Evolutionary Systems Theory: A Unifying Meta-Theory of Psychological Science

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Abstract

Psychology is a theoretically heterogeneous discipline seeking a single, cohesive framework to unite the subdisciplines. To address this issue, I propose a hierarchical metatheory of psychological science that synthesizes neo-Darwinian selectionist thinking and dynamic systems theory by organizing evolutionary psychology, evolutionary developmental biology, developmental psychobiology, and the subdisciplines of psychology around four specific, interrelated levels of analysis: functional explanations for evolved, species-typical characteristics; explanations for between-groups differences arising from phylogenetic mechanisms; explanations for individual differences resulting from ontogenetic processes; and mechanistic explanations for real-time phenomena, respectively. Informational exchange between these levels advances their integration and facilitates important innovations, and the nonsubstantive metatheories of general selection and self-organization interpenetrate all four levels to promote consilience. I conclude by discussing the implications of this model for theory and research.

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