A Whole Journal Issue Devoted to Applied Evolutionary Psychology

That’s right…the Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology (JSEC for short), in collaboration with the Applied Evolutionary Psychology Society (AEPS for short) has released a special issue entirely devoted to applications of evolutionary psychology, guest-edited by Dan Kruger and Nick Armenti! Read it here!

To the knowledge of all involved, this was the first issue of ANY journal to focus entirely on the practical, applied aspects of evolutionary psychology;  all authors were instructed to make specific recommendations for policy or practice based on the theoretical or empirical content of their articles.

Two of the articles within were clinical in nature. Kevin MacDonald from CalState Long Beach has the first article, which is on an evolutionary perspective to understanding conduct disorder (CD). In brief, he suggests that the usefulness of the unitary nosological entity of CD may be enhanced by conceptualizing the condition as resulting from individual differences in 5 evolved personality systems; this perspective leads to the conclusion that there are several different types of CD, rather than just one. MacDonald emphasized the importance of two systems in particular, the behavioral approach system and the nurturance/pair bonding system.

His article is, in a way, complementary to my own work on OCD, which conceptualizes the clinical heterogeneity of that disorder as also due to a number of discrete information processing pathways — maybe even evolved systems (involved in domains of resource acquisition, patterns/numbers, precaution, and pathogen avoidance…posited to underlie symptom dimensions of hoarding, symmetry/number obsessions, violent thoughts and checking, and obsessive cleaning, respectively).

At any rate, in the issue currently under discussion, I have the second clinical psych article, a piece on evolutionary approaches to clinical psychology in general, which uses OCD as an exemplar. The article was inspired by many talks I have had with individuals about my area of interest who presume that evolutionary clinical psychology is about positing adaptive explanations for so-called mental illnesses. While this is indeed part of what goes on in the discipline, it would be a mistake to think that adaptationism is the only, or even the main, perspective used. Read the article if you want to know in detail what else we do, but I’ll say in short that any clinical psychology perspective or hypothesis which takes evolution into account when framing its question is, therefore, evolutionary — it doesn’t have to posit that, say, schizophrenia is adaptive because it makes its sufferers creative and therefore sexy in its prodromal stage (I will leave aside, for now, the truth value of the statement upon which this adaptationist hypothesis rests). Many other evolutionary forces besides natural selection can result in phenotypic outcomes, and in cases where fitness is adversely affected, such alternate explanations may be the most parsimonious.

Perhaps the most well-known of these non-adaptive hypotheses to mental illness is mismatch theory, which posits that even if we were well-adapted to a certain environment, our current, novel environment will result in behaviors and outcomes that look maladaptive, and are, in fact, maladaptive. Perhaps many cases of depression fall into this category, as discussed in the last post…as our world shrinks, our ability for social comparison grows, and many of these comparisons are so unflattering to ourselves that it depresses us.

Okay, so maybe if the maladaptations were initially adaptive in their initial environments, mismatch theory should still count as an adaptationist explanation. I’m not going to take a side on that here, but there ARE true, non-adaptationist explanations out there, and my favorite is Keller and Miller’s (2006) article on mutation-selection balance. Their message is essentially that if a disorder is common, harmful, and heritable, it may be present because natural selection can’t work fast enough to clear away the many tiny mutations that cause it (this is, in a nutshell, what M-S Balance is). With the brain and behavior — unlike, perhaps, physiology — it may be possible for many minor mutations to go unnoticed until they combine in a certain person with a certain development history or other triggers which may result in the severely aberrant behavior  we know as mental illness. In this case, the resulting disorders are NOT adaptive, yet the explanation is still at an evolutionary level.

That’s all the explicitly clinical content of the applied issue, but the other stuff in there is terrific, too: ostracism, urban research, teenage pregnancy, political psychology, environmental ethics, and tabloids! Read it here!


Daniel Glass

About Daniel Glass

Daniel Glass is a doctoral student at Suffolk University. He is interested in evolutionary approaches to clinical psychology. Evolved This Way explores this burgeoning field, which uses evolution to understand, classify, and treat mental disorders and other clinical phenomena.
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