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Charles darwin s work has influenced evolutionary psychology

Occasionally a theologian or a naturalist has inveighed against the Darwinian theory of mental evolution, but the psychologists as such have rarely uttered a protest. In view of the storm of vituperative scientific criticism precipitated by the publication of the Origin of Species, this fact is distinctly significant.


Indeed, so much a matter of course have the essential Darwinian conceptions become, that one is in danger of assuming fallaciously that Darwinism has no important bearing on psychology. How Darwin's radical theories succeeded in gaining such easy access to the psychological sanctuary is a matter of distinct interest upon which a few speculative comments may be made.

It must be borne in mind, then, that Darwin's most charles darwin s work has influenced evolutionary psychology ideas on mental evolution did not appear until the publication of the Descent of Man in 1871. This was nearly thirty years after Weber's epoch-making experiments on sensations, almost a score of years after the appearance of Lotze's medical psychology, sixteen years after the issuance of Spencer's evolutionary psychology and Bain's work on the Senses and Intellect, with its excellent presentation of the facts of nervous organization, eleven years after Fechner's publication of the Psychophysik, nine years after the first edition of Helmholtz's Sensations of Tone and seven years after his Physiological Optics.

It was only three years in advance of the first edition of Wundt's Physiological Psychology. There had thus been rapidly growing during the preceding thirty years a disposition to view mental life as intimately connected with physiological processes, as capable of investigation along experimental and physiological lines, and finally as susceptible of explanation in an evolutionary manner.

Moreover, by the time the Descent 153 of Man was published the weight of scientific authority, so heavily against Darwin at the time of the publication of the Origin of Species in 1859, had swung unmistakably to his support. Another circumstance of probably more than negligible moment is found in the fact that the major interest of many psychologists has always been in the more narrowly analytical problems of mind. On these problems Darwinism has had little immediate bearing and has exercised only the smallest fructifying influence.

Darwin’s Role in Psychology

Its contentions have seemed, therefore, to demand no very vigorous partisanship either one way or the other. The effect of certain philosophic tendencies ought, no doubt, to be added to this brief survey of contributory influences, but the considerations already offered are probably sufficient to indicate in part, at least, why the publication of the doctrines of mental evolution expounded in the Descent of Man occasioned so little psychological flutter and in many quarters awakened so warm and enthusiastic a welcome.

They also serve to explain why it is so difficult to assign with confidence the precise contribution of Darwin's thought to current conditions in psychology. Many convergent forces have been at work and the independent effects of each are hardly to be discriminated.

Nevertheless, it is clear that Darwinism exercises a very potent influence in psychology, not alone as regards general standpoint and method, but also as regards certain specific doctrines. In the matter of general method we may certainly attribute to Darwinism the larger part of the responsibility for the change which has brought into prominence functional and genetic psychology including animal psychologyin distinction from the older and more conventional analytic psychology.

Here again many influences have charles darwin s work has influenced evolutionary psychology to the final outcome, but it is fatuous to suppose that the genetic movement in psychology could have attained its present imposing dimensions had it not been for the inspiration of Darwin's achievements.

The analytical methods will no doubt always retain a certain field of usefulness, and an indispensable one at that, but our larger and more significant generalizations, our more practically important forms of control over mental life are going to issue from the 154 pursuit of methods in which growth, development and the influence of environment, both social and physical, will be the cardinal factors, methods which will in other words apply Darwinian principles with, let us hope, Darwin's tireless patience.

Darwin's more specific contributions to psychology may be grouped under three main headings: I his doctrine of the evolution of instinct and the part played by intelligence in the process; 2 the evolution of mind from the lowest animal to the highest man ; and 3 the expressions of emotion.

  1. But a closer inspection of the actual manifestations of instinct serves to disabuse one's mind of that impression. On these problems Darwinism has had little immediate bearing and has exercised only the smallest fructifying influence.
  2. Variation, in contrast, is nonessential and accidental. The seeming variety, it was said, consisted of a limited number of natural kinds essences or types , each one forming a class.
  3. However, the EP perspective generally assumes that context-specific strategies are pre-programmed within our evolved psychological mechanisms, such that individuals possess multiple strategies that are differentially elicited by certain external factors or that individuals develop a particular strategy as a result of environmental inputs acting on evolved developmental systems during early life e.

This is the chronological order in which these topics were given publicity by Darwin and we may properly adopt it in discussing the problems involved. The solution of the first issue, i.

At first blush it might seem that instinct is altogether a matter of muscular activities and neural mechanisms and that mentality has little or nothing to do with it. But a closer inspection of the actual manifestations of instinct serves to disabuse one's mind of that impression. Not only are human instincts honey-combed with psychic influences, but even animal instincts show themselves variable and adaptive to specific situations in ways which hardly permit any other interpretation than that of conscious adjustment.

Take the imperious mating instinct as an instance. Among birds of many species there is every evidence that despite the impelling force of impulse, the female exercises a very definite choice in which to all appearances psychical impressions are potent.

But the question still remains whether intelligence is a true cause in the production of instinctive acts, or whether it merely comes in occasionally to modify them. Herbert Spencer is cited with questionable justice as representing one extreme opinion in this matter. This is clearly the view of many modern physiologists and naturalists, of whom Bethe and Loeb are illustrations.

From this standpoint consciousness is not essential to the formation of instinct. Among English and American writers G. Lewes and Cope represent the other extreme, maintaining that all instincts are originally intelligent conscious acts, from which conscious control has largely or wholly disappeared.

History of evolutionary psychology

Some authorities like Romanes have held that consciousness is at all times operative in instinct and that it is precisely the presence of consciousness which distinguishes instincts from mere reflexes. This general view held with sundry modifications by numerous writers, among others Wundt, is known as the 'lapsed intelligence' theory.

Darwin[2] himself seems to have been less interested in the question as to whether mind is always present in instinctive reactions than in the question of its relation to the origin of instinct.

His view seems to have been that instincts are in part due to charles darwin s work has influenced evolutionary psychology inheritance of useful habits consciously acquired, and in part due to the effects of natural selection operating on chance variations in conduct.

Of the two he regards natural selection as the more important, because many instincts cannot have been inherited habits e. Against the natural selection argument, as it pertains to the supposed preservation of incremental variations of a useful sort, it has been urged that in not a few instincts this is an impossible assumption, because the whole value of the instinct depends on the appropriate execution of each step in a long series of acts, each one of which alone, and any group of which apart from the others, is useless.

Natural selection could only furnish an adequate explanation provided the whole series of complex acts sprang into existence simultaneously. To suppose that this occurs is to assume the miraculous. Stated abstractedly this 156 criticism appears forceful, but in view of our profound ignorance of the stages through which complex instincts have actually passed, it seems wise to be conservative in estimating the significance of the criticism.

It will be noted also that Darwin speaks quite explicitly of his belief that acquired habits are transmitted. The doubt which attaches to this doctrine in the minds of competent contemporary zoologists is well known. Darwin quotes as illustrating his point the alleged acquirement of fear of man by birds in certain of the oceanic islands remote from the mainland subsequent to the coming of men and the pursuit of hunting.

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Certain cases of alleged transmission of characteristics as a result of mental training among dogs appear also to have weighed heavily in his mind. If such acquirements are transmitted by heredity, then it must be admitted that this factor, together with the natural selection of such instinctive variations as arise naturally and after the manner of structural variations, would no doubt largely account for the phenomena with which we are familiar.

But as we have just pointed out, difficulties beset both parts of this program. A compromise view which is put forward with the joint authority of Morgan, Osborn and Baldwin,[3] under the title 'organic selection,' maintains that consciously acquired habits are probably not directly transmitted, but that consciousness plays an indispensable part in the drama by enabling successive generations of creatures to accommodate themselves to the vicissitudes of life while the slow changes are taking place which finally issue in the completed instinct.

Not only is consciousness operative in this way, but in charles darwin s work has influenced evolutionary psychology the higher forms of animal life it is held that conscious imitative activities also play a part, and with man a dominant part, in setting the racial pattern. Natural selection serves to lop off the feeble and incompetent, both among individuals and groups, while all this process is going forward, but the successful issue is fundamentally dependent on conscious reactions during the critical formative stages.

  1. Wherein do such characteristics display a survival value, and if they have none such, how can natural selection account for their preservation and cultivation?
  2. The same projections allow exhibit fine control of the tongue, vocal chords, and breathing, without which humans probably could not have learned to speak [71]. Not only is consciousness operative in this way, but in all the higher forms of animal life it is held that conscious imitative activities also play a part, and with man a dominant part, in setting the racial pattern.
  3. Other forms appear which may be useless or even harmful to the occasional individual, but to the group as a whole they are highly valuable and by virtue of this fact they secure perpetuity, either by social imitation, or by direct heredity. The members of each class were thought to be identical, constant, and sharply separated from the members of other essences.
  4. Richardson Find articles by Robert C. The concept of natural selection had remarkable power for explaining directional and adaptive changes.
  5. Men are generally assumed to have been selected to favour more sexual partners than women and to base their choices on the age, health, and physical attractiveness of prospective partners; in contrast, women are assumed to be more choosy than men and to base their judgements on the willingness of males to invest resources in their offspring [59].

In the midst of uncertainty and speculative ingenuity such 157 as this, many minds will look with hope and a certain relief on the efforts of a group of zoologists and physiologists — illustrated by Jennings and Loeb — who have made persistent and in no small measure successful attempts to modify instinctive behavior by experimental methods, thus securing at once some rudimentary insight into the mechanics of the instincts, instead of waiting for nature to reveal her secrets at her pleasure.

In the lower organisms where such experimental control is most feasible, already the dependence of certain forms of instinctive behavior on conditions of temperature, light and oxygenation has been demonstrated and it hardly seems unduly optimistic to hope that through such means we shall ere long be able to substitute for speculative theories on the modus operandi of instinctive behavior something more nearly resembling knowledge. Charles darwin s work has influenced evolutionary psychology present we can only say that we know with reasonable certainty that many instinctive acts are accompanied by consciousness, that practically all of them are variable within limits, that some of them appear to be modified by conscious forces, that possibly consciousness has played a part in the formation of some of them as it seemingly plays a part in their actual workings, that natural selection would certainly account for many instincts and perhaps for all.

We come now to consider Darwin's view of mental evolution. Darwin[4] held that the mind of civilized man is a direct outgrowth of the animal mind. He maintained that from the lowest animal upward we find evidence of mental processes which increase in range and power, but do not change in kind, until we meet their most complete expressions in man.

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In man himself he finds again no evidence of aught but continuity of development from the lowest savage to the highest genius. Darwin not only teaches the continuity of mental evolution from the lowest to the highest forms of animal life, he also urges the value of mental factors in the operation of both natural and sexual selection. Men and animals alike that were alert and intelligent in their adaptive acts would enjoy a larger chance of 158 life and leave behind them a more numerous posterity.

The psychic qualities which he cites as a foundation for his statements are as follows: These categories are all taken quite simply and with no special effort to indicate precisely what may be meant by them.

He contents himself by citing illustrations of animal behavior, which seem to him to indicate the presence of these several mental attributes.

Darwin in Mind: New Opportunities for Evolutionary Psychology

He undertakes to fortify his general position by a refutation of the several stock arguments commonly advanced to support belief in the radical distinction between animals and man. Of these we may pause to mention only a few.

He meets the assertion that animals make no use of tools by citing the case of the chimpanzee who is said to use stones to open nuts, and by the case of the elephant who uses branches to protect himself from the assaults of flies. He might have cited many other similar cases, but it is to be observed that he makes no very satisfactory attempt to meet the further points that animals do not fashion utensils and that they do not use fire. For the present generation, however, this type of consideration has somewhat lost interest.

He believes the opinion that animals do not form concepts and that they are incapable of making abstractions is not well founded. On the 159 matter of language he occupies a position distinctly favorable to the possession of rudimentary language forms by animals. He cites the fact that many animals have calls expressive of emotion, and these calls he regards as essentially linguistic.

He also mentions the use by parrots of significant words as a case demonstrating his contentions. Again, the sense of beauty has been held to be a purely human attribute. But this view Darwin feels is definitely controverted by the fondness which certain animals display, especially birds, for colors and plumage.

The possession of conscience and the belief in God have frequently been urged as the sole possessions of humanity. To this assertion Darwin replies that the belief in God is not universal among human beings and hence not generically human, and the actions of many animals, notably dogs, indicate something closely akin to the feelings of conscience.

To the contemporary psychologist all this sounds highly archaic and scientifically anachronistic and so no doubt it is. But in view of Darwin's extensive innocence of psychology, it represents, as he marshals his facts, an amazing range of original observation and a most intrepid mind. In the last analysis, despite the statements of the preceding paragraph, Darwin regards the development of conscience, or the moral sense, as by far the most important practical distinction of man from the animals.

He says, however, that any animal endowed with well-marked social instincts, such as the parental or filial affections, would develop man's conscience as soon as he developed man's intellectual capacity, or even approximated it. The social and gregarious habits of many animals obviously furnish an excellent point of departure for such a development.

Moreover, sympathy, which plays an important part in all moral evolution, seems to be manifested by certain animals. There is therefore no evidence anywhere for radical differences between man and the animals.

It may be of interest to remark certain typical divergences from this general position in which, however, Darwin has found not a few loyal followers. Indeed, at the present time it is undoubtedly the case that most psychologists share Darwin's main convictions as to the continuity of mental evolution from animal 160 to man, less perhaps as a result of careful scrutiny of the facts than as a consequence of a powerful drift from every direction toward the belief in a common origin for human and animal characteristics.

We feel more comfortable nowadays in a world where simple and uniform rules obtain. Probably the most persistent and most substantial point of dissent from Darwin is represented by writers who like Mivart[5] hold that although men and animals have certain forms of conscious life in common, for charles darwin s work has influenced evolutionary psychology, sentience and memory, man alone can frame true concepts, and man alone can use true signs, can create and use language.

Only man has ideas. Whereas we find essential continuity from the lowest to the highest of bodily forms, in mental processes we meet a real break, separating the human and spiritual, from the merely sentient 'and brute.

This type of view has always commended itself to a certain stripe of religious belief, because of its seeming provision for a somewhat super-naturalistic element in man, and its protest against regarding him, or at least his ancestry, as substantially on a level with the beasts of the field. Moreover, it can summon to its support not a little apparently valid evidence wherein alleged instances of the animal use of language and signs are shown capable of another and more rudimentary interpretation.

We are, of course, unable to intrude upon the inner workings of the animal consciousness, and it must be confessed that in so far as we judge by external conduct, few, if any, of the instances adduced to prove the formation by animals of concepts or of language really furnish unequivocal evidence of the thing to be proved.

Meantime, it should be clearly recognized that this position, as advanced by Mivart at least, does not rest for its severance of man from the animals simply on the classical contention that he has a soul while they possess only minds. It is a distinction in the field of mind itself, which is here emphasized, an ascription to man, as his unique possession, of capacities which constitute the higher stages of cognitive activities.

Another divergent line is represented by the celebrated 161 naturalist Wallace,[6] who shares with Darwin a part of the credit for that revolution of opinion in the scientific world which generally is characterized with Darwin's name. Wallace is apparently willing to grant as a mere hypothesis that man's mind has developed pari passa with man's body, charles darwin s work has influenced evolutionary psychology he absolutely refuses to admit that natural selection could have brought this result to pass.

He calls attention to three great familiar instances of alleged discontinuity in nature as suggesting that we should be scientifically hospitable to the idea of discontinuity. First, there is the breach between the organic and the inorganic, a breach which seems daily to shrink, but which has not yet been over-spanned.