Peer commentary: Evolving theories of behaviour

John Archer describes a rich research agenda for evolutionary psychology in testing novel hypotheses. Peer commentaries by Robin Dunbar, Anne Campbell, Lynn Segal, David Buss, and Hilary and Steven Rose.
OVER a relatively short period of time evolutionary psychology has become a prominent way of understanding the human mind and behaviour. Its origins lie in a number of theoretical analyses of animal behaviour in the 1960s and early 1970s which transformed the way this subject was studied and understood. Just as the evolutionary approach led ethologists away from concentrating on the immediate causal mechanisms controlling animal behaviour, so evolutionary psychology seeks to lead conventional psychologists away from explanations that concentrate only on immediate mechanisms and mental events. Instead it offers a single unifying starting point for understanding why we think and behave as we do today: natural selection has made us this way. This simple statement hides a number of complexities that need to be understood before the powerful insight can be translated into an effective research agenda. In this article I deal with two of these complexities that often lead to misunderstandings both within and outside the evolutionary perspective. They are, first, how specific evolutionary hypotheses are derived from broader evolutionary principles, and second, the limitations of the assumption that human behaviour is adaptive in an evolutionary sense.

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