Arguing for Evolution: An Encyclopedia for Understanding Science

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It can be described by citing the frequencies of the alternative genetic constitutions. Consider, for example, a particular gene which geneticists call a locus , such as the one determining the MN blood group s in humans. One form of the gene codes for the M blood group, while the other form codes for the N blood group; different forms of the same gene are called allele s. The MN gene pool of a particular population is specified by giving the frequencies of the alleles M and N. Thus, in the United States the M allele occurs in people of European descent with a frequency of 0.

In other populations these frequencies are different; for instance, the frequency of the M allele is 0. The necessity of hereditary variation for evolutionary change to occur can be understood in terms of the gene pool.

History of evolutionary thought

Assume, for instance, a population in which there is no variation at the gene locus that codes for the MN blood groups; only the M allele exists in all individuals. Evolution of the MN blood groups cannot take place in such a population, since the allelic frequencies have no opportunity to change from generation to generation. On the other hand, in populations in which both alleles M and N are present, evolutionary change is possible. Article Media. Info Print Print. Table Of Contents. This mismatch also shows up in the phenomena of the supernormal stimulus , a stimulus that elicits a response more strongly than the stimulus for which the response evolved.

The term was coined by Niko Tinbergen to refer to non-human animal behavior, but psychologist Deirdre Barrett said that supernormal stimulation governs the behavior of humans as powerfully as that of other animals. She explained junk food as an exaggerated stimulus to cravings for salt, sugar, and fats, [50] and she says that television is an exaggeration of social cues of laughter, smiling faces and attention-grabbing action.

Table of Contents

The human mind still responds to personalized, charismatic leadership primarily in the context of informal, egalitarian settings. Hence the dissatisfaction and alienation that many employees experience. Salaries, bonuses and other privileges exploit instincts for relative status, which attract particularly males to senior executive positions. Evolutionary theory is heuristic in that it may generate hypotheses that might not be developed from other theoretical approaches. One of the major goals of adaptationist research is to identify which organismic traits are likely to be adaptations, and which are byproducts or random variations.

As noted earlier, adaptations are expected to show evidence of complexity, functionality, and species universality, while byproducts or random variation will not. In addition, adaptations are expected to manifest as proximate mechanisms that interact with the environment in either a generally obligate or facultative fashion see above.

Evolutionary psychologists are also interested in identifying these proximate mechanisms sometimes termed "mental mechanisms" or "psychological adaptations" and what type of information they take as input, how they process that information, and their outputs. Evolutionary psychologists use several strategies to develop and test hypotheses about whether a psychological trait is likely to be an evolved adaptation. Buss [55] notes that these methods include:.

Evolutionary psychologists also use various sources of data for testing, including experiments, archaeological records , data from hunter-gatherer societies, observational studies, neuroscience data, self-reports and surveys, public records , and human products.

Academic Tools

Foundational areas of research in evolutionary psychology can be divided into broad categories of adaptive problems that arise from the theory of evolution itself: survival, mating, parenting, family and kinship, interactions with non-kin, and cultural evolution. Problems of survival are clear targets for the evolution of physical and psychological adaptations.

Major problems the ancestors of present-day humans faced included food selection and acquisition; territory selection and physical shelter; and avoiding predators and other environmental threats. Consciousness meets George Williams ' criteria of species universality, complexity, [62] and functionality, and it is a trait that apparently increases fitness.

Evolutionary Ethics

In his paper "Evolution of consciousness," John Eccles argues that special anatomical and physical adaptations of the mammalian cerebral cortex gave rise to consciousness. The concept of consciousness can refer to voluntary action, awareness, or wakefulness.


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However, even voluntary behavior involves unconscious mechanisms. Many cognitive processes take place in the cognitive unconscious, unavailable to conscious awareness. Some behaviors are conscious when learned but then become unconscious, seemingly automatic. Learning, especially implicitly learning a skill, can take place outside of consciousness.

For example, plenty of people know how to turn right when they ride a bike, but very few can accurately explain how they actually do so. Evolutionary psychology approaches self-deception as an adaptation that can improve one's results in social exchanges.

The process of evolution

Sleep may have evolved to conserve energy when activity would be less fruitful or more dangerous, such as at night, and especially during the winter season. Many experts, such as Jerry Fodor , write that the purpose of perception is knowledge, but evolutionary psychologists hold that its primary purpose is to guide action.

Building and maintaining sense organs is metabolically expensive, so these organs evolve only when they improve an organism's fitness. Scientists who study perception and sensation have long understood the human senses as adaptations to their surrounding worlds. Homing pigeons, for example, can hear very low-pitched sound infrasound that carries great distances, even though most smaller animals detect higher-pitched sounds. Evolutionary psychologists contend that perception demonstrates the principle of modularity, with specialized mechanisms handling particular perception tasks. In evolutionary psychology, learning is said to be accomplished through evolved capacities, specifically facultative adaptations.

Motivations direct and energize behavior, while emotions provide the affective component to motivation, positive or negative. Recently, it has been suggested that reward systems may evolve in such a way that there may be an inherent or unavoidable trade-off in the motivational system for activities of short versus long duration. Cognition refers to internal representations of the world and internal information processing.

From an evolutionary psychology perspective, cognition is not "general purpose," but uses heuristics, or strategies, that generally increase the likelihood of solving problems that the ancestors of present-day humans routinely faced. For example, present day humans are far more likely to solve logic problems that involve detecting cheating a common problem given humans' social nature than the same logic problem put in purely abstract terms. Gamblers may falsely believe that they have hit a "lucky streak" even when each outcome is actually random and independent of previous trials.

Evolutionary psychology is primarily interested in finding commonalities between people, or basic human psychological nature. From an evolutionary perspective, the fact that people have fundamental differences in personality traits initially presents something of a puzzle. However, understanding the concept of heritability can be tricky — heritability refers only to the differences between people, never the degree to which the traits of an individual are due to environmental or genetic factors, since traits are always a complex interweaving of both.

Personality traits are conceptualized by evolutionary psychologists as due to normal variation around an optimum, due to frequency-dependent selection behavioral polymorphisms , or as facultative adaptations. Like variability in height, some personality traits may simply reflect inter-individual variability around a general optimum.

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For example, if most of the population is generally trusting and gullible, the behavioral morph of being a "cheater" or, in the extreme case, a sociopath may be advantageous. For example, later born children are more likely than first borns to be rebellious, less conscientious and more open to new experiences, which may be advantageous to them given their particular niche in family structure.

However, shared environmental influences often decrease to near zero after adolescence but do not completely disappear. According to Steven Pinker , who builds on the work by Noam Chomsky , the universal human ability to learn to talk between the ages of 1 — 4, basically without training, suggests that language acquisition is a distinctly human psychological adaptation see, in particular, Pinker's The Language Instinct. Pinker and Bloom argue that language as a mental faculty shares many likenesses with the complex organs of the body which suggests that, like these organs, language has evolved as an adaptation, since this is the only known mechanism by which such complex organs can develop.

Pinker follows Chomsky in arguing that the fact that children can learn any human language with no explicit instruction suggests that language, including most of grammar, is basically innate and that it only needs to be activated by interaction. Chomsky himself does not believe language to have evolved as an adaptation, but suggests that it likely evolved as a byproduct of some other adaptation, a so-called spandrel. But Pinker and Bloom argue that the organic nature of language strongly suggests that it has an adaptational origin. Evolutionary psychologists hold that the FOXP2 gene may well be associated with the evolution of human language.

Currently several competing theories about the evolutionary origin of language coexist, none of them having achieved a general consensus.


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  • Tomasello argues that studies of how children and primates actually acquire communicative skills suggests that humans learn complex behavior through experience, so that instead of a module specifically dedicated to language acquisition, language is acquired by the same cognitive mechanisms that are used to acquire all other kinds of socially transmitted behavior. On the issue of whether language is best seen as having evolved as an adaptation or as a spandrel, evolutionary biologist W. Tecumseh Fitch , following Stephen J.

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    Gould , argues that it is unwarranted to assume that every aspect of language is an adaptation, or that language as a whole is an adaptation. He criticizes some strands of evolutionary psychology for suggesting a pan-adaptionist view of evolution, and dismisses Pinker and Bloom's question of whether "Language has evolved as an adaptation" as being misleading. He argues instead that from a biological viewpoint the evolutionary origins of language is best conceptualized as being the probable result of a convergence of many separate adaptations into a complex system.

    If the theory that language could have evolved as a single adaptation is accepted, the question becomes which of its many functions has been the basis of adaptation. Several evolutionary hypotheses have been posited: that language evolved for the purpose of social grooming, that it evolved as a way to show mating potential or that it evolved to form social contracts. Evolutionary psychologists recognize that these theories are all speculative and that much more evidence is required to understand how language might have been selectively adapted.

    Given that sexual reproduction is the means by which genes are propagated into future generations, sexual selection plays a large role in human evolution. Human mating , then, is of interest to evolutionary psychologists who aim to investigate evolved mechanisms to attract and secure mates. In Robert Trivers published an influential paper [94] on sex differences that is now referred to as parental investment theory.

    The size differences of gametes anisogamy is the fundamental, defining difference between males small gametes — sperm and females large gametes — ova. Trivers noted that anisogamy typically results in different levels of parental investment between the sexes, with females initially investing more.

    Trivers proposed that this difference in parental investment leads to the sexual selection of different reproductive strategies between the sexes and to sexual conflict. For example, he suggested that the sex that invests less in offspring will generally compete for access to the higher-investing sex to increase their inclusive fitness also see Bateman's principle [95].

    Trivers posited that differential parental investment led to the evolution of sexual dimorphisms in mate choice , intra- and inter- sexual reproductive competition, and courtship displays. In mammals, including humans, females make a much larger parental investment than males i. Parental investment theory is a branch of life history theory. Buss and Schmitt 's Sexual Strategies Theory [96] proposed that, due to differential parental investment, humans have evolved sexually dimorphic adaptations related to "sexual accessibility, fertility assessment, commitment seeking and avoidance, immediate and enduring resource procurement, paternity certainty, assessment of mate value, and parental investment.

    Women are generally more selective when choosing mates, especially under long term mating conditions. However, under some circumstances, short term mating can provide benefits to women as well, such as fertility insurance, trading up to better genes, reducing risk of inbreeding, and insurance protection of her offspring. Due to male paternity insecurity, sex differences have been found in the domains of sexual jealousy.