Evolutionary psychology: How evolution shaped human behaviour
Evolutionary psychology is a scientific discipline that approaches human behaviour, thoughts and feelings through the lens of evolutionary biology. This is a recent development that studies how evolution has shaped human behaviour. The word ‘adapt’ holds the vital key to why the study of evolutionary psychology is important. This perspective considers how human beings adapt to their environments.
Evolutionary psychology is based on the theories derived from the book titled On the Origin of Species, written by Charles Darwin, and Behavioural Genetics, written by Robert Plomin, John C Defries, Jerald E McClearn and Peter McGuffin.
Darwin put forward the theory of ‘Survival of the Fittest’. According to him, genetically, only the fittest will survive. Genes are carried on through generations of those animals who are good at adapting to their environment.
Evolutionary psychology focuses on three important elements: inclusive fitness, kin selection, and differential parental investment.
Inclusive fitness is the promotion of one’s own genes in a way that they continue to remain in the gene pool. It is aimed at ensuring the direct replication of genes.
Kin selection is more or less similar to inclusive fitness. In kin selection, genes of related wider family members are included apart from one’s own genes.
The term ‘reciprocal altruism’ was coined by sociobiologist Robert Trivers. According to this concept, one should act and behave towards others in the same way that one would wish to act and behave towards oneself.
Differential parental investment is the notion that females take a greater parental investment in rearing offspring. We are talking about various species, not only human beings. According to this strategy, the female becomes much more selective when it comes to seeking a mate. The father takes a lesser role in rearing his offspring and consequently gets lesser role in mate-selection compared to the female.
The drive to satisfy the demands of natural selection is not necessarily a conscious one. For example, we do not go about daily life thinking about the ways to have a greater opportunity in gene pool. We simply get on with life. The concept of altruism would not exist if we start favouring our own genes.
Altruism is not driven by genes. The person with whom we are acting altruistically may not share our genes. Altruism takes place on a daily basis and this can be viewed in a reciprocal manner. The term ‘reciprocal altruism’ was coined by sociobiologist Robert Trivers. According to this concept, one should act and behave towards others in the same way that one would wish to act and behave towards oneself.
Let us take an example. A child in your classroom shares his or her food with a friend who is hungry. Here the altruistic effort was not based on genes as they are genetically unrelated. There is no benefit to the benefactor, but there are reciprocal benefits to it. According to Evolutionary Psychology, Cognitive Science, and Dynamical Systems: Building an Integrative Paradigm by Douglas T Kendrick, the beneficiary may be more likely to reciprocate this gesture at some point in the future.
The gesture we mentioned above is normal in our daily life. We share our food with our friends who are hungry, but here, we are trying to explain this act from the perspective of evolutionary psychology. The evolutionary approach helps us appreciate the significant influence of social and cognitive factors in the ways in which children adapt to their environment.
Sociocultural perspective deals with the role of social environment and culture in how we think, feel and behave.
Evolutionary psychologists argue that our mental abilities and behaviour have evolved through the process of natural selection. Charles Darwin, who has played a significant role in the development of modern science, is considered by many as the creator and father of evolutionary theory and the principles of natural selection. Though Darwin was principally a biologist, he created a lasting impact on the development of psychology as well.
Sociocultural perspective deals with the role of social environment and culture in how we think, feel and behave. Culture refers to the knowledge, values, customs, and attitudes that guide our behaviour. This is the way of life of a particular group of people. It may be based on religion, spirituality, ethnicity, occupation, geographical background or a combination of many of these factors. It is important in shaping our values, beliefs and identity.
All cultural groups have their own set of norms. These norms are passed from generation to generation through socialisation. Psychologists have started to explore these cultures, and it led to the development of cultural psychology and cross-cultural psychology. This approach explores how culture is passed on to the next generations and the commonalities and differences between people from diverse cultures.
Now put on your thinking hats and think about the following questions for a couple of minutes.
As a teacher, how would you describe the term "evolutionary psychology" to your students?
Can you think of the ways in which evolutionary psychological perspective differ from sociocultural perspective?
How do you describe the contributions of Charles Darwin in the development of modern science?
Write down your thoughts and discuss them with your students, children and your colleagues. Listen to their views and compare them with your own. As you listen to others, note how similar or different your views are to others’.
Thank you for listening. We will explore more perspectives in future articles in this series. Subscribe to The Scando Review on thescandoreview.com.