by Steven J.C. Gaulin and Donald H. McBurney
Review by Keith S. Harris, PhD on Feb 6th 2001
Evolutionary psychology is not a specialized subfield of psychology,
such as personality psychology or abnormal psychology. Instead,
it is a different way of thinking about the entire field. Its
insights and methods should be the groundwork for the study of
psychology, not an afterthought. (pp. xii - xiii)
This remarkably well-crafted work is written ostensibly as an
introductory text for undergraduate college students, but will
be accessible to and understandable by general readers as well.
Even those already very familiar with current thought in evolutionary
psychology will find this book an excellent resource.
The authors are both in academia: Gaulin's background is
in biological anthropology and McBurney's is in psychology. These
two areas of study are especially complementary, a fact that this
One of the fundamental limitations of traditional psychology,
according to these authors, is that it doesn't address what
the mind is for. This question, they point out, is at the
heart of other biologically based sciences, and it should be at
the heart of psychology as well. Evolutionary psychology offers
this perspective to the field. In showing how the processes of
natural selection have evolved our human nature, the purpose of
the mind (along with our other attributes) becomes clearer. As
the authors point out, evolution provides the foundation
for psychology as an empirically based science.
And in keeping with this approach, the foremost of the many commendable
qualities of this text is the successful application of evolutionary
principles to the entire range of human nature and behavior -
- e.g., perception, cognition, consciousness, identity and social
or group interactions. In considering common human characteristics
and tendencies, the authors demonstrate the evolutionarily derived
principles that most likely underlie them. They provide a point-by-point
comparison of evolutionary psychology and traditional psychology
(which they refer to as the SSSM - - the "standard social
sciences model"), so that the reader understands the subtle
but profound differences between the two approaches.
The first section of the book provides a thorough overview of
the theory of evolution, including some of the important clarifications
in the field since Darwin. This is very useful as a review for
those already familiar with the theory and, for readers less facile
with the subject, this section serves as a necessary prologue
to the extension of the theory to include human behavior and psychology.
In addition, the field of genetics is briefly but adequately covered.
The book then moves on progressively to cover almost all the areas
of specialized interest in psychology - - learning and cognition,
perception, the purpose and functioning of emotions, human sexual
strategies, normal human development, decision-making heuristics,
and the causes and course of human psychopathology.
Key bits of information and central elements of theory are highlighted
in shaded frames throughout the chapters; these are labeled as
Trail Markers. At the end of each chapter is a concise
but excellent summary of the chapter's main points. (The use of
these two techniques highlights the target audience of the book.)
The authors follow a logical system of presentation, in which
each chapter sensibly leads to the next. The layout and editing
of the book are flawless, although it would have been nice for
the publisher to offer an edition with hardcover binding.
There are other excellent university-level texts on evolutionary
psychology, such as David Buss's first-rate book, Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of Mind,
published in 1999. But Gaulin and McBurney's Psychology: An
Evolutionary Approach is an especially well written, thought
provoking and comprehensive book, and therefore highly recommended.
Keith Harris, PhD,
is a clinical psychologist and supervisor of Victor Valley Behavioral
Health Center in San Bernardino county, California. His interests
include clinical supervision, the empirical basis for psychotherapy
research (and its design), human decision-making processes, and
the shaping of human nature by evolutionary forces.