In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Evolutionary Psychology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Foundations of Evolution
  • Foundations of Evolutionary Psychology
  • Survival Strategies
  • Parenting and Kinship
  • Group Dynamics
  • Culture and Society
  • Religion and Morality
  • Psychopathology and Illness

Psychology Evolutionary Psychology
Zachary Hohman, Bruce Ellis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 July 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0025


Evolutionary psychology is the application of the principles and knowledge of evolutionary biology to psychological theory and research. The field is comprehensive insofar as it encompasses both our species-typical human nature and its individually differentiated manifestations. A central assumption of evolutionary psychology is that the human brain is composed of a large number of specialized mechanisms that were shaped by natural selection over vast periods of time to solve the recurrent information-processing problems faced by our ancestors. These problems include such things as choosing which foods to eat, negotiating social hierarchies, dividing investment among offspring, and selecting mates. A major focus of evolutionary psychology is on identifying these information-processing problems, developing models of the brain-mind mechanisms that may have evolved to solve them, and testing these models in research. At the same time, however, theory and research in evolutionary biology indicate that, in most species, single ‘‘best’’ strategies for survival and reproduction are unlikely to evolve. This is because optimal strategies vary as a function of the physical, economic, and social parameters of one’s specific environment; thus, a strategy that promotes success in some environmental contexts may lead to failure in others. Natural and sexual selection therefore tend to also maintain individual differences, both at the level of genetic variation and phenotypic plasticity. Accordingly, a second major focus of evolutionary psychology is on explaining the evolution and development of individual differences in survival and reproductive strategies. In total, the field of evolutionary psychology involves both the study of the species-typical brain-mind mechanisms that underlie universal development of cognitive and behavioral characteristics and the genetic and environmental mechanisms that maintain variation in these characteristics and adapt them to local conditions.

General Overviews

These volumes are compilations of theoretical and empirical papers from a diverse array of researchers in evolutionary psychology. Many of the more impactful chapters from these volumes also appear in separate sections under the appropriate subject heading. Barkow, et al. 1992 is the first such volume and contains many chapters that laid the groundwork for the study of evolutionary psychology for the next two decades. Crawford and Krebs 1998 is a volume containing a great deal of theoretical work and may appeal to those with a social science background. Buss 2005 is another oft-cited volume that also contains many chapters presenting novel theoretical and empirical work synthesizing the progress of the field up to that point. Dunbar and Barrett 2007 contains chapters that focus on specific aspects of the evolution of human psychology, including both theoretical and empirical work. The most recent general edited volume is Crawford and Krebs 2008, and therefore incorporates many cutting-edge chapters incorporating recent advances in functional and evolutionary biology.

  • Barkow, J. H., L. Cosmides, and J. Tooby, eds. 1992. The adapted mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A classic volume sometimes referred to as “the bible” of evolutionary psychology, this was the first general-interest edited volume dedicated to topic. The main sections of this volume focus on cooperation, mating and reproduction, family/kin, language, and ecological niches. Includes a very detailed theoretical overview of the features, objectives, and theoretical approaches to the study of evolutionary psychology.

  • Buss, D. M., ed. 2005. The handbook of evolutionary psychology. New York: Wiley.

    This edited volume covers a quite broad array of topics in evolutionary psychology. It is roughly organized according to the main classes of adaptive problems faced by the human animal: survival, mating, kinship, and group living. Also contains a series of chapters dedicated to the application of evolutionary psychology to other fields of study both within and outside of the realm of psychology.

  • Crawford, C., and D. Krebs, eds. 1998. Handbook of evolutionary psychology: Ideas, issues, and applications. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

    This volume is strongly focused on the inclusion of a diverse array of broadly theoretical chapters. Many of these chapters also compare and contrast evolutionary approaches to psychology with more traditional (e.g., standard social science) theoretical paradigms. Includes several chapters regarding the practical application of the work of evolutionary psychologists.

  • Crawford, C., and D. Krebs, eds. 2008. Foundations of evolutionary psychology. New York: Taylor & Francis.

    Many of the chapters in this volume are strongly informed by theoretical and empirical research in functional and evolutionary biology, and the connection between proximate and ultimate mechanisms. This volume also contains sections dedicated to sex differences, and the evolutionary psychology of mental illness and various forms of antisocial behavior.

  • Dunbar, R. I. M., and L. Barrett, eds. 2007. The Oxford handbook of evolutionary psychology. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    An inclusive volume, with many chapters that cover specific problems in or aspects of evolutionary psychology and its philosophical and theoretical approaches. A broad array of topics is addressed, including comparative psychology, neurobiology, developmental biology and psychology, mating and reproduction, life history strategy, society, and culture.

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