Selection is the key to evolution, or change in life forms over time. Variants that lead to greater survival, reproduction, or the reproductive success of genetic relatives tend to be preserved and spread through the population.
Evolutionary psychology starts with three fundamental premises. First, adaptations are presumed to be domain-specific; they are designed to solve specific ada tive problems. Adaptations good for one adaptive problem, such as food selection, cannot be used to solve other adaptive problems, such as mate selection. Second, adaptations are presumed to be numerous, corresponding to the many adaptive problems humans have faced over evolutionary history . Third, adaptations are functional. We cannot understand them unless we figure out what they were designed to do—th adaptive problems they were designed to solve.
The empirical science of testing evolutionary hypotheses proceeds in two ways. First, middle-level evolutionary theories, such as the theory of parental investment and sexual selection, can be used to derive specific predictions in a top-down metho of investigation. Second, one can observe a phenomenon and then develop a theory about its function in a process known as bottom-up investigation. Using this method, specific predictions are then derived based on the theory about phenomena that hav not yet been observed.
Evolutionary psychological analysis can be applied to all three levels of personality analysis—human nature, sex dif ferences, and individual dif ferences. At the level of human nature, there is suggestive evidence that people have evolved the need to belong to groups; to help specific others, such as genetic relatives; and to posses basic emotions, such as happiness, disgust, anger , fear, surprise, sadness, and contempt. At the level of sex dif ferences, men and women diver ge only in domains in which they have faced recurrently dif ferent adaptive problems over human evolutionary history. Examples include proclivities toward violence and aggression, the desire for sexual variety , the events that trigger jealousy , and specific mate prefer ences for qualities such as physical appearance and resources.
Individual differences can be understood from an evolutionary perspective using one of three approaches. First, individual dif ferences can result from dif ferent environmental inputs into species-typical mechanisms. Second, individual dif ferences can be contingent on other traits, such as when being lar ge and strong inclines one to an aggressive disposition, whereas being small and weak inclines one to be less aggressive. Third, individual dif ferences can result from frequency-dependent selection. Fourth, individual dif ferences can be caused by variations over time or space in the optimum value for a trait.
The Big Five personality dispositions have begun to be examined through the lens of evolutionary psychology . Recent empirical evidence suggests that positioning on the five factors may provide adaptively relevant information to solving key prob lems of social living: Whom can I trust for cooperation, devotion, and reciprocation (those high on Agreeableness)? Who is likely to ascend social hierarchies (those high on Surgency or Extraversion)? Who will be likely to work hard, be dependable, and accrue resources over time (those high on Conscientiousness)? Future evolutionary research will undoubtedly explore individual dif ferences as they relate to the important social adaptive problems humans face in the context of group living.
Evolutionary psychology has several critical limitations at this stage of scientific development. The first is the lack of precise knowledge about the environment in which humans evolved and the selection pressures our ancestors faced. We are also limited in our knowledge about the nature, details, and workings of evolved mechanisms, including the features that trigger their activation and the manifest behavior that they produce as output. Nonetheless, the evolutionary perspective adds a useful set of theoretical tools to the analysis of personality at the levels of human nature, sex differences, and individual dif ferences.
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