ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Maladaptation and Human Evolution

Updated on February 8, 2015


Species evolve when they are “maladapted” to their environment, which occurs when the environment changes. A species’ genetic composition at any given time can be modeled based on the species previous genetic composition with the addition of a set of evolutionarily induced changes (which are a function of how different a species’ actual genome is from a theoretically optimal genome for it’s environment). Now lets look at what this way of looking at evolution means for humans.

Moore's Law

You may or may not have heard of something called Moore’s law. Essentially what Moore's law says is that human technology “improves” (for our purposes that simply means changes) at an exponential rate. This has been happening, arguably, ever since the renaissance. By technology I don’t just mean iphones and computers, I mean everything we produce and live with. That includes beds, desks, art, and medicine. This exponential change in technology translates into an exponential change in our immediate environments. Our surroundings, our environment, the thing which interacts with our genomes to determine each of our reproductive success is changing at an ever increasing rate.

Moore's Law Graph

Extinction Threshold

While the technological change is small, we can evolve quickly enough to be reasonably well adapted to our environments. As the change grows, however, the human genome becomes more and more maladapted to it’s environment. This causes more rapid evolution and, if continued long enough, maladaptation beyond our species extinction threshold (which is probably quite low due to our long generation time).


Evidence of our growing maladaptation is all around us. Lets look at a few examples. One pretty obvious one is the overabundance of calories available to us. Our bodies have evolved to utilize most effectively a 1000-2000 calorie per individual environment. Now, though, we have access to many more calories, but our bodies don’t utilize them effectively (as evidenced by obesity in the western world, and its deleterious effects).

We have to go back

Population Growth

Another example, and one which is really much more damning to our species’ fitness, is birth control. Organisms have evolved for hundreds of millions of years on the basis that sex translates into offspring. A recent (less than one hundred years) change in our environment, however, has destroyed this connection for humans. Our genome hasn’t had the time to evolve to cope with this monumental change, and the decline in fitness is obvious and dramatic: individuals in countries with widespread access to birth control are markedly less fit (have fewer children per capita and lower population growth overall) than those in countries without access.


The final, and to me most interesting, example is human moral maladaptation. Our deepest moral convictions are derived genetically, not culturally. Humans universally feel that infanticide is wrong, for example, because we are genetically predisposed to do so (believing infanticide is wrong makes us more fit because we won’t kill our own offspring). We have not had time, however, to evolve the appropriate (most fit) moral responses to certain recent technological changes. For example, abortion (the functional equivalent of infanticide) is not at all viewed with the same universal distaste as infanticide is. We have not had time as a species to evolve a moral opposition to this hugely unfit behavior because it is such a recent addition to our environment.


Will the Maladaptation of our Technological Environment lead to faster evolution or extinction?

See results

Extinction or Rapid Evolution

As our technology (environment) continues to increase exponentially, our maladaptation to our environment will continue to increase. Such rapid environmental change over such a short timescale will lead to extinction or extraordinarily fast evolution. Considering the speed at which our environment is changing relative to our long generation time as a species, my bet is on extinction.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)