M.Sc. Psychological Research Methods
PSM103: Epistemology & Philosophy of Science
December 12th 2006

Evolution, Psychology, Evolutionary Psychology and Human Uniqueness

I will begin by looking at issues in the study of animal behaviour, where arguably the theory of evolution has relevance. There is a strong case that in the animal kingdom as a whole, including most non-human vertebrates, species-specific behaviours are the result of Darwinian selection (Tinbergen, 1951; Choi et al., 2005; Manoli et al., 2005)

"Evolutionary Psychology" is based on the claim that the details of human psychology are strongly determined by the details of human evolution. The evidence for these claims is often extremely weak, but I will look at a few recent examples (e.g. Williams, 2002, Gusinger, 2003; Allen & Badcock, 2006; Rhodes, 2006.)

I will also look briefly at the evidence concerning the course of human evolution. It is extremely difficult to be certain about the facts of human evolution, but there is general agreement that: the common ancestor of modern humans and modern chimpanzees occurred about 5 or 6 million years ago; bi-pedalism preceded brain expansion and tool use, and probably goes back 3.5 or 4 million years; early tool use goes back at least 2 million years and extensive tool use was typical of homo erectus for more than a million years before the oldest ("archaic") fossils of homo sapiens are found; the use of fire by homo erectus was also well-established; during the 5 million years since the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees brain size in the human line has increased, from little more than modern chimpanzee size (which is about 350 cc) in the first bipedal hominids, to 2-3 times this size in homo erectus to and 3-4 times as big a chimpanzee brain in modern humans. (e.g. Bradshaw, 1997)

There is thus little doubt that the human species has an evolutionary history involving hunter-gatherer ancestors. However it does not necessarily follow that "The human brain is a set of computational machines, each of which was designed by natural selection to solve adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors." (Duchaine et al., 2001). An alternative view is that the human brain is adapted to share emotions and experiences with others (Tomasello et al., 2005) which means that human psychology is determined more by cultural learning than by built-in stone-age preferences. An example is that 4 million years of bi-pedalism means that human arms and hands are capable of an enormous range of learned manipulative skills, rather than being restricted to fixed sequences of muscle movements (for an experimental example, see Wong and Whishaw, 2004).

Although new fossil evidence of human evolution is still useful (e.g. Alemseged et al., 2006) it is increasingly the case that information from molecular genetics is applied to evolutionary issues. In particular, genes putatively associated with in increase in human brain size (Ponting and Jackson, 2005; Evans et al., 2005, 2006) and also human brain lateralization (Sun and Watson, 2006) have been identified, but other comparisons between the human and chimpanzee genome (Ennard et al., 2002; Pollard et al., 2006; Prabhakar et al., 2006) and the potential to compare the modern human with the Neanderthal genome (Green et al., 2006) suggest that a detailed psychobiological account of uniquely human mental capacities may eventually become available.


Books on Human Evolution (alternatives)

Bradshaw, J. L. (1997). Human Evolution: A Neuropsychological Perspective. Hove: Psychology Press. BK lib 599.935BRA.

Johanson, Donald C., and Edgar, Blake (2001) From Lucy to Language. London: Cassell paperbacks. 2 copies in Main Birkbeck Library, classmark=599.938 JOH

Jones, S., Martin, R. D., & Pilbeam, D. R. (1992). The Cambridge encyclopedia of human evolution. Cambridge [England] ; New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, BK lib 599.9 CAM, 3 copies

Richards, G. (1987) Human Evolution. Routledge: London. (Bk Lib GYW, N [Ric])


Alba, D. M., Moya-Sola, S., & Kohler, M. (2003). Morphological affinities of the Australopithecus afarensis hand on the basis of manual proportions and relative thumb length. Journal of Human Evolution, 44(2), 225-254.

Alemseged, Z., Spoor, F., Kimbel, W. H., Bobe, R., Geraads, D., Reed, D., et al. (2006). A juvenile early hominin skeleton from Dikika, Ethiopia. Nature, 443(7109), 296-301.

Allen, N. B., & Badcock, P. B. T. (2006). Darwinian models of depression: A review of evolutionary accounts of mood and mood disorders. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry, 30(5), 815-826.

Allman, J. M., Watson, K. K., Tetreault, N. A., & Hakeem, A. Y. (2005). Intuition and autism: a possible role for Von Economo neurons. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9(8), 367-373.

Altschul, S. F., Gish, W., Miller, W., Myers, E. W., & Lipman, D. J. (1990). Basic Local Alignment Search Tool. Journal of Molecular Biology, 215(3), 403-410.

Atkinson, A. P., & Wheeler, M. (2004). The grain of domains: The evolutionary-psychological case against domain-general cognition. Mind & Language, 19(2), 147-176

Atran, S., & Norenzayan, A. (2005). Religion's evolutionary landscape: Counterintuition, commitment, compassion, communion. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 27(06), 713-730

Bishop, D. V. M., Adams, C. V., & Norbury, C. F. (2006). Distinct genetic influences on grammar and phonological short-term memory deficits: evidence from 6-year-old twins. Genes Brain and Behavior, 5(2), 158-169.

Bishop, K. M., Rubenstein, J. L. R., & O'Leary, D. D. M. (2002). Distinct actions of Emx1, Emx2, and Pax6 in regulating the specification of areas in the developing neocortex. Journal of Neuroscience, 22(17), 7627-7638.

Caceres, M., Lachuer, J., Zapala, M. A., Redmond, J. C., Kudo, L., Geschwind, D. H., Lockhart, D. J., Preuss, T. M., & Barlow, C. (2003). Elevated gene expression levels distinguish human from non-human primate brains. PNAS, 100(22), 13030-13035.

Choi, G. B., Dong, H.-w., Murphy, A. J., Valenzuela, D. M., Yancopoulos, G. D., Swanson, L. W., et al. (2005). Lhx6 delineates a pathway mediating innate reproductive behaviors from the amygdala to the hypothalamus. Neuron, 46(4), 647-660.

Cosmides, L. (1989). The logic of social exchange: has natural selection shaped how humans reason? Studies with the Wason selection task. Cognition, 31: 187 - 276.

Darwin, C. (1871/1901), The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, London: John Murray.

Darwin, C. (1872/1965), The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, University of Chicago Press.

Darwin. C. (1859/1968), The Origin of Species, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Deacon, T. W. (1997). What makes the human brain different? Annual Review of Anthropology, 26, 337-357.

Dilger, W.C. (1962) The behaviour of lovebirds. Scientific American, 206, 88-98

Dorus, S., Vallender, E. J., Evans, P. D., Anderson, J. R., Gilbert, S. L., Mahowald, M., et al. (2004). Accelerated evolution of nervous system genes in the origin of Homo sapiens. Cell, 119(7), 1027-1040.

Duchaine, B., Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (2001). Evolutionary psychology and the brain. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 11(2), 225-230.

Enard, W., Przeworski, M., Fisher, S. E., Lai, C. S. L., Wiebe, V., Kitano, T., et al. (2002). Molecular evolution of FOXP2, a gene involved in speech and language. Nature, 418(6900), 869-872.

Evans, P. D., Gilbert, S. L., Mekel-Bobrov, et al. (2005). Microcephalin, a gene regulating brain size, continues to evolve adaptively in humans. Science, 309(5741), 1717-1720.

Evans, P. D., Vallender, E. J., & Lahn, B. T. (2006). Molecular evolution of the brain size regulator genes CDK5RAP2 and CENPJ. Gene, 375, 75-79.

Gahtan, E., Tanger, P., & Baier, H. (2005). Visual prey capture in larval zebrafish is controlled by identified reticulospinal neurons downstream of the tectum. Journal of Neuroscience, 25(40), 9294-9303.

Gould, S. J. (1997). The exaptive excellence of spandrels as a term and prototype. PNAS, 94(20), 10750-10755.

Gould, S. J., & Lewontin, R. C. (1979). Spandrels of San-Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm - a Critique of the Adaptationist Program. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B, 205(1161), 581-598

Green, R. E., Krause, J., Ptak, S. E., Briggs, A. W., Ronan, M. T., Simons, J. F., et al. (2006). Analysis of one million base pairs of Neanderthal DNA. Nature, 444(7117), 330-336.

Guisinger, S. (2003). Adapted to flee famine: Adding an evolutionary perspective on anorexia nervosa. Psychological Review, 110(4), 745-761.

Hutsler, J. J. (2003). The specialized structure of human language cortex: Pyramidal cell size asymmetries within auditory and language-associated regions of the temporal lobes. Brain and Language, 86(2), 226-242.

Jerison, H.J. (1973) Evolution of the brain and intelligence. New York and London: Academic Press. Birkbeck lib GEN [Jer]

Kanazawa, S. (2004). General intelligence as a domain-specific adaptation. Psychological Review, 111(2), 512-523.

Kenrick, D. T., Li, N. P., & Butner, J. (2003). Dynamical evolutionary psychology: Individual decision rules and emergent social norms. Psychological Review, 110(1), 3-28.

Kimura, K. I., Ote, M., Tazawa, T., & Yamamoto, D. (2005). Fruitless specifies sexually dimorphic neural circuitry in the Drosophila brain. Nature, 438(7065), 229-233.

Lappin, T. R. J., Grier, D. G., Thompson, A., & Halliday, H. L. (2006). HOX GENES: Seductive Science, Mysterious Mechanisms. Ulster Medical Journal, 75(1), 23-31.

Lickliter, R., & Honeycutt, H. (2003). Developmental dynamics: Toward a biologically plausible evolutionary psychology. Psychological Bulletin, 129(6), 819-835.

Manoli, D. S., & Baker, B. S. (2004). Median bundle neurons coordinate behaviours during Drosophila male courtship. Nature, 430(6999), 564-569

Mikkelsen, T. S. and many others (2005). Initial sequence of the chimpanzee genome and comparison with the human genome. Nature, 437(7055), 69-87.

Moskowitz, A. K. (2004). "Scared Stiff": Catatonia as an evolutionary-based fear response. Psychological Review, 111(4), 984-1002.

Moya-Sola, S., Kohler, M., & Rook, L. (1999). Evidence of hominid-like precision grip capability in the hand of the Miocene ape Oreopithecus. PNAS, 96(1), 313-317.

Moya-Sola, S., Kohler, M., & Rook, L. (2005). The Oreopithecus thumb: a strange case in hominoid evolution. Journal of Human Evolution, 49(3), 395-404.

Moya-Sola, S., Kohler, M., Alba, D. M., Casanovas-Vilar, I., & Galindo, J. (2004). Pierolapithecus catalaunicus, a new Middle Miocene great ape from Spain. Science, 306(5700), 1339-1344.

Napier, J. (1980). Hands. London: Allen & Unwin, 1980. (UCL Lib. MED. SCI. CH 32 NAP).

Nicholson, N., & White, R. (2006). Darwinism - A new paradigm for organizational behavior? Journal of Organizational Behavior, 27(2), 111-119.

Peleg, G., Katzir, G., Peleg, O., Kamara, M., Brodsky, L., Hel-Or, H., et al. (2006). Hereditary family signature of facial expression. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 103(43), 15921-15926.

Pollard, K. S., Salama, S. R., Lambert, N., Lambot, M. A., Coppens, S., Pedersen, J. S., et al. (2006). An RNA gene expressed during cortical development evolved rapidly in humans. Nature, 443(7108), 167-172.

Ponting, C., & Jackson, A. P. (2005). Evolution of primary microcephaly genes and the enlargement of primate brains. Current Opinion in Genetics & Development, 15(3), 241-248.

Prabhakar, S., Noonan, J. P., Paabo, S., & Rubin, E. M. (2006). Accelerated evolution of conserved noncoding sequences in humans. Science, 314(5800), 786-.

Raible, F., & Arendt, D. (2004). Metazoan evolution: Some animals are more equal than others. Current Biology, 14(3), R106-R108.

Reichert, H., & Simeone, A. (2001). Developmental genetics evidence for a monophyletic origin of the bilaterian brain. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B-Biological Sciences, 356(1414), 1533-1544.

Rhodes, G. (2006). The evolutionary psychology of facial beauty. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 199-226.

Saxe, R. (2006). Uniquely human social cognition. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 16(2), 235-239

Schoenemann, P. T., Sheehan, M. J., & Glotzer, L. D. (2005). Prefrontal white matter volume is disproportionately larger in humans than in other primates. Nature Neuroscience, 8(2), 242-252.

Semendeferi, K., Lu, A., Schenker, N., & Damasio, H. (2002). Humans and great apes share a large frontal cortex. Nature Neuroscience, 5(3), 272-276.

Sereno, M. I., & Tootell, R. B. H. (2005). From monkeys to humans: what do we now know about brain homologies? Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 15(2), 135-144.

Sherry, D. F. (2006). Neuroecology. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 167-197.

Sherwood, C. C., Holloway, R. L., Semendeferi, K., & Hof, P. R. (2005). Is prefrontal white matter enlargement a human evolutionary specialization? Nature Neuroscience, 8(5), 537-538.

Sherwood, C. C., Stimpson, C. D., Raghanti, M. A., Wildmand, D. E., Uddin, M., Grossman, L. I., et al. (2006). Evolution of increased glia-neuron ratios in the human frontal cortex. PNAS, 103(37), 13606-13611.

Striedter, G. F. (2006). Precis of Principles of Brain Evolution. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 29(1), 1-+.

Stuart, A. E., & Currie, D. C. (2002). Behaviour is not reliably inferred from end-product structure in caddis flies. Ethology, 108(10), 837-856.

Sun, T., & Walsh, C. A. (2006). Molecular approaches to brain asymmetry and handedness. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 7(8), 655-662.

Temrin, H., Nordlund, J., & Sterner, H. (2004). Are stepchildren overrepresented as victims of lethal parental violence in Sweden? Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B-Biological Sciences, 271, S124-S126.

Tinbergen, N. (1951). The study of instinct. Oxford: Clarendon Press BK lib. 591.512 TIN

Tomasello, M., & Rakoczy, H. (2003). What makes human cognition unique? From individual to shared to collective intentionality. Mind & Language, 18(2), 121-147.

Tomasello, M., Carpenter, M., Call, J., Behne, T., & Moll, H. (2005). Understanding and sharing intentions: The origins of cultural cognition. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28(5), 675

Voelker, G. (2002). Molecular phylogenetics and the historical biogeography of dippers (Cinclus ). Ibis, 144(4), 577-584.

Vrontou, E., Nilsen, S. P., Demir, E., Kravitz, E. A., & Dickson, B. J. (2006). fruitless regulates aggression and dominance in Drosophila. Nature Neuroscience, 9,(01 Dec 2006), 1469 - 1471.

Watakabe, A., Komatsu, Y., Nawa, H., & Yamamori, T. (2006). Gene expression profiling of primate neocortex: molecular neuroanatomy of cortical areas. Genes Brain and Behavior, 5, 38-43.

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Williams, G. C. (1966). Adaptation and natural selection. A critique of some current evolutionary thought. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Wong, Y. J., & Whishaw, I. Q. (2004). Precision grasps of children and young and old adults: individual differences in digit contact strategy, purchase pattern, and digit posture. Behavioural Brain Research, 154(1), 113-123.

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