Episode #4 of the course “Major Schools of Thought in Psychology”
Evolutionary psychology combines the concepts of natural selection and psychology. It was strongly influenced by the work of Charles Darwin and his evolutionary theories—so much so that it is sometimes referred to as Psychological Darwinism. Evolutionary psychology is a way of thinking about psychology; it is not an area of study, like reasoning, social behavior, or vision would be.
Darwin believed (and many take his work as scientific truth) that animals and humans evolved in a way that has allowed them to adapt to their environment. When the psychology portion is added in, the theory assumes that useful mental processes like memory, language, and perception were developed because they served a useful and adaptive purpose. Part of Darwin’s theory is that those who do not develop these traits will die out, and eventually only those organisms with the trait will survive. That concept is carried over into evolutionary psychology as well.
The focus in evolutionary psychology, then, is on determining the practical purpose of thought processes and using them in the best way possible. How has evolution shaped the mind and behavior over time? Technically, evolutionary psychology could be used on animals as well, but most of the research is on the development of humans.
Concepts of “instincts” and “human nature” have their roots in evolutionary psychology. While most believe that humans have lost the majority of their “natural instincts,” those instinctive thought process may still be in the unconscious mind, causing automatic or reflexive action in certain situations—particularly in dangerous situations. William James, a founding father of psychology, would argue that humans actually have more instincts, which allow them to thrive so much better than other animals. He argues that we may not realize that we have them because they work so well that they are virtually unnoticeable.
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