Sunday, May 19, 2013

The incapacity of natural selection to explain human behavior


In a nutshell, the point in this post is that we often reason about the evolutionary/historical origins of human behavior, but we should rather reason about the psychological/biological origins of human behavior.

Natural selection explanation VS psychological explanation

What would you answer if someone would ask you "Why are humans social beings? Why don't we live by ourselves?" The chances are high that you would reply something like "Because a group of humans is stronger than a single human, therefore natural selection has promoted human traits leading to social behavior". Such answer could be called natural selection explanation since it highlights the evolutionary origin of a behavior. Another answer would be to explain the psychological processes that makes us social beings. For example one could answer something along these lines: "Our social behavior is based on empathy and empathy is based on the brain's capacity to abstract, because ...". Such answer could be called psychological explanation since it highlights the psychological processes that originate a behavior.

Both natural selection and psychological explanations are valid, but they provide different information. A natural selection explanation shows how traits emerge over time. On the other hand a psychological explanation shows what happens in the human mind. Digging into how the human mind works provides much more understanding of human behavior than digging into why a trait emerged.


While it is tempting to satisfy oneself with natural selection explanations, psychological explanations often provide much more insights about how humans behave.

What do you think? Leave a comment!