Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Adapted Mind, The

  • Kevin L. KenneyEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_1856-1



One of the seminal books in the establishment and development of evolutionary psychology as a distinct method of inquiry in the behavioral sciences.


The Adapted Mind (Barkow et al. 1992) outlined two major goals: the introduction of evolutionary psychology and the connection between evolutionary psychology and fields such as biology, anthropology, sociology, economics, and history. One of the overarching themes present in the work is the push for collaboration, or conceptual integration, amongst the social sciences. As the physical sciences, such as chemistry and physics, have compatible theories for the workings of the world, the social sciences should adopt a similar system for compatibility and common language between them. Doing so would allow for converging lines of evidence for scientific discoveries and help alleviate the present problem with reproducibility in the social sciences (see Brase 2014 for an explanation of one such framework).

Barkow et al. (1992) explains the basic mechanisms of evolution by natural selection, wherein heritable variations in individuals that provide an advantage for the propagation of genes to future generations is the driving force. Importantly, adaptations take many (e.g., thousands of) generations to spread throughout a population. More simply, evolution is a very slow process, and it does not respond to rapid environmental changes. Instead, adaptations are built to solve very specific and persistent problems; they are domain specific (Tooby and Cosmides 1992). A common misconception, as addressed in the chapter by Symons (1992), is that a trait which is an evolved adaptation does not imply that that trait is presently adaptive. An adaptation was designed to solve a specific problem that existed across many generations in the past, and present technologies may have rendered such an adaptation neutral or even maladaptive. For example, sugar tastes sweet and the taste of sweetness is an indicator of fruits at their most nutritious. Presently, with the abundance of refined sugar, our propensity to seek sugar-rich foods may be maladaptive. However, if industrialized people were to be faced with conditions that required foraging for food in order to survive, the attraction to sugar would, once again, become adaptive to satisfy caloric needs.

The remainder, and vast majority, of the adapted mind is dedicated to providing examples of how evolutionary psychology can be integrated into specific research areas within the behavioral sciences. These include chapters on nonhuman primate origins of social interaction and cooperation (by McGrew & Feistner), on mating and sexual behaviors (by Buss, by Ellis, and by Wilson & Daly), on caring for offspring (by Boulton & Smith, by Fernald, by Mann, and by Profet), on language and perception (by Pinker & Bloom, by Shepard, and by Silverman & Eals), on environmental preferences (by Kaplan and by Orians & Heerwagen), on intrapsychic processes (by Nesse & Lloyd), and on new approaches to studying culture (by Barkow). Each topic incorporates the need to collaborate across disciplines and the same push to approach investigation from an adaptive, domain-specific stance.


After more than two decades, the main arguments from this work: pushing for collaboration and a domain-specific approach to research, are still relevant. The Standard Social Science Model (a term introduced by Tooby and Cosmides 1992) still exists in contemporary texts purchased by undergraduate students, and Barkow et al. argued that this model isolated the behavioral sciences from other fields. By implementing a more collaborative approach, fields like psychology stand better equipped to earn credibility from other sciences and from the layperson.



  1. Barkow, J. H., Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (1992). The adapted mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Brase, G. L. (2014). Behavioral science integration: A practical framework of multi-level converging evidence for behavioral science theories. New Ideas in Psychology, 33, 8–20.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.newideapsych.2013.11.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Symons, D. (1992). On the use and misuse of Darwinism. In J. H. Barkow, L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.), The adapted mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture (pp. 19–136). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (1992). The psychological foundations of culture. In J. H. Barkow, L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.), The adapted mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture (pp. 19–136). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kansas State UniversityManhattanUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Gary L Brase
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychological SciencesKansas State UniversityManhattanUSA