Evolutionary Psychology: Chapter 1
Evolutionary psychology is different from other specialties within psychology because it uses evolutionary thinking to answer
questions in all area’s of psychology: learning, perception, personality, and the rest.
Evolution has had much less impact on psychology then on biology
The Standard Social Science Model (SSSM)
The SSSM, a term developed by Tobby and Cosmides, refers to the general set of beliefs held by psychologists that have a
pervasive influence on their research and theories.
The SSSM dominates traditional psychology, but it conflicts with current evolutionary thought
The SSSM has a long history that reaches back to the enlightenment philosophers, long before the founding of psychology. It
rests on three interrelated assumptions:
a. The blank slate (aka tabula rasa)
i. The blank slate is an analogy for a virgin mind with no initial content. According to this vie, the
human mind is a neutral medium on which experience makes its mark. It is a fundamental assumption
of the SSSM that differences between people arise from differences in their experiences, including
their experiences with the surrounding climate.
ii. The blank slate embodies the idea that the human mind has no inborn tendencies or inclinations
a. The irrelevance of biology
i. The assumption that biological constraints on human behavior are minor and unimportant.
ii. With experience playing the leading role, biological influences fade to the vanishing point.
iii. According to the SSSM, humans have few if any “instincts” and only few biological drives, such as
hunger, thirst, and sex. In the SSSM view genes are considered to be very broad boundaries.
a. General-Purpose Learning Mechanism
i. According to the SSSM, one or very few learning mechanisms account for all of human behavior.
ii. According to the SSSM, experience exerts its effects through the process of learning.
iii. A general purpose earning mechanisms: is one that can handle many different kinds of input
information and that can generate many different kinds of output. Thus psychologists working within
the framework of SSSM strive to discover how culture and experience, operating by means of one or a
few general-purpose learning mechanisms, produce variation in human behavior.
To repeat, the proposition of the SSSM are not shared by all psychologists, but reflect the thinking of many
5 Critique’s of the SSSM
o The SSSM Misunderstands the Nature of Development
A truly blank slate could not respond to the environment, since it had no rules for how to respond.
Most members of a species respond in similar ways to a given stimulus, it seems likely that the pattern of
response is part of that species nature.
Human infants learn spoken language easily because their minds are prepared for the experience of language.
o The SSSM draws false dichotomy between Nature/nurture
It is a mistake to divide the causes of behavior between nature and nurture: The two interact
Nature and nurture work together in the development of every trait
o Environmental Effects Cannot be Explained by General Laws of Learning
Learning mechanisms tend to be specialized for specific kinds of problems
o SSSM drives a wedge between the nature and social sciences.
Exempting the behavior of organisms from the principles of biology is like exempting the behavior of atoms
from the principles of physic’s
o The SSSM lacks an overarching theory of design
Evolutionary psychology explains why people respond to their environments in the ways they do.
Tinbergen’s Levels of Explanation
o Niko Tinbergen proposed a useful scheme for thinking about the causes the behavior.
o Tinbergen major division is between proximate and ultimate causes: Tinbergen’s Levels of Explanation:
1. Developmental. Genes, gene-environment interaction; age and sex-related variation
2. Physiological. Neuronal, hormonal, biochemical, and biochemical mechanisms
Traditional psychology asks proximate or “how” questions
3. Historical. Evolutionary origins; precursors
4. Selective. Adaptive value; what problems does the trait solve?