we will be best adapted for living their life-style, instead of our own perhaps. Evolutionary psychologists believe that each individual module in our brain is designed for a specific reason. Language has developed over time to improve communication, which may be beneficial for our safety and for stopping us from killing each other. Those in the past who could communicate better would have avoided disputes more easily, so they could survive to pass on these genes. Our ability to perceive colour in our environment may be related to the fact in helped us to hunt and to avoid predation. Sometimes our evolution has mismatched us for our current environment though. For example, it may be the reason for some phobias. Spiders may have been important to avoid in prehistoric times, but now having phobias of them can be a hassle more than anything else.

Evolutionary psychology seems like a strong theory and approach, and it provides a rigid structural framework for explaining many biological elements of our psychology, however one problem is that, unlike social psychology, evolutionary psychology cannot tell us how to change our behaviour. It only tells us why we are the way we are, and almost suggests that it cannot be changed, since it is such an integral part of our personality. For this reason, this area must be integrated with others in order to have a positive effect in the real world. 


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