Evolutionary Psychology: A How-To Guide

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Abstract

Researchers in the social and behavioral sciences are increasingly using evolutionary insights to test novel hypotheses about human psychology. Because evolutionary perspectives are relatively new to psychology and most researchers do not receive formal training in this endeavor, there remains ambiguity about “best practices” for implementing evolutionary principles. This article provides researchers with a practical guide for using evolutionary perspectives in their research programs and for avoiding common pitfalls in doing so. We outline essential elements of an evolutionarily informed research program at 3 central phases: (a) generating testable hypotheses, (b) testing empirical predictions, and (c) interpreting results. We elaborate key conceptual tools, including task analysis, psychological mechanisms, design features, universality, and cost-benefit analysis. Researchers can use these tools to generate hypotheses about universal psychological mechanisms, social and cultural inputs that amplify or attenuate the activation of these mechanisms, and cross-culturally variable behavior that these mechanisms can produce. We hope that this guide inspires theoretically and methodologically rigorous research that more cogently integrates knowledge from the psychological and life sciences.

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