Evolutionary Psychology: What it is, Principles and Research Areas and Stages

Evolutionary psychology is the study of behavior, thinking, and feeling as seen through the lens of evolutionary biology; evolutionary psychologists assume that all human behaviors reflect the influence of physical and psychological predispositions that helped human ancestors survive and reproduce.

In the evolutionary view, the brain and body of any animal are made up of mechanisms designed to work together to facilitate success within the environments commonly encountered by that animal’s ancestors. Therefore, although distantly related to a cow, a killer whale would not do well for a cow’s brain, as the killer whale needs a brain designed to control a body that tracks prey in the ocean instead of eating grass in a sea. Meadow. Evolutionary psychologists ask: What are the implications of human evolutionary history (for example, living in hierarchical, omnivorous primate groups populated by relatives) for designing the human mind?

What is evolutionary psychology?

A theoretical approach in the social and natural sciences examines the psychological structure from a modern evolutionary perspective. It seeks to identify which human psychological traits are evolved adaptations, that is, the functional products of natural selection or sexual selection in human evolution. Adaptationist thinking about physiological mechanisms, such as the heart, lungs, and immune system, is common in evolutionary biology.

It is one of many biologically informed approaches to the study of human behavior; along with cognitive psychologists, evolutionary psychologists propose that much, if not all, of our behavior can be explained by resorting to internal psychological mechanisms, which distinguishes psychologists. The evolutionary theory of many cognitive psychologists is the proposition that the relevant internal tools are adaptations, products of natural selection that helped our ancestors to move around the world, survive and reproduce.

To understand the core claims of evolutionary psychology, we need an understanding of some key concepts in evolutionary biology, cognitive psychology, philosophy of science, and philosophy of mind. Philosophers are interested in evolutionary psychology for various reasons; evolutionary psychology provides a critical goal for philosophers of science, mainly philosophers of biology. There is a broad consensus among philosophers of science that evolutionary psychology is a profoundly flawed company.

For philosophers of the mind and cognitive science, evolutionary psychology has been a source of empirical hypotheses about cognitive architecture and the specific components of that architecture. Philosophers of the mind are also critical, but their criticisms are not as comprehensive as those presented by philosophers of biology; it is also invoked by philosophers interested in moral psychology both as a source of empirical hypotheses and as a critical objective.

Evolutionary Psychology

Principles of evolutionary psychology

Evolutionary psychology is an approach that considers human nature as the product of a universal set of evolved psychological adaptations to recurring problems in the ancestral environment; proponents suggest that it seeks to integrate psychology into the other natural sciences, rooting it in the organizational theory of biology (evolutionary theory), and thus understanding psychology as a branch of biology.

Just as human physiology and evolutionary physiology have worked to identify the physical adaptations of the body that represent “human physiological nature,” the purpose of evolutionary psychology is to identify evolved cognitive and emotional adaptations that represent “human psychological nature.” According to Steven Pinker, “it is not a single theory but a large set of hypotheses” and a term that “has also referred to a particular way of applying evolutionary theory to the mind, emphasizing adaptation, genetic level.” selection and modularity. «

Evolutionary psychology adopts an understanding of the mind based on the computational theory of mind, describes mental processes as computational operations so that, for example, a fear response is defined as derived from a neurological calculation that inputs the perception data and emits the appropriate reaction.

Main research areas of evolutionary psychology

The foundational areas of research in evolutionary psychology can be divided into broad categories of adaptive problems that emerge from the theory of evolution itself: survival, mating, parenting, family and kinship, interactions with people who are not related, and cultural development.

Survival and psychological adaptations at the individual level

Survival problems are clear targets for the evolution of physical and psychological adaptations. The main problems faced by the ancestors of today’s humans include the selection and acquisition of food, piece of territory and physical shelter, and avoiding predators and other environmental threats.


The concept of consciousness can refer to voluntary action, awareness, or wakefulness. However, even voluntary behavior involves unconscious mechanisms; many cognitive processes take place in the cognitive unconscious, not available to consciousness. Some behaviors are conscious when learned but then become unconscious, seemingly automatic.

Sleep may have evolved to conserve energy when activity would be less fruitful or more dangerous, such as at night, especially in winter.

Sensation and perception

Many experts, like Jerry Fodor, write that the purpose of perception is knowledge, but evolutionary psychologists argue that its primary goal is to guide action. For example, they say depth perception seems to have evolved not to help us know distances to other objects but to help us move in space.

Scientists studying perception and sensation have long understood the human senses as adaptations; depth perception consists of processing more than half a dozen visual cues, each of which is based on the regularity of the physical world. Vision evolved to respond to the narrow range of abundant electromagnetic energy and does not pass through objects.

Evolutionary psychologists argue that perception demonstrates the principle of modularity, with specialized mechanisms handling particular perceptual tasks. For example, people with damage to a specific part of the brain suffer from the specific defect of not being able to recognize faces (prosopagnosia). Evolutionary psychology suggests that this indicates a so-called face-reading module.

Emotion and motivation

Motivations direct and energize behavior, while emotions provide the affective component to basis, positive or negative. In the early 1970s, Paul Ekman and his colleagues began a line of research suggesting that many emotions are universal and found evidence that humans share at least five basic emotions: fear, sadness, happiness, anger, and disgust.

Social emotions evolved to motivate adaptive social behaviors. For example, resentment seems to work against the individual. Still, it can establish an individual’s reputation as someone to fear, shame, and pride can motivate behaviors that help one maintain their position in a community. Self-esteem is an estimate of one’s status.

Recently, it has been suggested that reward systems evolve so that there may be an inherent or unavoidable trade-off in the motivation system for short versus long-duration activities.


It refers to the internal representations of the world and the internal processing of information. From the perspective of evolutionary psychology, cognition is not “general purpose.” Still, it uses heuristics or strategies that generally increase the probability of solving problems that the ancestors of today’s humans routinely face. For example, humans today are much more likely to solve logical problems that involve detecting cheating (a common problem given the social nature of humans) than the same analytical problem put in purely abstract terms.

Since the ancestors of today’s humans did not encounter truly random events, today’s humans may be cognitively predisposed to misidentifying patterns in random sequences.


Evolutionary psychology is primarily interested in finding common ground between people or essential human psychology. From an evolutionary perspective, people who have fundamental differences in personality traits initially present something of a puzzle.

Evolutionary psychologists conceptualize personality traits as due to normal variation around an optimum, frequency-dependent selection, or facultative adaptations. Like variability in height, some personality traits may reflect inter-individual variability around an overall optimum. Read more about personality.


The universal human ability to learn to speak between the ages of 1 to 4, with basically no training, suggests that language acquisition is a distinctively human psychological adaptation. Pinker and Bloom (1990) argue that language as a mental faculty shares many similarities with complex organs of the body, suggesting that, like these organs, language has evolved as an adaptation since this is the only known mechanism. By which such complex organs can develop.

Pinker follows Chomsky in arguing that children can learn any human language without explicit instructions and suggests that language, including most grammar, is innate and only needs to be activated by interaction. Chomsky himself does not believe that language evolved as an adaptation but suggests that it likely evolved as a by-product of another adaptation, a so-called spandrel.

Evolutionary psychology and culture

Although evolutionary psychology has traditionally focused on behaviors at the individual level, determined by species-typical psychological adaptations, considerable work has been done on how these adaptations shape and ultimately govern culture. Tooby and Cosmides (1989) argued that the mind consists of many domain-specific psychological adaptations, some of which may limit what cultural material is learned or taught, as opposed to a public domain cultural acquisition program, where an individual receives passively culturally transmitted material of the group.

Tooby and Cosmides (1989), among others, argue that: «the psyche evolved to generate adaptive rather than repetitive behavior, and therefore critically analyzes the behavior of those around it is highly structured and modeled ways, to be used as a rich source of information from which to build a ‘private culture’ or individually tailored adaptive system; Consequently, this system may or may not reflect the behavior of others in any given respect.

Stages of evolutionary psychology

Erikson’s (1959) theory of psychosocial development has eight distinct stages, spanning five steps up to the age of 18 and three stages beyond, well into adulthood; Erikson suggests that there is still plenty of room for continued growth and development. Throughout life, he places a lot of emphasis on the period of adolescence, feeling that it is a crucial stage in developing a person’s identity.

Like Freud, Erikson assumes that a crisis occurs at each stage of development; these crises are psychosocial because they involve the individual’s psychological needs (that is, psycho) that conflict with the requirements of society (that is, Social).

According to the theory, the successful completion of each stage results in a healthy personality and acquiring essential virtues. Basic virtues are characteristic strengths that the ego can use to resolve subsequent crises.

Failure to complete one stage successfully can result in a reduced ability to complete later stages and thus a more insane personality and sense of self. However, these stages can be successfully solved later.

Trust vs. mistrust

Is the world a safe place, or is it full of unpredictable events and accidents waiting to happen? Erikson’s first psychosocial crisis occurs during the first year or so of life (like Freud’s oral stage of psychosexual development ). During this stage, the baby is unsure of his world. To resolve these feelings of uncertainty, the baby looks to his primary caregiver for stability and consistency of care.

Suppose your baby’s care is consistent, predictable, and reliable. In that case, he will develop a sense of trust that will lead him into other relationships, and he will be able to feel secure even when threatened.

Autonomy vs. shame and doubt

The child is developing physically and becoming more mobile; between the ages of 18 months and three, children begin to assert their independence, moving away from their mother, choosing which toy to play with, and making decisions about what they like to use and eat, etc.

The child is discovering that he has many skills, such as putting on clothes and shoes and playing with toys; among others, these skills illustrate the child’s growing sense of independence and autonomy. Erikson says parents must allow their children to explore the limits of their abilities within an encouraging and failure-tolerant environment.

Initiative vs guilt

Children most often assert themselves around the age of three and up to five years; these are particularly vivid and rapidly developing years in a child’s life. According to Bee (1992), it is a “moment of vigor for action and behaviors that parents can see as aggressive.”

The main characteristic is that the child regularly interacts with other children at school during this period. Play is essential for this stage, as it gives children the opportunity to explore their interpersonal skills by starting activities.

Children begin to plan activities, invent games and initiate actions with others; if given this opportunity, children develop a sense of initiative and feel secure in their ability to lead others and make decisions.

Industry (competition) vs. inferiority

Industrial versus inferiority is the fourth stage of Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development; the scenario occurs during childhood between the ages of five and twelve. Children are at the stage where they will learn to read and write, do addition, and do things for themselves; teachers begin to take an essential role in their lives while teaching specific skills to the child.

If children are encouraged and reinforced for their initiative, they begin to feel hard-working and confident in their ability to achieve their goals. If this initiative is not enabled, if it is restricted by the parents or the teacher, the child begins to feel inferior, doubting his abilities and therefore may not reach his potential.

Identity vs. role confusion

The fifth stage is the confusion between identity and role, and it occurs during adolescence, between the ages of 12 and 18. During this stage, adolescents seek a sense of personal and personal identity through an intense exploration of personal values, beliefs, and goals.

During adolescence, the transition from childhood to adulthood is more critical; children become more independent and look to the future in terms of career, relationships, families, housing, etc. The individual wants to belong to a society and fit into it; this is an important stage of development where the child has to learn the roles he will occupy as an adult.

Intimacy vs isolation

In adulthood (ages 18 to 40), we begin to share more intimately with others, and we explore relationships that lead to longer-term commitments to someone other than a family member.

Successful completion of this stage can result in happy relationships and a sense of commitment, security, and care within a relationship. Avoiding intimacy, fear of responsibility and relationships can lead to isolation, loneliness, and sometimes depression; success at this stage will lead to the virtue of love.

Generativity vs. stagnation

During middle adulthood (ages 40 to 65), we establish our careers, find ourselves in relationships, start our own families, and develop a sense of being part of the bigger picture. We give back to society by raising our children, being productive at work, and participating in community activities and organizations.

By not achieving these goals, we become stagnant and feel unproductive; success at this stage will lead to the virtue of care.

Integrity vs. despair

As we age (over 65) and become older people, we tend to slow down our productivity and explore life as retired people; it is during this time that we contemplate our accomplishments and can develop integrity by looking at ourselves as leaders of a successful life.

Erik Erikson believes that if we view our lives as unproductive, feel guilty about our past, or feel like we are not reaching our life goals, we become dissatisfied with life and develop despair, often leading to depression and hopelessness.

Georgia Tarrant
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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.