Charles Darwin’s (1859) Origin of Species was published a few years before the emergence of psychology as a scientific discipline. One would expect that the theory of evolution would have had a major impact on shaping psychology.
Clearly, there was some impact, but the history of evolutionary thinking in psychology is very complex, even convoluted, and a definitive history has not been written. Until recently, the major impact of evolution on psychology was through the genetic/heredity route, although there were also some influences on behavioral theories in psychology developed during the past century.
One reason for the complexity of the story of evolution in psychology is the complexity of the story of evolution in biology. Evolution by natural selection had no proximal explanatory mechanism for about 50 years, until the concept of the gene was well established. The mix of genes and natural selection was supposed to provide a “grand synthesis” for biology.
However, to a considerable extent, the study of genetics has remained a discipline separate from other facets of evolutionary biology, especially behavioral biology. That same separation is manifest in psychology. To a considerable extent, behavioral genetics is a discipline apart from the more recent development of evolutionary psychology.
This chapter chronicles and remains faithful to the complexity of the main areas of contact between evolution and psychology. The first section provides a brief history of some of the connections between evolution and psychology since Darwin. Before tackling evolution and modern psychology, it is useful to examine evolutionary biology briefly, the task of the second major section.
We will see that the reigning paradigm for a quarter-century did try to trace a direct sequence from controlling gene all the way to complex social behavior. There were many theoretical arguments in evolutionary biology. Two issues are surveyed to give the flavor of the controversies: the unit of selection and the evolution of sex. As we will see, evolutionary biology is in a continuing state of conceptual flux.
Against this background, current work in evolution and psychology is described under the two broad categories in which such work is done: behavioral genetics and evolutionary psychology. Behavioral genetics will not make sense to most people without a minimal understanding of basic genetics. Thus, a tutorial section, “Molecular Genetics and Evolution,” precedes the section on behavioral genetics.
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