Introduction to Evolutionary Psychology Questioning the Standard Social Science Model

Evolutionary psychology is a scientific approach to the mind that has developed significantly over the last few decades. It challenges the standard social science model, which saw the mind as blank slate. Evolutionary psychologists such as Steven Pinker and Leda Cosmides, for example, see the mind as having been shaped by evolutionary processes. Even down to seemingly quite recently arrived traits such as language, for example. For evolutionary psychologists the extension of evolutionary thinking to the mind is just a natural extension of the same adaptationist idea in evolutionary biology.

The standard social science model, or SSSM, sees the mind as a blank slate. On this view it is culture that is then responsible for providing the mind with its structures. Shaping an individual’s thoughts and behaviour. The standard social science model is attacked particularly by evolutionary psychologists. Indeed the term was first introduced in the seminal evolutionary psychology text, The Adapted Mind, back in 1992.

However, few people would seem to be around now to defend the SSSM. There is even a question as to whether many people prior to the evolutionary psychologists’ attack on SSSM believed this extreme blank slate theory of mind with the full cultural determinism that it implies. Some people suggest that the evolutionary psychologists were rather selective in the quotes that they chose from mainstream theorists of the time to represent the SSSM view.

Whatever the truth of the matter the evolutionary psychology school put across a new model of mind. In this new approach the mind was seen as resulting from a plethora of evolutionary adaptations. These were posited for all of the different traits that go to make up the minds including the different functions of the brain such as perception and memory and control, for example. For evolutionary psychologists all of these traits had been shaped over several million years of human evolution, largely in environments prior to those of civilisation.

For evolutionary psychologists everything is the work of natural selection and sexual selection, usually in the distant evolutionary past. Although some critics have argued that these explanations about to little more than just-so stories. But even if some such explanations are rather fanciful, the fact remains that human beings did evolve and the human mind was subjected to evolutionary forces during that evolution. So even if some particular explanations of this kind do fall on closer scrutiny, there will be evolutionary effects at work that we need to identify.