The Evolutionary Model of the Mind
"The mind is not a blank slate, but an intricate mosaic of skills, predispositions, and biases, crafted by evolution under the influence of culture." - David Geary
The evolutionary model of the brain in psychology says that the brain has changed over time to help you survive in your environment. Your brain can see and learn from past experiences, communicate with others, and do other things that have helped humans and other living things survive. This model says that the brain's structure and function today can be understood by looking at how it has evolved over time to face different challenges, and that many of our behaviors are influenced by a fundamental drive for survival.
This model says that the mind is a product of natural selection, which means that the genes you inherited from your ancestors play a role in how your brain works. Natural selection is the process by which certain traits and behaviors become more or less common over time, depending on how helpful they are for survival. Fitness (a core concept in evolutionary biology) is the ability to survive and reproduce in your environment, and it's determined by your genes and your ability to adapt to your environment.
Evolutionary psychology explains why humans have universal emotional reactions, such as fear of snakes and spiders, even though they may not pose a danger in modern society. (source)
It also suggests that gender differences in behaviors and preferences may have evolutionary roots. For example, men tend to have a greater interest in objects and women tend to have a greater interest in people, which may have evolved as a way of dividing labor and ensuring survival. (source)
Research in evolutionary psychology suggests that humans have evolved to be social animals and that cooperative behavior, such as altruism, may have provided evolutionary benefits.
Studies in evolutionary psychology have also shown that physical attractiveness may be tied to evolutionary fitness, as people are unconsciously attracted to traits that suggest good health and reproductive ability. (source)
How you might apply this model to yourself
Here are a few ways in which you might apply the evolutionary model of the mind to better understand yourself from a psychology perspective:
Consider your basic instincts: The evolutionary model suggests that humans have evolved certain basic instincts that are hardwired into our brains. These instincts include things like a desire for food and water, a need for social connection, and a drive for self-preservation. By considering these instincts, you can gain insight into your own motivations and behaviors. For example, I've identified a direct connection between loneliness and my cravings for things that I'm addicted to.
Explore your emotions: Emotions are thought to have evolved as a way of helping us navigate the world and respond to threats and opportunities. By paying attention to your emotions and understanding how they relate to your basic instincts, you can gain a deeper understanding of your own emotional life and how it influences your behavior.
Think about your social behavior: The evolutionary model suggests that humans are social animals and have evolved to thrive in social groups. By thinking about your own social behavior, including your relationships with friends and family, you can gain insight into how you navigate social situations and what drives your social interactions.
Consider your response to stress: The evolutionary model suggests that humans have evolved to respond to stress in certain ways, including the fight-or-flight response. By thinking about your own response to stress and how it affects your behavior and well-being, you can gain insight into your own stress management strategies, as well as identify situations that provoke strong stress responses, which can give you insights into ways in which you may have developed trauma-based responses.
Think about your life history: The evolutionary model suggests that our life history and experiences play a role in shaping our psychology. By thinking about your own life history and the experiences that have shaped you, you can gain insight into your own personality and behavior.
Important People in the Evolutionary Model
If you want to take a deep dive into the evolutionary model, here are a few folks that I'd recommend checking out:
- George C. Williams, who developed the concept of evolutionary fitness, which refers to the ability of an individual to survive and reproduce in a given environment.
- David Buss, who is known for his work on evolutionary psychology, and who wrote the influential book "The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating."
- Steven Pinker, who is a prominent cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist who has written extensively on the evolutionary basis of the mind.
- Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, who are considered founders of the field of evolutionary psychology, and who have written extensively on the evolution of human cognition and behavior.
Questions for Self-Inquiry
Here are some questions that you can ask yourself to better understand the role of evolution in your psychology:
- How have my experiences shaped the way I think and feel about certain situations?
- How does my biology play a role in my emotions, thoughts, and behaviors?
- What evolutionary adaptations may have influenced my tendencies towards certain behaviors or reactions to certain stimuli?
- How do my ancestral experiences impact my current experiences and reactions?
- What specific traits or behaviors do I exhibit that may have had evolutionary advantages in the past?
- What are some adaptations or survival mechanisms that may be influencing my overall wellbeing?