FEATURE26 July 2018

Can we handle the truth of evolutionary psychology?

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Behavioural science Features Impact UK

Peter Totman argues that those resistant to, or unfamiliar with, evolutionary psychology should look in more detail at this strand of science.


The way the research community has embraced behavioural economics (BE) should auger well for evolutionary psychology, the next step up the meaning ladder. It even adopts a more respectful tone than BE, explaining that all those biases – far from making us ‘morons’ – made perfect sense when we lived the hunter-gatherer dream.

Evolutionary psychology offers insight into our behaviour, but goes beyond what planner and BE specialist Nick Southgate calls “mapping the shallows” – shedding light on our deepest feelings and motivations. Yet there seems to be a limit to our curiosity. Mention evolutionary psychology in polite research circles and there will be blank stares, awkward silences – even angry, offended eyes. 

I want to examine the nature of this resistance before exploring the benefits of overcoming it.

The evidence challenge 

While most people accept the basics of evolution, ‘cognitive creationists’ argue that its impact on the brain is limited. Why wouldn’t we ...