The New Evolution Therapy

What the brain evolved to accomplish

Posted Mar 06, 2011

The biologist with the hippest name, Theodosius Dobzhansky, noted that 'Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.'  The same can be said about the field of psychology.  

Clinical concerns such as depression, anxiety, and personality disorders are deeply evolutionary--strategies that helped survival of the individual or their genes

Think about your most salient daily concerns.  They may involve procrastination, overeating, shame, resentment, envy, short-term enjoyment. These emotions and behavior are tied to predictable triggers, often involving people's judgments. Take procrastination: inertia made sense as a way to conserve energy in harsh conditions. At the same time, we often fear performing poorly for fear of losing status in the eyes of others. This by no means encompasses all instances of procrastination, but it is a useful paradigm when thinking about the ultimate (and often unconscious) reasons people may procrastinate.  Threats to our survival or mating--such as the judgments of others,  are evolutionarily important, and are therefore percolating semi-consciously or totally unconsciously. 

Some circumstances are evolutionarily novel (eNovel), like ingesting lots of calories with fats and sugars and scant interaction with neighbors, because for most of human history we were surrounded primarily by kin.  The emotional reactions to these circumstances evolved long ago-- we find it hard to limit our consumption of food because food was scarce and precious until the Industrial Revolution, and we have a strong drive for privacy (which was hard to come by) that can today push us into isolation. I wrote about this in The Privacy Paradox).

As many mismatches as exist in our supercharged world, far more circumstances are evolutionarily familiar (eFamiliar). These include concerns about status and reputation, finding and keeping mates, finding alliances and opponents. 

Applied Evolutionary Psychology is a nascent field. I'll be presenting March 7 at the first ever Applied Evolutionary Psychology Symposium in New Paltz, NY, also known as AEPS  (pronounced "apes). For more on AEPS, check it out here.  Thanks to the intrepid Dr. Glenn Geher, Alice Andrews and Daniel Glass for organizing and arranging this summit.

Psychological treatment will improve only when we understand what the brain evolved to accomplish. 

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