, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 265-286

Evolutionary social psychology: Prospects and pitfalls

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The principles of evolutionary psychology and the traditional assumptions of social psychology are highly compatible. Both disciplines trace observed behavioral variability to situational variability. Both assume that psychological mechanisms sensitive to social information are central to causal accounts of social behavior. Questions about the origins and functions of these psychological mechanisms are indispensable for understanding social behavior. Evolutionary psychology provides conceptual tools for addressing these questions. Several pitfalls must be avoided by practitioners of evolutionary social psychology. Specifically, we must jettison notions of genetic determinism and behavioral unmodifiability, eliminate false dichotomies between “genetic” and “learned,” and place cross-cultural variability in a sensible theoretical context. Attending to the reliable phenomena discovered by traditional social psychology and the conceptual frameworks provided by modern evolutionary psychology will produce the most informed evolutionary social psychology.

This article is an expanded version of a symposium talk presented at the Society for Experimental Social Psychology, October 13, 1990, Buffalo, New York. Preparation of this manuscript was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH-44206-02). I wish to thank Eugene Burnstein, Martin Daly, Phoebe Ellsworth, James Hilton, Alice M. Isen, and Richard Nisbett for extremely useful suggestions on an earlier version of this paper. I also thank Nancy Cantor, Leda Cosmides, Don Symons, and John Tooby for general discussions that have influenced the ideas expressed about evolutionary social psychology.