Major Areas of Research in Evolutionary Psychology

By: Dr. Susan Siegfried, Clinical Psychology

There are many assumptions that are innate to evolution psychology that must be accepted.

  1. The brain processes information resulting in behavior which begins in response to both internal and external assumptions.
  2. Natural selection and sexual selection shape the brain’s adaption.
  3. It is different specialized neural mechanisms that are made for problem solving that are responsible for human brain evolution.
  4. Our brains are still functioning on stone age neural mechanisms for problem solving.
  5. The brain works more on the unconscious level making us think problem are easy to solve when actually they are difficult. The unconscious mind has done most of the work for us.
  6. Manifest behavior is created by specialized areas in the brain that are specifically sensitive to different kind of information.

Psychological adaptations are thought to be easy to learn. They involve such areas as random variation, exaptations (an adaptation that is designed for something else and then reused.), by products (an accidental extra change that comes as a result of a desired change) and adaption.

Research Methods

Research methods refer to how research is preformed.  Research can be collected by survey, it can be case study research, correlative research shows two or more things in the same place at the same time and scientific method research which proves cause and effect.  This type of research is almost impossible to do in evolutionary psychology. As a result, evolutionary psychology has requirements very specific to its own type of research. Unfortunately, this provides for some of the criticism of this particular discipline.

The research methods used in evolutionary psychology are the same as in other heuristic research.  Heuristic research, that is research that is discipline specific and that begins with an hypothesis.  These are unique requirement that are not applicable to other research in the field of psychology.

Specific requirements necessary for this type of research include:

Cross cultural consistency:  If something occurs across cultures it can be considered a human universal.  This might be something like smiling that is assumed to be connected to a human emotion.

Function to Form: Since men can not be sure of the fact that they are the father of a child, unlike the mother who is always sure if they are the mother of a child the belief is that men would be more up set buy physical infidelity than emotional infidelity.

Form to Function: Pregnant women have morning sickness so they will not ingest foods that could harm the early developing fetus.

Corresponding Neurological Models: hypothesis must be compatible in both psychology and neurology.

Areas of Research

  1. Consciousness:  This is not really about being awake so much as it is about self awareness. All humans seem to recognize their image in a mirror so how far does that awareness go.  It is important to know one’s strengths and weaknesses, style of reacting, emotional control and so on for survival, relationships for reproduction and more. As life gets more complicated are we keeping up with out self awareness?
  2. Sensation and Perception: It has been thought that perception is learned or it is considered knowledge.  Evolutionary psychologists believe it to be evolved to judge distance. This whole area of study includes vision and depth perception.
  3. Sound as it helps us know where and how far we are from something,
  4. Taste, humans need salt and sugar to survive so have we evolved to crave more and more of those things?
  5. Pain sensation – the localization of pain is important to our survival.
  6. Emotion and motivation
  7. Cognition
  8. Personality
  9. Language
  10. Mating
  11. Parenting
  12. Family and Kin
  13. Friendship and Reciprocity
  14. Culture
  15. Human Development
  16. Social Psychology
  17. Abnormal Psychology—The origins of disorders
  18. Psychology of Religion

Criticism of Evolutionary Psychology and Research

The biggest criticism is that these hypotheses are not really testable or prove-able. Therefore, since cause and effect can not be proven some say that evolutionary psychology does not qualify as a real science.  Critics claim that we know little about earlier life and environments of early Homo sapiens. The response to that  besides saying that they do have enough information, is, what is being gleaned now can be used in the future for even more information. To date we must go by what we do know. Some of the important things that we do know is only women became pregnant; our ancestors were hunters and gatherer and generally lived in small tribes.

Evolutionary Psychologists generally base their thinking on the idea that the mind is like the body in that it is made up of many adaptation or it is plastic in its ability to adapt.

The old nature vs. nurture debate has cause many philosophical and political problems within the discipline. Psychologists have argued for years over what affects what (nature vs. nurture). Interestingly evolutionary psychology does not really appear to take sides.  Ultimate brain changes are postulated to follow problem solving adaptation to the environment.  That seems to involve both nature and nurture. The body may adapt (nature) but we have some control over the environment (nurture).

Some claim evolutionary psychology is a return to genetic determinism. They claim it does not address the complexity of the human and it seems to leave out the role that genetics of the individual plays in the theory. It also does not look at the human abilities in adaptation.

Conclusion

Despite the criticism the research goes on trying not only to explain but to understand how to support the positive changes that are believed to be possible for humans.  Some of the knowledge is showing up in cognitive psychotherapy, music therapy, linguistic and educational, social psychology and educational psychology.

Sources

Buss, D. (2005) Handbook of evolutionary psychology. New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons, Inc

Pinker, S. (1999). How the mind works. New York, NY., WW Norton and Co.