Evolutionary Explanations In Psychology: A Paradigm For Integrating Psychology With Science
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Evolutionary psychology has recently developed out of dissatisfaction with the Standard Social Science Model utilised by mainstream psychology. This model focuses on culture and reason as the underlying cause of human behaviour and proposes that the mind is a 'general purpose learning device' (Siegert & Ward, 2002). Here the mind is seen as a blank slate at birth, which is subsequently influenced by experience, environment and culture. Biological variables are minimised or ignored. However it seems that all human behaviour cannot fully be explained by the focus on nurture in the Standard Social Science Model; sexual jealousy, parental investment, and mating preferences are examples which are not fully explained by learning or environmental experience. On the other hand, evolutionary psychology, founded on the principles of cognitive science and evolutionary biology, argues that a person's nature is the primary cause of their behaviour, with the influences of nurture being of lesser importance. According to these principles, evolutionary psychology has been very successful in providing explanations, for example in the areas of human mate selection and parental investment. However evolutionary psychology has received criticism on a number of counts, including its supposed reductionism, and, its reliance on 'just so' stories which are untestable, hypothesised scenarios which look to the past in order to explain the evolution of human behavioural features. With the above mentioned matters as background, this thesis investigated whether evolutionary psychology offers a new paradigm for integrating psychology with science, and if so, how it accomplishes this. In investigating this, conceptions of science, psychology, and evolutionary theory, in particular evolutionary psychology, were examined. More specifically, issues addresses included why evolutionary psychology is dissatisfied with the SSSM, the notion of the mind as blank slate, the nature-nurture paradigm, and the mind as a general purpose learning device. Two aspects of evolutionary theory are described, natural and sexual selection, in terms of their importance to evolutionary psychology. The main arguments of evolutionary psychology as a discipline are outlined, looking at its aims, and the ways in which it combines the disciplines of evolutionary biology and cognitive psychology toward a new integrative model for studying human behaviour. A case study demonstrates how evolutionary psychology offers a useful explanation of mate selection. This thesis then turns to the philosophy of science, setting out the differences between Karl Popper and Imre Lakatos' theories, and focusing on the latter's theory as a model of scientific philosophy which could be useful for evolutionary psychology, including discussing how this could be best achieved. This thesis then sets out various criticisms of evolutionary psychology, including the critique of domain-specific modularity, the focus on the Pleistocene period as problematic, the over-reliance on natural selection, just-so stories, the reductionism of evolutionary psychology, and that it is politically conservative. This thesis concludes that the attempt of evolutionary psychology to combine cognitive science and evolutionary theory has been successful in showing how the integration of psychology into the sciences is not only possible but inevitable.