Evolutionary Psychology

What Is Evolutionary Psychology?

The human body evolved over eons, slowly calibrating to the African savanna on which 98 percent of human ancestry lived and died. So, too, did human brains. According to evolutionary psychologists, the mind is shaped by the pressure to survive and reproduce; emotions, communication skills, and language ability are adaptations that enabled ancestors to thrive. 

Many of the behaviors humans exhibit have been tools for self-preservation: People jealously guard their romantic partners, competition for mates has always been harsh. Everyone cherishes their closest kin; preserving genes is in one’s best interest. Humans also crave social interaction to encourage cooperation, further increasing the chances for survival. Many of these behaviors are innate; often how people react and interact with one another is spelled out in DNA. 

Fight or Flight

The common term of “fight or flight” refers to the human body’s response to a perceived threat—it prepares the body to either face danger, or quickly run from it. During flight-or-flight, the brain releases stress hormones, pushing the brain into high alert. The heart rate rises, muscles tense, and thoughts race. While the modern-day human may not be facing the same threats as that of our ancestors, this same response system remains intact. Whatever one may find fearful can trigger this—whether it be physical danger or a stressful situation, like running late for a meeting. With an anxiety disorder, the body’s fight-or-flight response is more readily triggered—the brain sees certain situations as threatening, even when there's no danger. 



Helping to Explain Who We Are

Our emotional complexity helps differentiate us from other members of the animal kingdom. Evolutionary psychology seeks to explain how our emotions and other aspects of being human served the advantages of our ancestors. Like other social primates, we experience emotions beyond primal fear and anger—through evolving as a group, we have developed empathy and altruism, which allow us to commiserate with each other’s situations and act in ways that are not self-serving. We have also developed emotions to help keep us in line—for example, shame motivates us to atone for past transgressions, while pride pushes us to remain in high regard by our peers. As our social structures developed, so did our value systems—what we define as “right” and “wrong.”


Gender, Mating

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