why I read evolutionary psychology papers

It might seem odd that a bioinformatician with an engineer’s training would read evolutionary psychology papers on a regular basis. Here is why I do so:

Suppose the human brain changes on an evolutionary time scale. It would follow then that not much has changed about our minds since before the invention of agriculture, and especially not since the invention of nation-states, industry, and computing. We are still mentally wired for pre-agricultural survival strategies, namely hunting and gathering.

This means that our reflexes are still highly tuned to watching out for predators and identifying good snacks. Our mind excels at these two tasks, though now in unexpected manifestations: We gather when we shop. We fear strangers in the dark.

Emotions that served us well in the prehistoric world (like strong fear of attack) become liabilities in today’s world (e.g., as debilitating anxieties). Hints of a good food source in our primeval days now show up in marketing ploys. Evolutionary psychologists explore how these and other aspects of primitive human life affect our cognitive behavior today. Following their work provides insight into current human behavior unavailable from any other viewpoint.

Our pre-agricultural predecessors had hundreds of thousands of years to develop the psychology that kept them alive. We are only 10,000 years into a change from that mode of living. Our brain is still operating with prehistoric reflexes. Evolutionary psychologists understand this.

Marketers are listening to evolutionary psychologists to learn the best ways to promote products; how to appeal to our primal psychology. Anyone trying to resist such propaganda should be listening too, which is one reason why I’m paying attention.

The other reason is that the past is a pretty good indicator of the future as far as human behavior goes, so by studying evolutionary psychology we can hopefully learn to cope with our mental wiring in a way that better suits the world we live in today.

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