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Human Evolutionary Psychology

Updated on February 23, 2011

Human Evolutionary Psychology - Understanding Human Behavior

Whenever we try to predict the behavior of another person, we must understand their basic makeup and what drives them. You might think that the best way to do this would be to ask them, but this assumes that it is in a person's best interest to understand themselves.

I studied a lot of psychology books when I was growing up. I wanted to get along better with people and I felt understanding them would help me in that regards. However, this actually made things worse due to several serious misconceptions by researchers. Strangely enough, the worst misconceptions were due to many researchers being of religious backgrounds. Many of them tried to find evidence or proof of their religious beliefs in science.

However, there is a line of scientific inquiry that is very beneficial in understanding other people and the decision they make. This is a field known as human evolutionary psychology. Evolution is based on the idea that genes that are the most adept at surviving and reproduction survive and evolve. Evolutionary psychology is based on the idea that genes that control behavior can have advantages to survival. I saw an example of this in my fish tank. My wife bought two frogs and I bought a couple of pregnant guppies. Most of the baby guppies born swam near the bottom of the tank and were eaten by frogs. A couple preferred the top and they survived. After a couple of generations, I noticed that most of the new baby guppies stayed near the top of the tank after being born. Those guppy genes that created behavior of swimming near the top of the tank predominated after just a few generations.

Human evolutionary psychology is the idea that our behavior is based on our genetic code and optimized for the spreading our genes. It says that genes that survive to reproduce will predominate.

Using the ideas behind evolutionary psychology we can build an internal consistent model that explains many things. This doesn't mean that all behavior is necessarily the best for reproduction, it just means that the person probably believes sub-consciously that it is. Or to be more accurate, that their behavior is the result of genes that were selected for in the past.

For example, lets look at the mating strategies of females. As a female you would want to maximize the number or health of your children. Each child is a major investment for her and she would need to provide food, shelter, clothing, and protection. In the past when many resources were scarce, females that choose men who have access to these resources would have more successful offspring than females who chose men who could barely provide for themselves.

Ultimately, the genes of females, that exhibited behavior that maximized their reproductive success predominated. Whether or not, her partner was a nice guy, was mostly irrelevant.

Genes to Behavior

We can do the same with men. Men who selected young healthy females would often end up with more offspring. Men who took advantages of opportunities to cheat would often end up with extra offspring. Once again, the genes of those men came to predominate the population.

When we create new laws, we must consider the long term consequences of encouraging certain behaviors, especially those that change reproductive strategies.

For instance, welfare laws encourage girls to have more children and choose partners based more on physique than the ability or willingness to support a family. Welfare laws also reward those men who reproduce with a lot of females, regardless of their ability or willingness to support their offspring.

Some genetic based behaviors can be useful even if they may be delusional. A mom that thinks her children are the best children in the world even if they are totally worthless will probably be a better than the mom who realizes that her children are worthless scum that the world would be better off without.

So when you see behaviors that don't make sense, try to look at them from the viewpoint of human evolutionary psychology. Maybe those behaviors made sense in a previous generation or a different part of the world.

In conclusion, I believe that a better understanding of people and their behavior will lead to better communication and cooperation in the world. Ultimately, I believe that human evolutionary psychology will make the world a better place for everyone to live.

Interesting Books on Science


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  • Charlotte B Plum profile image

    Charlotte B Plum 

    8 years ago

    Great hub! Useful insights too.


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