Evolutionary Psych | Evolution of the Brain | General Anatomical Adaptations | Cultural Development | Evo Psych Sources

In the distant future I see open fields for far more important researches. Psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation. Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history.
- Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species
Photo Image: WikiMedia Commons
Photo Image: WikiMedia Commons

An Introduction

Suppose you are walking through the jungle. You look up and spot a long, thin object. Your first response is to freeze, because you think it may be a snake, but moments later you relax because you’ve realized it’s only a vine.

Or imagine a psychologist introduces a child to two dolls named Sally and Ann. The child watches a scene where Sally puts a marble under a cushion and leaves the room. While Sally is out of the room, Ann comes in and takes the marble out from under the cushion and hides it in her pocket. When Sally returns to the room, an experimenter asks the child where Sally will look for the marble. Most children under the age of four-and-a-half answer that Sally will look in Ann’s pocket: they cannot yet comprehend that other people can hold beliefs that are different from their own. That is to say, they assume everyone shares their own beliefs.

In this section, you will learn about these different responses, their development in the human mind, and the role they play in modern psychology.

Just as the human body has adapted over the millennia due to mutation and natural selection, the human brain has undergone similar radical transformations. Evolutionary psychology seeks to describe human behavior and cognition through the combination of evolutionary biology and cognitive psychology. Cosmides, Director of Psych Dept. at UCSB, and Tooby, Director of Anthropology Dept. at UCSB, state that “evolutionary psychology is an approach to psychology, in which knowledge and principles from evolutionary biology are put to use in research on the structure of the human mind. It is not an area of study, like vision, reasoning, or social behavior” (2005). [Confusing since there's no listing for Cosmides in the Sources page. Needs to match up.] Cognitive psychologists believe that the human brain has a complex design, and evolutionary biologists affirm that complex designs in nature can only arise due to natural selection. Therefore, we can say that the mind must have evolved due to a process of natural selection.

Evolutionary biologists assert that much of human behavior is the result of psychological adaptations that evolved in the human ancestral environment. Cognitive psychologists call these adaptions modules. They posit that the human mind is like a Swiss army knife, containing hundreds of modules, each responsible for a different aspect of human behavior. Among the most important are modules for:
  • language
  • predator avoidance
  • food preference
  • alliance formation
  • care for children and other relatives
  • resource allocation
  • Theory of Mind
  • mate selection