The Power of Evolutionary Psychology

3 Things That We Now Know about Being Human

Posted Jul 21, 2015

In a now-classic paper on the powerful nature of the evolutionary perspective in psychology, Ketelaar and Ellis (2000) argued that a good scientific framework is one that (a) leads to new questions and, as a result, (b) leads to new understanding. Evolutionary psychologists (see Geher, 2014) study behavior – seeking to apply evolutionary principles to help us, in fact, best understand why different behavioral phenomena exist. The field of evolutionary psychology is full of new findings about human behavior that we simply would not have without the mountain of research that this field has cultivated. Here are three of the biggies – things we now know about human behavior thanks to good old evolutionary psychology.

1. Men are more than twice as likely to experience early mortality (death) during young adulthood compared with women (Kruger & Nesse, 2006).

Men are more likely to die than are women at any and all phases of the life cycle. Applying an evolutionary lens, Kruger and Nesse (2006) hypothesized that this phenomenon should be exacerbated during young adulthood when males are more likely to be courting mates and, as a result, engaging in male/male (intrasexual) competition. And that’s exactly what they found.

2. Step parents are, by a large order of magnitude, more likely to engage in filicide (killing of offspring) compared with genetic/biological parents (see Daly & Wilson, 2005).

Filicide is universally seen as horrific. So it would benefit humanity writ large to understand its antecedents. Applying evolutionary-based reasoning, Daly and Wilson (2005) reasoned that as step-parents do not share the same genetic investment with offspring as biological parents do, then step-parents might be more likely to engage in filicide. And this is, by a large order of magnitude, exactly what they found.

3. Across all reaches of the world, men show a stronger preference for variety in mates compared with women (see Schmitt et al., 2003).

Schmitt and his collaborators hypothesized that across multiple human groups, males would show a stronger preference for variety of mating partners compared with females (as there are fewer evolutionary costs for males in mating with multiple partners compared with the costs for females). Based on one of the world’s largest and most diverse human research samples ever studied, these researchers provided compelling evidence to support their evolution-based hypothesis – across the world (and across methods of measurement), males demonstrated a stronger preference for variety in sexual partners compared with females.

Bottom Line

A scientific framework is only useful if it clearly helps provide new insights into the phenomena being studies (Ketelaar & Ellis, 2000). Evolutionary psychology is such a scientific framework. Further, if you think about the findings described herein, evolutionary psychology sheds light on major questions of humanity, including the nature of family violence, causes of death in young adults, and the nature of sex differences in mating and relationship patterns.

Evolutionary psychology is a powerful scientific framework that sheds enormous light on all facets of who we are. Haven’t yet joined the evolution revolution? What are you waiting for?!


Daly, M.; Wilson, M. (2005). "The 'Cinderella effect' is no fairy tale". Trends in Cognitive Sciences 9 (11): 507–508.

Geher, G. (2014). Evolutionary Psychology 101. New York: Springer.

Ketelaar, T., & Ellis, B.J. (2000). Are evolutionary explanations unfalsifiable? Evolutionary psychology and the Lakatosian philosophy of science. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 1-21.

Kruger DJ, Nesse RM: An evolutionary life history understanding of sex differences in human mortality rates. Human Nature,74 (1): 74-97, 2006.

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Kruger & Nesse (2006)
Evidence that males are more likely to die during young adulthood compared with
Source: Kruger & Nesse (2006)

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