Evolutionary Psychologists - History


Evolutionary psychology has its historical roots in Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. In The Origin of Species, Darwin predicted that psychology would develop an evolutionary basis:

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. —Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859, p. 449.

Two of his later books were devoted to the study of animal emotions and psychology; The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex in 1871 and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals in 1872. Darwin's work inspired William James’s functionalist approach to psychology.

The content of EP has derived from, on one hand, the biological sciences (especially evolutionary theory as it relates to ancient human environments, the study of paleoanthropology and animal behavior) and, on the other, the human sciences, especially psychology.

Evolutionary biology as an academic discipline emerged with the modern evolutionary synthesis in the 1930s and 1940s. In the 1930s the study of animal behavior (ethology) emerged with the work of Dutch biologist Nikolaas Tinbergen and Austrian biologists Konrad Lorenz and Karl von Frisch.

W.D. Hamilton's (1964) papers on inclusive fitness and Robert Trivers's (1972) theories on reciprocity and parental investment helped to establish evolutionary thinking in psychology and the other social sciences. In 1975, Edward O. Wilson combined evolutionary theory with studies of animal and social behavior, building on the works of Lorenz and Tinbergen, in his book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis.

In the 1970s, two major branches developed from ethology. Firstly, the study of animal social behavior (including humans) generated sociobiology, defined by its pre-eminent proponent Edward O. Wilson in 1975 as "the systematic study of the biological basis of all social behavior" and in 1978 as "the extension of population biology and evolutionary theory to social organization." Secondly, there was behavioral ecology which placed less emphasis on social behavior by focusing on the ecological and evolutionary basis of both animal and human behavior.

In the 1970s and 1980s university departments began to include the term evolutionary biology in their titles. The modern era of evolutionary psychology was ushered in, in particular, by Donald Symons' 1979 book The Evolution of Human Sexuality and Tooby and Cosmides 1992 book The Adapted Mind.

From psychology there are the primary streams of developmental, social and cognitive psychology. Establishing some measure of the relative influence of genetics and environment on behavior has been at the core of behavioral genetics and its variants, notably studies at the molecular level that examine the relationship between genes, neurotransmitters and behavior. Dual inheritance theory (DIT), developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s, has a slightly different perspective by trying to explain how human behavior is a product of two different and interacting evolutionary processes: genetic evolution and cultural evolution. DIT is a "middle-ground" between much of social science, which views culture as the primary cause of human behavioral variation, and human sociobiology and evolutionary psychology which view culture as an insignificant by-product of genetic selection.

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