The human brain is a fascinating organ, as far as you’re concerned, and you’ve decided to go into psychology. In fact, you’re planning to specialize in one of the less common areas of the field -- evolutionary psychology. As an evolutionary psychologist, you’ll be studying not only how people tick, but what evolutionary factors make them tick. In particular, you’ll look at how evolution has affected the way the brain functions and what that means for humans.
The Study of Behavior
Psychologists study human behavior and brain function, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You’ll look for patterns in behavior that can help you understand why people do what they do and to make predictions about how people are likely to behave in a given circumstance. You might collect information by asking people to complete questionnaires, through telephone, online or written surveys. Since your focus is evolutionary psychology, you’ll also need to study the science of evolution. Evolutionary processes take many years, and the way people behave today reflects situations they faced in daily life when they still lived in caves and wore animal skins instead of three-piece suits.
Evolution and Reactions
Natural selection is the process in evolution by which traits, characteristics and genes that promote an individual or a species’ survival tend to continue on through the reproductive process. Evolutionary psychology theory reflects the idea that your brain has developed certain functions that promote your survival. If threats arise in your environment, for example, those humans who have learned to avoid or deal with those threats are more likely to survive and pass on their genes to their offspring. Over thousands or millions of years, the brain becomes better at recognizing and avoiding those threats. Evolutionary psychologists study how the brain affects our actions based on the way our brains have evolved.
Many evolutionary psychologists work in research. They might study how humans or animals react to certain situations in a controlled environment, or they may perform field studies in a natural habitat. You might study behaviors and characteristics related to reproduction, for example, such as the study that determined many men are attracted to women based on the woman’s waist-to-hip ratio. A woman’s waist-to-hip ratio, according to some theories, can be an indication of fertility, which affects reproduction and species survival. Of course, evolutionary psychologists also study other, less juicy subjects, such as language and culture.
Writing and Public Speaking
Evolutionary psychology isn't a large field and is very specialized; these researchers must often teach others about what they do. In addition to performing the research, evolutionary psychologists write about their work. Beginning in graduate school -- yes, you do need a Ph.D. to be an evolutionary psychologist -- you’ll start producing research papers. In some cases, you’ll be writing for your peers, but in others, you may be writing for the general public, explaining complex concepts related to evolution and psychology in laypersons' terms. You’ll also present your work at seminars and conferences, so brush up on your public speaking skills.
- University of California at Santa Barbara: The Evolutionary Psychology FAQ
- U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Psychologists
- American Psychological Association: Evolutionary Theory and Psychology
- The Journal of Evolutionary Sciences Consortium: Voices from the Field - Current Trends and Experiences in Evolutionary Psychology
- Psychological Science: A Critical Test of the Waist-to-Hip-Ratio Hypothesis of Female Physical Attractiveness
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.