Is Evolutionary Psychology the Best Meta-Theory for Explaining & Understanding Human Behavior?

Photo Credit: University of Arizona  By Dr. Monique M. Chouraeshkenazi 

Photo Credit: University of Arizona

By Dr. Monique M. Chouraeshkenazi 

It is important to understand the juxtaposition of both arguments. The “YES” argument hypothesizes “evolution provides the best meta-theory for explaining and understanding human psychology—according to evolutionary psychologist, Glenn Geher” (Gantt & Slife, 2015, p. 17). The “NO” position, hypothesized by theoretical psychologists, Edwin Gantt and Brent Melling states “an evolutionary account of psychology omits many important and good things about humans” (Gantt & Slife, 2015, p. 15). The “YES” position discusses evolutionary psychology, which is simply the theoretical study of human behavior (Stanford University, 2014). The “NO” position debates Geher’s position and believes evolutionary psychology is not beneficial and does not important attributes of humans and human behavior. 

          Evolutionary psychology is a very controversial theory that has produced much antagonistic rhetoric on the fact that it omits important information believed by theoretical psychologists to be important and marginalizes key elements in human psychology. According to Gantt and Slife, it is not just psychologists who oppose this theory, but many people for multiple reasons (2015). For example, it is known that evolution and religion has been a contentious topic for decades. In addition to evolutionary psychology being dubbed as “evil” [some religious epithets] and does not possess important or sufficient elements that are conducive to understanding human behavior, it is also considered a political matter, which influences specific ideologies in research, development, and government. It Is known Fundamentalist Christians “who necessarily reject ideas that are premised on evolution as an accepted theory of speculation, reject evolutionary psychology because of its reliance” (Gantt & Slife, 2015, p. 19). Insufficient reliance on scientific concepts are considered to be immoral existences within religious perceptions and ideological views. 

          I do not consider theoretical paradigms to be evil or immoral, unless there is factual evidence to prove such theories purposely harm and/or endanger humans or negatively impacts human behavior. But because evolutionary psychology has received so many negative responses, I believe it is crucial that information predicated on the concept and involves religious and sociopolitical ideologies should only be considered if negative information is substantiated (based on the topic this week and our spectrum of responsibility). Evolutionary psychology is a fundamental understanding that is based on evolutionary theory, as defined by Charles Darwin, “presumes the development of life from non-life and stresses a purely naturalistic “descent and modification” (“Darwin’s Theory of Evolution,” n.d., para. 1). Based on its simplistic view of comprehension and perception of human behavior, I do not believe it is harmful to the conception of science and psychological theories. However, due to its simplicity, it provides vague information that provokes skepticism and doubt by not only theoretical psychologists, but those who take an in-depth and advanced approach to understanding human behavior, especially when it deals with scientific notation and policymaking.   Understanding evolutionary psychology is knowing the intent of human phenomena. The theoretical framework is predicated on simplistic attributes, such as natural selection, which is how human adapt to their surroundings and environments (University of Michigan, n.d.). The argument is the theory behind evolution is too simplistic for an idea as complicated and convoluted as human behavior (i.e. explanatory power). Dr. Steve Taylor suggests when theories have explanatory power, there is a need to overestimate validity and credibility and that is a dangerous thought when a theory such as evolution is heavily supported and not predicated on solid foundation (2014). I agree and believe that overcompensating and overzealousness over theories that do not have sufficient, substantiated evidence can be dangerous, especially in the fields of studying the human mind and behavior.

          The future of evolutionary psychology is allegedly promising, but theoretical psychologists and experts believe that it does not possess sufficient evidence to understand human behavior. In fact, Gantt and Slife noted evolutionary psychology has proven to be powerful by:

           - Providing coherent explanations for many basic human behavior patterns

           - Generating new research questions that simply would not be on the radar screen without  evolutionary psychology as a guiding framework

           - Generating novel findings about what it means to be human (2015, p. 23). 

          Those who oppose support evolutionary psychology should provide clear and devastating evidence to prove it is not harmful and negatively impacts human behavior, comprehension, and way of life. A start would be postulating comprehensible explanations through modernized credible/reliable research to prove definitively that evolutionary psychology is sufficient source and not only just provide information indicative of historical research and conjecture. Research is the way of the future. Use advanced technology and progressive, leading experts will continue to prove otherwise. 

Historical Background 

         Understanding the historical background of evolutionary psychology and how it really relates to human behavior and natural selection would be the key to truly making a well-informed decision on its controversial debate. Natural selection is considered “one of basic mechanisms of evolution, along with mutation, migration, and genetic drift” (Berkeley, n.d., para. 1). Simply stating, natural selection is the notion of understanding how organisms can evolve over time and adapt to their environments. Another theory based on “Darwinism,” natural selection is based on the following observances: traits are often inheritable, more offspring are produced than can survive, and offspring vary in their heritable traits (Khan Academy, 2018). The perspective of integrating biology and psychology is interesting, and I believe one that raises debate. It is just like the controversy of considering “psychology” as a real “science” study.  A classmate of mine stated, “when mixing biology and psychology, you are merely trying to merge two separate ideas of scientific facts with often many human/scientific theories.” I find that to be a very astute statement, based on the controversial of whether psychology is considered a “natural science.” Psychology has been a controversial debate since the nineteenth century and even today it still an issue. Dr. Gregg Henriques (2016) states that determining if psychology is a science is complicated. The psychologist stated that it [psychology] is science, but at times it “fails to live up to the description” (Henriques, 2016, para. 2). Based on the limiting factors, should psychology  not be considered a science, therefore, that is the basis as to why evolutionary psychology is controversial?

Religion & Science 

        I do believe evolutionary psychology is such a controversial issue because it deals with religion and science, which can be compared to the saying, “oil and water don’t mix.” Soeling and Voland (2002) conducted a research study and determined there were underlying elements to religious behavior when dealing with evolutionary psychology: mysticism, ethics, myths, and rituals (para. 1). What really interested me was the ethics perspective. I understand this topic is sensitive because much ethics are involved when dealing with religion and science. In this case, ethics was “founded on the concept of social exchange, when relating to reciprocity, fairness, justice, cheater detection, in-group/out-group differentiation, and so forth” (2002, para. 1). Understanding ethics is an important part of science and religious, one would think such theoretical frameworks would be given the benefit of the doubt. In this case, there is much resistance to the idea of human behavior, which is predicated on evolutionary psychology (Geher, 2016, para. 1). Religion and evolutionary psychology collide because the theory can be perceived as a basis for creationism, the concept of God is the “absolute creator of heaven and earth, out of nothing, by an act of free will” (Stanford University, 2014, para. 1). However, based on the research I have conducted thus far, I have found that experts do not associate creationism with evolutionary psychology. The framework is not predicated on the creation of existence, but more focused on the adaptation of human life experience and behavior. What are your thoughts about this debate on religion vs. evolutionary psychology

Ancestral Background of Evolutionary Psychology

The ancestral background of evolutionary psychology was not something I initially focus on or make it a factor in my position on why it is not a sufficient theoretical framework to understanding human behavior. I found an article discussing the topical background of evolutionary psychology and why the theoretical paradigm exists. In terms of ancestry, researchers acknowledge that there is distinction between specific psychologists and their views on evolutionary psychology. According to Stanford University, “what distinguishes evolutionary psychologists from many cognitive psychologists is the proposal that the relevant internal mechanisms are adaptions-products of natural selection-that helped our ancestors get around the world, survive, and reproduce” (2014, para. 1). Additional information I found was very interesting on how researchers relate brain adaptation and behavior to ancestral lineage to procreate and survive within the world (exactly what you were referring to). Ancestral lineage is indicative of preconceived behavior and acclimatization to specific environments (Stanford University, 2014). Understanding that human beings should be observed and researched within their own environment, how and why they do what they do, and behavior, I believe evolutionary psychological is a fundamental theory that does not provide sufficient evidence to handle such complexities. Because this theory has been up for debate numerous times and even respectable experts do not find it useful, I believe the key is finding a theoretical construct that does not have much controversy surrounding it, and more positive attributes that even opposing or contentious professionals cannot deny.

References 

Berkeley University. (n.d.). Natural Selection. Retrieved from 

            https://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/evo_25 (accessed on 18 May 2018).

“Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.” (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.darwins-theory-of-

            evolution.com (accessed on 14 May 2018). 

Gantt, E. E. & Slife, B. (2015). Taking Slides: Clashing on Views on Psychological Issues. 19thed.

            New York, NY: MacGraw Hill Education. pp. 17-23. 

Geher, G. PhD. (2016). Just fine with religion. Psychology Today. Retrieved from 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/darwins-subterranean-world/201605/evolutionary-psychology-goes-just-fine-religion (accessed on 17 May 2018).

Henriques, G. PhD. (2016). The “Is psychological a science?” debate. Psychology Today. 

Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/theory-knowledge/201601/the-is-psychology-science-debate (accessed on 18 May 2018).

Khan Academy. (2018). Darwin, evolution, and natural selection. Retrieved from 

https://www.khanacademy.org/science/biology/her/evolution-and-natural-selection/a/darwin-evolution-natural-selection (accessed on 18 May 2018). 

Soeling, C. & Voland, E. (2002). Toward an evolutionary psychology of religiosity. National 

            Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12496740

            (accessed on 17 May 2018).

Stanford University. (2014). Evolutionary psychology. Retrieved from 

            https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/evolutionary-psychology/ (accessed on 14 May 

            2018).

Taylor, S. (2014). How valid is evolutionary psychology? Psychology Today. Retrieved from 

                https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/out-the-darkness/201412/how-valid-is-

             evolutionary-psychology (accessed on 14 May 2018).

University of Michigan. (n.d.). Evolution and natural selection. Retrieved from 

            https://globalchange.umich.edu/globalchange1/current/lectures/selection/selection.ht

            ml (accessed on 14 May 2018).