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Circus wagons of evolutionary psychology getting a makeover? Or is the discipline officially kaput?

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Both, probably. When next the wagons roll into town, this is what you’ll be hearing from your local science writer:

Professor Johan Bolhuis and colleagues describe how the field of evolutionary psychology had been dominated by a set of widely held assumptions — e.g., that human behavior is unlikely to be adaptive in modern environments, that human cognition is task-specific, and that there is a universal human nature. However, new findings and approaches from genetics, neuroscience and evolutionary biology now question these assumptions.

For example, many human genes have been subject to recent selection in the past few thousand years, which means that humans cannot accurately be portrayed as being adapted only to a Stone Age environment. Experimental and theoretical findings also suggest that humans play an active, constructive role in co-directing their own development and evolution. How humans think and behave varies from individual to individual and place to place. Moreover, experimental evidence suggests that human minds frequently utilize very general learning rules rather than a more modular account of cognition.

– “Evolution of the evolutionarily minded”, Physorg (July 19, 2011)

In that case, the field is kaput. The point of evolutionary psychology was that modules inherited from prehuman ancestors govern our thinking. If it’s true that

“… many human genes have been subject to recent selection in the past few thousand years …”

from the point of view of psychology, evolution needn’t have happened at all.

Sell your stake in the Big Bazooms theory of evolution before word gets out.

Paper here:

Evolutionary Psychology (EP) views the human mind as organized into many modules, each underpinned by psychological adaptations designed to solve problems faced by our Pleistocene ancestors. We argue that the key tenets of the established EP paradigm require modification in the light of recent findings from a number of disciplines, including human genetics, evolutionary biology, cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, and paleoecology. For instance, many human genes have been subject to recent selective sweeps; humans play an active, constructive role in co-directing their own development and evolution; and experimental evidence often favours a general process, rather than a modular account, of cognition. A redefined EP could use the theoretical insights of modern evolutionary biology as a rich source of hypotheses concerning the human mind, and could exploit novel methods from a variety of adjacent research fields.

Citation: Bolhuis JJ, Brown GR, Richardson RC, Laland KN (2011) Darwin in Mind: New Opportunities for Evolutionary Psychology. PLoS Biol 9(7): e1001109. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001109

Published: July 19, 2011

Evolution doesn't suggest "no change happens at all." In fact, it suggests the opposite. We have thought processes which predate the stone-age. We are very similar in the way we think and learn to chimps, which often have the intelligence, and give very similar results in experiments, to 2 or 3 year old human children. At the same time: some behaviors have certainly changed. But most of them have not. We only differ by 2 or 3% in our DNA from related great apes or chimps. TaslemGuy

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