Evolution in Mind: An Introduction to Evolutionary Psychology

Evolution in Mind: An Introduction to Evolutionary Psychology

by Henry Plotkin

The theory and data of evolutionary biology and animal behavior can illuminate many of our most basic mental processes and activities: language learning, perception, social understanding, and most controversially, culture and the sharing of knowledge and beliefs.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Science
  • Rating: 3.33
  • Pages: 276
  • Publish Date: May 19th 2000 by Harvard University Press
  • Isbn10: 0674001958
  • Isbn13: 9780674001954

What People Think about "Evolution in Mind: An Introduction to Evolutionary Psychology"

(A long and academic review replete with references that I originally published in 2000 in the journal Ethology) Evolutionary Psychology or evolution in psychology? Historically, psychology as a science has excelled at the competition, aversions and confusions, but has sadly lacked many examples of overt synthesis, whether within or outside the discipline. In each case the behavior of the animal can be said to be species-specific and yet also be described by using a common, functional language. The most probable reason for this state of affairs is simply that psychology and its conceptual neighbors, neuroscience, ethology / behavioral ecology, and anthropology, until quite recently, have not been mature enough for a meaningful synthesis to occur. Evolutionary psychology is the most recent addition to the psychological bouillabaisse, and Henry Plotkins new book Evolution in Mind is both a description of and a argument for this field. Evolutionary theory, Plotkin writes, has until relatively recently been lodged somewhere at the back of the collective mind of psychology rather than being its chief driving idea (p. Note that Plotkin is not saying that an evolutionary perspective should be one of several causal views of behavior à la Niko Tinbergen. In short, Plotkin is claiming that evolutionary biology is an appropriate antidiscipline for psychology. Third, in the long tradition of psychological polemical writing, he creates a bogeyman, behaviorism, which he rails against and uses to represent the antithesis of good, i.e. evolutionary-centered psychology. After emphasizing this distinction Plotkin then provides an ontogeny of psychology which culminates in a discussion of the nature-nurture issue. The synthesis between evolutionary theory and psychology becomes possible once one realizes that the ontogeny of behavior (nurture) is limited by and a product of the evolution of behavior (nature). He also claims that the rise of behaviourism destroyed the place of evolutionary thinking in psychology for almost half a century (pp. Yes, neuroscience and evolutionary perspectives contribute to an understanding of behavior, but what exactly could they contribute to psychology in the 1930's and 1940's? Indeed, one might argue that psychologys grand learning theories from this period were premature in the synthesis which they did attempt. But one must remember that ethology and evolutionary theory during this period were also undergoing exciting conceptual changes (e.g. the new synthesis, an emphasis on cost-benefit analyses, etc.) which made them more approachable by psychologists of all types. However, we can forgive Plotkin his historical bias for, as stated earlier, Evolution in Mind is primarily a piece of advocacy. How else does one explain in an otherwise excellent chapter describing sociobiology, selfish-gene theory and behavioral ecology the following? 73) Such a statement ignores research concerning constraints on learning (e.g., Breland & Breland, 1961; Garcia, J., Evin, F.R., & Koelling, R.A. 1966), the use of optimality analyses to model behavior (e.g., Kacelnik 1984; Shimp 1966; Staddon 1979) and attempts, albeit crude, to compare learning theory with natural selection (e.g., Skinner 1966). Apparently, such work does not fall under Plotkins category of evolutionary psychology. By psychology Plotkin means an approach to understanding behavior which begins with the premise that the animal mind is fundamentally modular, and he spends the second half of his book defending this approach. The modularity of mind conceptualization offered by Plotkin is merely the gene for terminology adapted to psychology. Thus, when Plotkin speaks of modules for language, face recognition, causal learning, and for discerning the mental state in others he is essentially saying that these are computational abilities which have experienced targeted selection pressures during the evolution of Homo sapiens. Human language ability, which Plotkin uses as his exemplar in arguing for the modularity of mind, also nicely highlights this approachs weaknesses. In Evolution in Mind Plotkin would be better off admitting that for most of the 20th century neither evolutionary biology nor psychology had a clear enough understanding of the essential behavioral variables for anything but the most tentative of conversations.