Human Behavior: Evolutionary Psychological Approach


Evolution psychology has attempted to provide an important framework for explaining the origin and development of human behavior. Theorists and scholars in psychology and evolution have shown that the approach was likely to solve the historical absurdities affecting the origins of human behavior. By examining psychological traits of humans, such as language, perception and memory from a perspective of evolutionary approach, these scientists believe that they can develop a concise method to provide an optimum explanation to psychological evolution through adaptation and natural selection (Dupre, 2004).

Nevertheless, the evolutionary approach to human behavior has received a lot of criticism from scholars in various fields. In the contemporary research, cultural psychology and human behavior ecology have revealed adequate evidence supporting the existence of various loopholes, assumptions and weaknesses in the approach taken in evolution psychology. The criticism of cultural psychology and evolution gives the most essential evidence that evolution psychology does not provide the optimum model for explaining the origins and development of human behavior (Brown & Richerson, 2013).

Cultural evolution introduces succinct evidence that evolutionary psychology ignores the important and significant aspect of culture in its approach to human behavior, which means that it is not only compromising, but also a relatively weak approach that is unable to solve human behavior paradox (Dupre, 2004).

Therefore, evolutional psychology and cultural evolution must have a consistent emphasis on different approach in order to agree on a concise method of solving the paradox. From an in-depth analysis and review of literature on both the evolutional psychology and the cultural approach, it is evident that a consistent explanation of human behavior is possible, despite the different approaches employed on each side.

Thus, the application of evolutionary theory to study and examine human behavior is a contentious topic that needs adequate analysis and research.

Evolutionary psychology

A major argument among the theorists and the proponents of cultural approach to human behavior and behavior evolution is that evolutionary psychological approach tends to ignore or minimize the significance of human culture in its approach to origins and development of human behavior.

According to them, culture is an important aspect that has evolved alongside the other aspects of humans. The foundation of the controversy seems to be deeply rooted in the process of applying evolution theory to human behavior. Therefore, to develop an understanding of the controversy surrounding these approaches, it is important to review the approach taken by each side of the debate.

Evolutionary psychology has a long history. It was popularized in William James’ book ‘Principles of psychology’ (1890). In this book, the theory was used in reference to any evolutionary perspective on the study of human mind. In the current approach, evolutionary psychologists are based on the idea that human brain has a number of specialized psychological mechanisms evolved in response to the pressures of natural selection that had a certain effect on early humans.

The approach asserts that Pleistocene epoch presents the most important historical era that can help in understanding the evolution of human mind as well as behavior. In history and archaeology, human ancestors in this era predominantly lived in African Savanna as hunters and gatherers. Evolutionary psychology aims at describing the evolution psychological mechanism that controls human cognition. It emphasizes on the study of processing devices that are specific to a certain domain and provide humans with a global framework for mental adaptations.

In this way, the theory further attempts to argue that selection favors psychological mechanisms that suit in the prevailing conditions to solve problems within the specific domains in the human brain. Therefore, the ultimate assertion is that human behavior can be explained through this model because aspects of human behavior, such as aggression, morality, mate choice and social exchange, are rooted in the processes of solving problems associated with adaptation to a specific environment. Consequently, the notion that evolutionary psychological approach explains the origins and evolution of human behavior through this perspective and is based on the argument that the aspects of behavior were evolving along the human evolution because the major force was natural selection.

Moreover, it is worth noting that a number of studies have shown that cultural evolution is specific to certain groups because humans respond to the natural forces and circumstances by adopting certain behaviors, which eventually develop into a set of behaviors that can be termed as “a culture”. Nevertheless, a number of critics have shown that the theory can only be effective if there is an adequate effort to incorporate contemporary approaches, including a new focus on social biology and culture.

Cultural Evolution: Loopholes of evolutionary psychology

Over the years, it has been shown that cultures are diverse, globally distributed and common to every society. In fact, researchers in this field have shown that the culture cannot be a product of mental evolution, which contradicts the notion developed and advocated by evolutionary psychologist. In fact, it appears that evolutionary psychologists tend to argue that the evolution of human brain, which was empowered by genetic response to environmental pressures, explains the change in cultures across the world.

However, it is worth noting that cultures in different groups located in different parts of the world have certain similar aspects. In fact, it is clear that similarities in cultures exist in different communities or groups with large differences in behavior and genetic makeup. Thus, it is evident that genetic response to environmental pressures, as explained in evolutionary cultural approach, cannot be used to explain the diversity or similarity of cultures across different groups with different genetic makeup. Therefore, this is a major problem or loophole that makes evolutionary psychology a less effective explanation for human behavior evolution and development.

The most appropriate answer is probably provided through the cultural evolution model. In fact, Charles Darwin was the first one to indicate that the theory of natural selection is applicable to other entities apart from genes (Dupre, 2004). For instance, Darwin applied the idea of natural selection to the evolution of language. He further proposed that traditions play an important role in the process of evolution.

It is worth taking into account that the idea of the gene was not yet formulated during Darwin’s formulation of the theory of natural selection (Dupre, 2004). Thus, it is evident that the idea of natural selection is not confined to genetic response to natural and environmental pressures. This leaves it open to application of the idea to other disciplines. This view has also spread to the process of evolution of culture.

Subsequent research studies in cultural evolution and development have indicated that genes and cultures can co-evolve. Noteworthy, research has also shown that a number of factors influence the process of transformation of information from one member of the specific culture to another (Dupre, 2004). For instance, biases in the process of human learning, model of learning and preferences to remembering and learning have a profound influence on the process and effectiveness of information transmission from one individual to another within the same species.

Thus, cultural evolution theory assumes that the rate and effectiveness of acquisition of behavior occur in the same manner and model Boakes, 2004). It refutes the claims of the evolutionary psychology because culture is based on the information passage or transmission from one individual to another and occurs devoid of the evolutionary aspects that are controlled by genetic factors. The domain-general psychological mechanisms are responsible for cultural development and evolution.

Conclusion: How can the problems in Evolutionary psychology be addressed in light of evolutionary culture?

This question requires an intensive analysis of the term “evolution” as it applies to various disciplines. Within the context of human behavior change and acquisition, it is evident that the two theories will remain contradicting as long as there is no analysis of the term applied to those two models.

An important point to consider is that theorists and scholars in both fields must accept the fact that evolution takes place in all the disciplines (Brown & Richerson, 2013). Evolutionary psychology must accept the fact that culture evolves alongside human evolution but sometimes it is devoid of the factors that affect genetic evolution. In this case, these theorists will have to accept the fact that human culture is a significant aspect of evolution and should be studied alongside genetic evolution to develop a compressive and effective model to explain the evolution of human behavior.


Boakes, R. (2004). From Darwin to behaviorism: Psychology and the minds if animals. Cambridge, MA: OUP.

Brown, G. R., & Richerson, P. J. (2013). Applying evolutionary theory to human behavior: Past differences and current debates. Journal of Bioecology, 108(13), 66-74.

Dupre,J. (2004). Human kinds and biological kinds: Some similarities and differences. Philosophy of science, 71(2), 892-900.