Just as in the past a brilliant scientist and researcher William Harvey was able to find the fact that it is the heart that is responsible for pumping blood through the human body, psychologists of today have been able to find out and to prove the fact that ‘cognition’ has a particular and specific structure. These psychologists are known as ‘evolutionary psychologists’, and it is this team of experts that have floated the theory that cognitive structure, like physiological structure, has followed, through the centuries, the all important process of natural selection.
This was how it has been able to survive and engage in reproduction through the years. What exactly is evolutionary psychology? It is a science that focuses on discovering the evolved process of the nervous systems of human beings, bringing into focus the fact that the human brain is a completely organized structure, just like tissues in any living organism are fully organized. In other words, it is the opinion of evolutionary psychologists that the human brain is composed of several functional parts, made to facilitate the survival and the reproduction of that particular organism.
Therefore, this can be taken to mean that the human brain is not an organ with one single function, but rather as an organism made up of a large number of fully functioning parts. In general, evolutionary psychologists refer to the functional components of organisms as ‘adaptations’, and this is the term applied to the functions of the human brain as well. (Hagen, Edward 2004) It is evident therefore that evolutionary psychology refers to a particular approach to psychology, which uses the accepted principles of evolutionary biology to research the design and the workings of the human mind.
It can be described as an approach, or a way of thinking, which can be applied to any subject within it. (Cosmides, Leda, Tooby, John 1997) What are the primary activities of evolutionary psychologists? Charles Darwin had this to say, in the year 1859, “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.
” Darwin had foreseen the advances that would be made in the field of psychology in the future, and the science of evolutionary psychology was one of his predictions that came true. As mentioned earlier, evolutionary perspectives on human psychology are a part of the larger theory of general selection, and this field has led to greater scientific advancements in areas like sociobiology and ethnobotany, among others. Evolutionary psychologists have to find answers to questions such as how, why and when did human consciousness evolve, are there any differences between the psychology of men and women, and if so, what are they?
Are there any differences between the psychologies of various races and ethnicities? Are there are adaptive explanations for human behaviors such as aggressiveness, self destructiveness and so on? Is it true that human consciousness is evolving today, as it has been steadily over the past hundreds and thousands of years? Is it true that human intelligence is inherited, and is it at all in any way influenced by one’s environment?
Can the theories of evolutionary psychology accurately describe and explain the reasons behind the common phobias among human beings? One must remember however that several sociologists, anthropologists and psychologists are completely wary of using and understanding the new evolutionary perspective on human brains and behaviors, perhaps because in their opinion, evolutionary psychologists tended to adapt theories from the animal world and apply them to humans, and also, tended to generalize the principles of evolution in a much too dramatic fashion.
(Evolutionary Psychology 2003) these are the basic of evolutionary psychology theory: Darwin’s ‘descent with modification’ theory, Hamilton’s ‘inclusive fitness’ theory, Maynard Smith’s ‘game theory’, and Trivers’ ‘optimization’ theory. Take for example the theory of ‘inclusive fitness’. This is also referred to as ‘kin selection’, and therefore forms an important element of evolutionary psychology. Kin selection explains away the fact of altruism and philanthropy, by stating that all genes are invariably ‘selfish’, and that an individual is in reality nothing but a gene’s ‘survival machine’.
Nevertheless, since a gene would automatically be passed on to the next generation, if the person who is carrying that gene survives in order to reproduce, or even if any of the several other relatives of the surviving individual survive and reproduce, thereby passing on the gene to the next generation. According to Maynard Smith, this may be the reason why a lapwing will fake being injured in order to lure a predatory hawk away from its offspring, thereby acting in an altruistic manner towards its young.
This type of altruism may also benefit non-relatives, because it is an acknowledged fact that the members of the same species will help take care of the youngsters of the species, even if they are not related in any way. The reason why this happens may be because of the fact that the evolved mechanism may not be sufficiently complex to make fine discriminations of this kind. This may be why some people like to take care of pets, while some do not. The people who do have pets are in fact allowing their caretaking mechanism to be exploited.
Evolutionary psychology has also been applied into another important are: aggression of the human being. It is an accepted fact that sexual rivalry often leads to blatant aggression, and most violent deaths are caused by man killing another man, or man killing a woman in the name of sexual tension and rivalry. In such a case, violence may be taken to refer to be just one strategy in the plethora of male coercive tools, coercion being the direct result of sexual proprietorship and possessiveness.
Men who allow themselves to be cuckolded would then be considered losers of the zero-sum evolutionary game that human beings play in their desire to make sure that their genes get into the next generation. Men use violence as a tool to stop and prevent their mates from sexually engaging with other men, because although maternity is always a given, paternity may not be proven. It is this same principle that works in the case of step-children and their adoptive fathers.
These fathers have no interest in their step children, because they are not carrying their genes onto the next generation, and supporting another man’s child may mean that this man is working in opposition to his evolutionary interests. History can prove to man that in general, step fathers indulge in greater violence and aggression towards their step children than towards their biological children, the primary reason being that of ensuring that his genes are carried forward, and not another man’s.
(Evolutionary Psychology 1998) According to evolutionary psychologists, there is a lack of fit between the current environment and the adaptation of the brain. In their opinion, if the brain is an adaptation, then there could be no doubt that at some time back in time, there existed some sort of selection for brain mechanisms, which in effect transformed information about environment and its conditions, into human behaviors that could adapt and change in accordance with the requirements of the situation and environment.
Selection, however took place because of the manner in which they responded to the environment at the time in which they were selected. Therefore, this theory can be taken to imply that because environmental conditions are different today, the information that is input to the brain is different as well, and as a direct consequence, the brain may respond by generating behavior that may not be adaptive to the new conditions in which it finds itself.
Failure to adapt may occur in two ways: either the brain could continue to produce the same older behavior under the newer conditions given, or the brain could produce new behavior that responded to the new information coming in, and the behavior could fail to be of the adaptive sort. This is in fact a rather common behavioral pattern, and when conditions change, the response becomes different from what the designers intended, like for example, as demonstrated by sophisticated computer programs, designed to perform a variety of complicated tasks, are also programmed to produce adaptive outputs as a direct response to certain key commands.
At the same time, a new input could confuse the computer and prompt it into giving a completely nonsensical and non-adaptive output in response. In human beings, as evolutionary psychologists theorize, there is in place an evolved behavioral predisposition to make sure that reproductive success is always at its highest level, but this conflates the theory that the human brain was designed through a process of selection, as mentioned earlier. (Buller J David n. d)
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