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Psychology 101, What is Evolution by Natural Selection?

Updated on June 4, 2012

In this psychology 101 article, we attempt to provide you with the best information in a simple way.  The question here is what is the process of evolution by natural selection?  It was requested by Webby and we hope that we have covered this topic effectively and well.

We first start with a psychology definition and look at the roots on the concept of evolution.  So, where did the idea stem from and who brought this to the forefront in terms of science?  Of course, many of you would know of Charles Darwin and what a fitting place to begin!

We then look at evolution by natural selection in terms of today and how it has influenced us.  This is about genetic inheritance and we use an example of evolution in action in the form of certain bugs.  Intregued?  Well, read on!


Psychology Definition

As this is a psychology 101 based article, I will, as always, start by providing a ‘working definition’ of psychology as a term:

‘Psychology is the scientific study of the mind and behaviour of humans and animals.’

Psychologists concentrate on what is observable and measurable in a person’s behaviour. This includes the biological processes in the body, although, the mind is central to the subject.

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Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin - Evolution From Natural Selection

When we think of Evolution from Natural Selection, we think about Charles Darwin's theories.  Yes, indeed, he was the first to publish this theory, but he wasn't the first to have such ideas.  His Grandfather, a man of the cloth, had similar thoughts and it might be suggested that it was he who sewed the seed, whilst Darwin searched for the evidence.

This evidence was discovered, notably, on Darwin's travels, particularly his trip to the Galapagos Islands, situated within the Pacific Ocean. 

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

galapagos islands:
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

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Finch Evidence And Natural Selection

Darwin was a keen cataloger, geologist and naturalist. He drew wonderful sketches, collected specimens and wrote on various different species, sending these to key Universities in England for inspection.

It was during his trip to the Galapagos Islands that he discovered variants on the beaks of finches. He wondered why one type of beak differed to other types. He realised that these differences must have something to do with their locations or environments.

The Galapagos are a set of Islands situated off of the coast of Ecuador. It appeared that each Island offered different types of nuts and insects which required different types of tools to access the contents of their food source. These tools came in the form of the finch's beaks.

Darwin's Finches

Gene Pool Of Natural Selection

The Finches that had the right beak for the right food in the right Island would survive, but the Finches that didn't have the correct beak would die out. They would not survive to procreate.

Of course, I may add, Finches with thinner beaks were more adept to consuming insects, whereas those with wider ones ate nuts.

It is, therefore, the gene associated with the creation of this type of beak that would survive and remain in the gene pool of finches. This forms the basis of natural selection and is a famous example of it.

Natural Selection - Survival Of The Fittest

So, natural selection is about changes from one generation to the next.  These are known as Random Mutations in genes.  It is a natural phenomenum. 

These changes are beneficial for the survival of the individual or species.  Genetic changes that are adverse, therefore, can lessen the chances of survival.  This is survival of the fittest.

Charles Darwin - The Origin Of Species

Charles Darwin wrote his ground breaking book The Origin Of Species which he didn't publish until 10 years after it's creation. Forced by Alfred Wallace's work, who came to similar conclusions as Darwin, he reluctantly published. Darwin, knowing that his work would provide controversy on the meaning of life, was reluctant to do this. He knew his ideas would have a great impact on the world and this created great conflict within him - hence the 10 years! Indeed, these issues are still prevalent today.

His concerns did not go without merit. Look what happened in the 2nd world war and the great sterilisation campaigns around the world with the advent of the eugenics society!


Evolution is the term used to explain why there are so many different variations in the same species.

So, lets go back to our Finch example. In the Galopolos Islands, it was discovered that there were 17 different variaties of these birds, each with differing variations. They had evolved these differences from the basic finch design, if you like.

Survival of the fittest helps to explain the variety and distribution of living organisms. This concept is about the continuity of a species (as in all existing life forms), rather than the discontinuity (for example, the Dinosaurs).

Evolution is about change, over a period of time or generations, and diversity in a variety of a species.

The Origin Of Species by Charles Darwin

Evolution In Action Today - M.R.S.A.

We can see evolution in action today. The mutation of bacteria and viruses demonstrates this. As we develop ways to overcome illness and infections with antibiotics, these structures have managed to evolve to combat these. They have evolved, over a short period of time - relative to our life expectancies - to what we know as 'super bugs'. These render many of our antibiotics useless.

The staphylococcus aureus bacteria is an example of how well this bug has evolved and flourished. Many penicillin based antibiotics like Methicillin are resistant. This is where the term M.R.S.A. - Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus - comes from.

Bacteria and virus mutate quickly; therefore, we can watch evolution in action today.

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Evolution And Psychology

Evolution does not suggest biological explainations to the structure and function of all living things, but in terms of psychology, might help to explain behaviour.

Richard Dawkins, for example, in his publication The Selfish Gene in 1976, uses this to justify courtship rituals, territorial behaviours and altruism (unconditional help to others without thought of a reward). It is, therefore, genetic inheritance that may go some way to understanding why we act in the way we do.

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Evolution Expressed As A Physical Manifestation

So, how can we explain evolution as a physical manifestation? Of course, we can all see physical characteristics that is handed down from generation to generation.

Attractiveness and usefulness of such characteristics might be kept within the gene pool as a way of keeping the line going. For example, brown hair is genetically stronger than fair hair. The brown hair gene is, essentially, the selfish gene that overides the fair hair gene. Sooner or later, fair hair, therefore, might be erradicated from the gene pool.

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Human Similarities and Individual Differences

Francis Galton, Darwin's cousin, was keen on hereditary and founded the idea on 'Individual Differences'. He discovered how unique finger printing was in 1892.

The lines on your fingers are genetically programmed to exist. These are human similarities.

Each and every one of us has their own personal finger-print. These are different to every one elses. It is our own physical signiture and, today, is used extensively in identity cards and to log us in times of conviction. These are individual differences.

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Evolution And Today

Humans and animals have developed and evolved over many generations. However, the main difference to our animal friends, is that we have adaped our environment far quicker than our evolution.

Our bodies crave salt, sugar and fat. We have evolved in this way to assist us with survival - it is a jungle out there and you just might not get to eat for a long time!

However, in the Western World, we have also adapted our environment at a far greater rate than our evolution.  Food is readily available and convenient.  We no longer have to hunt, but we still  have those base instinctual desires for high calories.  Is it any wonder, therefore, that nations are getting fatter?

Nature Restoring Natural Order

So, now we can see the conflict that humans have as regards to our 'nature'. We have evolved to survive.

Our genetic inheritance has helped homeosapiens to remain on this earth some 80,000 generations from the first human that walked upon the African Savannah.  We have migrated, evolved and survived to create an environment that feeds our every desire.  However, our environment has been created at a far greater rate than the people of the first world's evolution.

It seems, therefore, that diseases associated with obesity, for example, is a product of nature restoring natural order. Again, mankind sets to combat this by creating new ways of overcoming disease, resulting in taking away the responsibility of evolution through natural selection.  The circle keeps turning.

Evolution by Natural Selection: It Is A Jungle Out There!

The fight continues between the intelligence of mankind and nature. Are we stunting our evolution of the genetic pool by the way we control our environment with medications and designs for life? By inventing new ways of combating nature, it might be possible to think that we are brewing a future debt of artificial dependency. It might take a catastrophe like war, for example, that teaches us that it is, indeed, a jungle out there!

I hope you enjoyed this information from this psychology 101 article. Hopefully, you should now be able to answer the question 'What is the process of Evolution by Natural Selection?'  However, feel free to ask any questions in the comments section and we shall do our best to answer you.

© This work is covered under Creative Commons License

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More Related Content

If you enjoyed this brief outline on evolution through natural selection, you will love the following Psychology 101 articles by the same writer:

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    • shazwellyn profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Great Britain

      You are a product of nature and nurture, Dallas. Celebrate you and your individuality! :)

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      10 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      I was born with nothing and I still have most of it - yet I was born with everything I need!

    • shazwellyn profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Great Britain

      lol Umm dallas.... maybe we can start with you! Tell us about your childhood... did you have a good relationship with you mother? lol

      Thanks for your witty comment :)

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      10 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Great hub. I am sure you are aware there is much debate about the forth coming new "bible" of psychological labels due in 2015... Seems 30% of us are mentally evolved to being labeled as whatever suits the doctor to enable them to get paid...

    • shazwellyn profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Great Britain

      Mentalist and Tony - Simplifying this concept was my intention. I am glad that you picked up on this - I hope this article will help readers that are introduced to this subject, a thirst for learning more. Thanks for reading and I am glad you enjoyed it.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      10 years ago from South Africa

      Excellent Hub, thank you. I think that Acer makes a very valid point about altruism, and especially that the term "survival of the fittest" is an over-simplification of what evolution is all about. I enjoyed the read, thank you.

      Love and peace


    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 

      10 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      I think that altruism is also part of why Homo-Sapiens have evolved into a dominant position on Earth...that is to say that the survival of the fittest is an over-simplification,thanks for sharing shazwellyn.;)


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