Assumptions of evolutionary psychology
Evolutionary psychology originated from the Darwinian theory of natural selection. Darwin projected that psychology would later assume an evolutionary dimension through acquisition of different mental capabilities (Buss, 2005). This branch of psychology makes several assumptions in order to explain, diagnose, and treat mental or behavioural illness.
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First, it assumes that the brain possesses the ability to process information and thus generate behaviour due to various internal and external stimuli (Buss, 2005). Second, the adaptive capabilities of the brain originated from natural and sexual selection. Sexual selection led to the evolution of adaptations related to mating and reproduction.
For males, it helps them compete for females while for females, it helps them to choose appropriate males for the purpose of reproduction. Third, the human evolutionary past was characterized by various neural mechanisms that played different roles such as finding solutions to problems (Buss, 2005). These mechanisms had their origin in natural selection.
Fourth, evolutionary psychologists assume that modern humans possess stone-age minds because the evolution of their brains led to the acquisition of different neural mechanisms that were necessary for problem solving (Buss, 2005). Fifth, there is an assumption that most brain processes and functions are executed unconsciously (Buss, 2005).
On the other hand, evolutionary psychologists assume that the tasks that humans find easy are not. They only appear easy because they are simplified by the unconscious mind that possesses complex neural mechanisms. Finally, evolutionary psychologists assume that human psychology comprises several specialized mechanisms that respond to different groups of information or stimuli (Buss, 2005).
Human behaviour is due to the synchronization of the inputs of these different mechanisms. These assumptions form the foundation of evolutionary psychology with regard to explication, diagnosis, and treatment of mental or behavioural illnesses.
These assumptions are based on the Darwinian concept of natural selection that was necessary because early humans needed to find solutions to their problems in order to enhance their survival.
Evolutionary psychologists argue that natural selection was responsible for equipping humans with numerous psychological adaptations (Buss, 2005). They argue that this was similar to the mechanism through which humans gained their various anatomical and physiological adaptations. These adaptations are specialized for different environments in which humans live.
Examples of mental/ behavioural illness
Depression has severe consequences that affect the survival of human species. For example, it makes people suicidal and less interested in certain activities. However, evolutionary psychologists have a different view of depression. They explain it as a way of developing enhanced mental skills (Trapani, 2010).
They argue that depression makes an individual focus on internal and external conflicts, thus improving their decision-making capabilities. When a person is depressed, the brain focuses all its energy and attention on the problem thus enabling the individual to find solutions to the problems (Trapani, 2010).
On the other hand, sadness enhances the ability of the brain to process information thus improving its ability to deal with complex and highly demanding situations. Depression also has a biological orientation. Children who come from families with histories of depression are likely to develop depression in the course of their lives. It helps them to adapt to different challenging environments and situations.
Autism is a condition that alters the ways people communicate and relates to those around them (Ploeger & Galis, 2011). People with autism find it difficult to make sense of certain things. Their inability to understand other people’s feelings bar them from forming lasting relationships.
Evolutionary psychology would explain autism as a condition that results from delays in male maturation and acceleration in female maturation. Its aetiology can be explained by considering the influence of social structures, endocrinological differences, and neurological limitations (Lehman, 2009).
In addition, autism could be explained by considering the influence of social structures and the environment on human maturation. According to the mind blindness theory, changes in social structures cause evolutionary adaptations that lead to development of autism (Ploeger & Galis, 2011).
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For example, the emergence of power for women has severe repercussions that include delayed male maturation.Changes in production of human hormones also alter the rate of maturation (Lehman, 2009). For example, changes in uterine testosterone levels affect the maturation rates of offsprings by either accelerating or delaying maturation rate.
On the other hand, adjustments in oestrogen levels results in the development of different neurological structures. These factors contribute towards development of autism. Finally, the environment influences the development of autism (Ploeger & Galis, 2011).
Dyslexia refers to a reading disorder that affects both children and adults. It is characterized by difficulties in spelling and reading (Fletcher, 2009). Evolutionary psychologists would use neuropsychological, behavioural, neurobiological, and environmental factors to explain the causes of the disorder.
Environmental factors such as the economic situation and orientation to literacy are possible risk factors for dyslexia (Fletcher, 2009). The disorder is likely to develop in children whose parents possess poor reading skills. Another risk factor is poor classroom instruction.
Neurobiological and neuropsychological factors that include finger recognition, audioperceptual processes, visuoperceptual limitations, and directional sense are risk factors of dyslexia (Fletcher, 2009). Dyslexia is thus caused by maldevelopment of the brain’s parietal lobes and other areas that serve different roles. Dyslexia is characterized by reading problems, neuropsychological limitations, clumsiness, and behavioural problems.
Buss, D 2005, The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, John Wiley & Sons, New York.
Fletcher, J 2009, Dyslexia: The Evolution of a Scientific Concept, Journal of International Neuropsychological Society, vol.15 no. 40, pp. 501.508.
Lehman, A 2009. Autism and Evolution, Viewed on <http://www.neoteny.org/2009/12/24/autism-and-evolution/>.
Ploeger, A & Galis, F 2011, Evolutionary Approaches to Autism: an Overview and Integration, McGill Journal of Medicine, vol.13. no. 2, pp. 38.
Trapani, G 2010. The Evolutionary Reason for Depression, <https://lifehacker.com/the-evolutionary-reason-for-depression-5483797>.