Monday, April 12, 2010

are psychological traits adaptations?

Jerry Coyne describes the evolution of the human brain as a physiological process that manifested itself as a change in skull and brain size. contemporary Evolutionary psychologists claim that selective pressures have also shaped the development of psychological traits such as memory, perception or language and that "

cognitive structure, like physiological structure, has been designed by natural selection to serve survival and reproduction". Based on what you know about natural selection, how is it that the concept of evolution may be reasonably applied to psychology? What situations may have selected for the development of emotions? Cognitive thinking, problem solving, social cooperation, altruism? How has this impacted our social structure, values, morals, beliefs etc. ? How can evolutionary psychology be applied to "survival of the fittest" in modern day society?


  1. The field of evolutionary psychology studies the influence of social pressures on the development of human behavior. Psychologists believe that selective pressures caused the development of emotion. The evolutionary significance of emotion is proven by the fact that humans across cultures experience similar emotions including surprise, fear, anger, happiness, sadness, and disgust. Humans have the innate ability to show emotions via facial expressions. These are also universal. This is a selective advantage, especially before language, because it allows others to know how one is feeling. For instance, if ancient man was to eat a poisonous berry, there would be a look of disgust on his or her face that would signal to others not to eat that berry. Furthermore, if man was to see a dangerous animal in the wild, he would express a look of fear that tells others to flee. In this way, the face is a prime example of structure dictating function in nature. The face has many muscles that allow for a huge variety of expressions. This allows an array of emotions to be shown in various situations.

    Cognitive thinking is an additional selective advantage according to evolutionary psychologists. It is true that many animals show signs of cognition. For instance, the Max Planck Institute
    for Evolutionary Anthropoloy studies apes ability to use selected tools to gain a reward. However, the ability to problem solve is greatest in humans. Humans far exceed other species in capabilities of accomplishing tasks and planning ahead. These skills increase the likelihood of survival and reproduction because it allows them to have appropriate number of offspring, fight disease, survive natural disasters, and more. Thus, individuals with excellent problem solving skills have been selected to pass along their genes.

    Finally, there is evolutionary significance to the development of morals. Morals increase the likelihood of survival by dictating things such as murder and drugs are wrong. Morals also dictate having monogamous relationships. The evolutionary perspective of psychology proposes that having one mate produces a stable number of offspring. It also increases the likelihood of offspring survival because there is more parental investment. Overall, moral humans are clearly the fittest to survive thus passing along their genes through evolutionary time. This created the highly ethical society known today.


  2. The concept of evolution overlaps into psychology in a multitude of ways. Coyne says that the changes in skull and brain size may have happened because of the development of our cognitive structures. This is because natural selection applies to the development of memory, perception, language and more topics of psychology. Being able to remember things, use language to communicate, and perceive the things around you are all things that can help an organism survive and reproduce so by the theory of natural selection and evolution over time organisms have become better at perceiving, using language, and memory because of natural selection.
    The development of emotions may have been selected out of situations where communicating to others allowed for emotions to be necessary. For example, if someone did something very wrong like killing someone else then the people around them would have benefited in showing anger, disgust, and other negative emotions so that that person would know that what they did was wrong and not to do it again. Without these emotions communicating would be much more difficult so the emotions make life easier so they would be selected for by natural selection in a multitude of situations.
    Cognitive thinking and problem solving are both aspects that natural selection would chose for because they completely coincide with the ability to survive and reproduce. The development of these skills helps to find necessary elements in life like food and shelter as well as figure out how to find a mate and reproduce. In today's society cognitive thinking and problem solving put people ahead in school, in the workplace, and in many other situations in every day life. Also, social cooperation and altruism would be selected for because it is necessary to coexist as peacefully as possible with the people around you in order to help each other when help is needed. Not everything can be done on your own so social cooperation and altruism have rewards, like mutualistically beneficial relationships. Modern day example is a carpool.
    Our social structure has become one that depends on people to do things in order to provide for the rest of the world. This means that each person is not growing their own food, building their own shelter, making their own clothing etc. this is because the values of social cooperation and altruism and cognitive thinking and problem solving have led to this more efficient type of society. As for morals and values and beliefs they have been effected by almost all acknowledging that social cooperation and respect of others is a must.

    Psychology textbook

  3. The concept of evolution most definitely may be applied to psychology. Human culture itself is related to evolutionary theory on the basis of sociobiology; by studying certain behavioral characteristics because of expressions of specific genes, this inarguably ties in the debate between nature v. nurture.
    The psychology behind altruism is also tied to evolution. In Campbell, an entire section explains that on the surface, altruistic behavior may not seem to be of benefit to the individual, but on a larger scope, this led to Hamilton’s idea of inclusive fitness: by proliferating one’s genes through one’s own offspring and by providing aid to relatives that share many of the similar genes. (Campbell 1139)
    Recent research though, has pinpointed evidence that leads to explaining that the evolution of the brain is slowing down. Because of the highly complex nature of the brain (with multiple gene to gene interactions) has brought about this effect. (
    An analogy to describe the evolution of the human brain is to extend the evolution of life itself, existing first in the form of single-celled organisms that through their own chemical processes, gradually evolved into multi-celled beings. But what pressures selected for such adaptations? Improved sensors perhaps forced the neural control of the sensory enhancements to occur and necessitated man’s complex interactions with the environment. Furthermore, complex emotions, studied by Joseph LeDoux in The Emotional Brain, originate in the deep level of the human brain and that our individual responses delve into the brain’s complex circuits and at the same time, we learn through experience. Interestingly, psychological disorders – phobias, stress – may simply be malfunctions in which the brain processes our emotions. (
    Therefore, this seeks to explain kin selection and even reciprocal altruism in other animals; for example, chimpanzees who practice reciprocal altruism expect their equals to repay them but if not, then such a foul is deemed “cheating” (Campbell 1140). Through social learning and the formation of culture, the rise of a pecking order seen in human society exists.

  4. Psychological development is based on evolution and this can be proven through looking at the human cerebral cortex, which is where psychological processes take place. It has evolved substantially from our ancestors' and is much more advanced than our cousins, the apes. Emotions are evolutionary because they provide benefits to the organism. Fear tells an organism to get out of the danger or to avoid it in the future. Love is to find a mate that we are compatible with and will have a good chance of reproducing offspring. Cognitive thinking, problem solving, social cooperation, and altruism all have their own advantages. Problem solving gives the advantage of overcoming small and big obstacles to survive and reproduce. Social cooperation helps the population pass on their traits because together they can get more food and resources. Altruism, when it benefits a family member, is to pass on one's genes, or most of them, so that they live on. This impacts social structure because humans are very community based which presents benefits for all who are involved. Our values and morals reflect our want of surviving and reproducing, even if it is just the survival of mankind and not our individual selves. Evolutionary psychology is applied to survival of the fittest because when the fittest of a species survive, then the offspring are more likely to be fit and strong, and able to survive and reproduce and ensure the survival of the species. When the weakest links die off, their genes are no longer in the gene pool and therefore the future offspring of the species are less likely to be weak. Psychological evolution is just another set of traits that can evolve in any one species to make them stronger and fitter for the environment. It follows the rules of evolution just like any other trait.


  5. Emotions are adaptations that adjust behavior based on circumstance. Happiness is the reward for what is beneficial, and our being drawn toward these things aids survival and reproduction. Fear makes us avoid what is dangerous, which also aids survival and reproduction. Anger is another response to threat: An angry elephant will frighten away predators with a fake charge, or an angry human might get into a fight with someone they disagree with. The former is obviously advantageous to survival and reproduction, and the latter may need explanation: Such a fight will weed out those who are different from us (we are most likely to be angry at someone who is more different from us rather than someone very similar to us), thereby promoting a higher concentration of self DNA. There could also be a fight to display which is the fitter of two individuals of the same sex, having a similar effect. Other emotions like embarrassment or sadness might promote a negative response that lets the individual learn not to do whatever caused that emotion to occur. There is a great host of emotions capable of being formed in the human mind, all of which have specific functions. Environments involving many different potential problems to a species such as predators, occasional drought, food shortage, etc. could explain the need for emotions, or it could simply be because of the fact that, if more than one niche is available, all will be filled after enough time to evolve, causing divergent speciation--in this case, one species might evolve to be bulkier, better fighters, while the other develops the brain to adapt by emphasizing a range of emotions. Another alternative would be a combination of both.

    Similarly, intelligence such as cognitive thinking, problem solving, and social cooperation would evolve due to selective pressure for a species that can overcome predators--relating the "power shift" idea between humans and their previous predators that was mentioned in a different post. This species could use sharp tools or maybe just coordinate a team of specialized individuals, or a combination of these. Of course, we can see many other uses for such intelligence as well.

    Altruism can be attributed to the benefits of cooperation or to those of promoting survival of genes similar to one's own, or a combination.

    After a while, our intelligence caused us to use technology and even medicine to advance the survival rate of human beings faster than could have been caused by just evolution. At first, we did not know what we were doing, and now that the idea of evolution has been accepted, some of us have become aware that the way we have changed since our days in the wild is so great that, as evolution is not changing us at anywhere near the rate we change our environment, we are having problems. Examples would be how people--especially teens--become addicted to looking at electronic screens all the time, and violent movies and video games hurt our sense of altruism, and we are constantly finding new information on the negative effects of certain man-made things such as pesticides, pollution, BPA plastics (, titanium dioxide (, and led paints. We are also facing overpopulation because we tend to continue producing offspring despite the fact that we are having trouble supporting the world's population of humans.

  6. Sorry, this was too long to be only one post, so here is the rest:

    In addition, intelligence has led to a wide variety of different beliefs, many if not all of which were probably made up to explain things that were previously unexplained. With these beliefs came varying morals, but these tended to basically obey instinctive altruism, since we will gravitate toward that as it has evolved in us. Growing numbers also have called for ingenuity in societal structure, and with little hope of unifying a global species, this gave rise to varying social structures, which is why we have different governments instead of everyone having the same government. Different people have different ideas.

    One more thing I'd like to mention is how self-awareness has led to the thought of ending one's own life, which is not a thought that EVOLVED in us; that wouldn't make sense, since it is detrimental to survival and reproduction. It is simply an unfortunate side-effect of having such a large brain with so many different possible things to think about. Somewhere down the line someone suddenly thought about committing suicide, and, sadly, it seems to have caught on. Evolution should weed this out, but again, society is changing us much faster than evolution is.

  7. Evolution has had dramatic impact on the world of Pshycology. The idea of natural selection does not only apply to organisms' physical traits but also affects how our minds and the way we think have evolved.
    Darwin said that certain emotions had selective advantages. Fear, for example "would help an organism avoid danger and thus would aid in survival" (Weiten). Evolutionary theorists in psychology would say that emotions are innate reactions to certain stimuli that provide a selective advantage. And those emotions are passed down from generation to generation.
    When it comes to problem solving, evolutionary theorists say that our minds consist of "cognitive mechanisms that have emerged over the course of evolution to solve specific adaptive problems, such as finding food, shelter, and mates and dealing with allies and enemies"(Weiten). Therefore, problems become easier to handle when they are put in terms relating the problem to similar ones seen by our anscestors.
    In reference to language, evolutionists have found that "the universal nature of language suggests that it is an innate human characteristic...because language is a valuable means of communication that has enormous adaptive value" (Weiten). Language was first used to maintain social coalitions in groups. So it is easy to understandthat more effective communication would have helped in hunting, gathering, fighting, mating, and avoidance of danger.
    Personality is also affected by evolution as natural selection has favored certain traits over the course of human history. Evolutionary theory in personality deals with traits called the big five: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness to experience, and neuroticism. In the past it was important to put groups together considering questions like, "Who will make a good member of my coalition? Who can I depend on when in need? Who will share their resources?" (Weiten). So with the big five it has proven to be advantageous to be able to bond with others well (extraversion), be willing to cooperate (agreeable), be reliable and ethical (conscientious), be an innovative problem solver (open to experience), and to be able to handle stress (low neuroticism).
    These are all positive traits that have encouraged the development of morals in society. Morals have a selective advantage because they protect us and encourage us to refrain from self-inflicting harm or hurting others. Thus, morals increase our chances of survival.

    Psychology Themes and Variations
    Why Evolution is True

  8. Psychology is the science of mental and behavioral characteristics of an individual or group, and it can be reasonable applied to psychology. Through an animals instincts and experiences, it will learn what to do to ensure its survival. One such instinct is the fight-or-flight response. When there is a dangerous situation, the sympathetic nervous system releases epinephrine and norepinephrine. This short-term stress response results in and increase blood pressure, increased breathing rate, increased heart rate, alertness, more blood glucose for energy, etc. This is evolutionary adaptive because it helps organisms get out of dangerous situations. Therefore, an animal that exhibits this fight-or-flight response in dangerous stressful situations will survive, whereas organisms that do not do this die.

    Emotions may have developed as an aid to our memories and recognition. Take for example fear. When something happens to us, whether we realize it or not, we associate an emotion with it. Let’s say that one time you went camping and you were bit by a snake. The next time you see a snake, you will most likely think back to that incident and associate the fear you felt. You then use this memory to remind you it would be best to go the other way

    Cognitive thinking, problem solving, and altruism are selective advantages. Cognitive thinking is the process knowing by learning and reasoning. This was exhibited by bees in an experiment where they were shown different colors that corresponded to different pathways in a maze. If the bee went a specific direction, away or toward the same color, they were rewarded. This showed that bees could decipher between “same” and “different.”

    Altruism is indirectly a selective advantage for an organism and is only exhibited in animals with strong social bonds. By risking its life for that of another, the organism can promote the survival of similar genes.

    Problem solving is a selective advantage as an organism applies what it learned in the past to help them later in the future. This behavior is highly developed in certain mammals like humans primates and dolphins. Many animals learn to solve problems on their own, but they can also learn by observing the behavior of other individuals. For example, a chimpanzee learning how to use rocks to open nuts. Altruism is indirectly a selective advantage for an organism and is only exhibited in animals with strong social bonds. By risking its life for that of another, the organism can promote the survival of similar genes.


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