What is Evolutionary Psychology?
The field of evolutionary psychology takes a biological approach to explaining human behavior and is very closely related to cognitive psychology. For evolutionary psychologists, human behavior is best explained by examining internal psychological mechanisms. Where evolutionary psychology differs from some other fields of psychology is the belief that these internal psychological mechanisms, much like physiological mechanisms and processes, developed as a result of natural selection. In short, cognitive structures are purpose-built to aid in survival and reproduction and are the primary driving force behind human behavior.
For example, one of the central theories of evolutionary psychology is that the brain, designed by natural selection, is used to glean information from the environment, which, in turn, influences how people behave. Evolutionary psychology is concerned with developing an understanding of these cognitive processes in order to develop an understanding of why people behave the way they do. In essence, evolutionary psychology views the cognitive programs of the brain as adaptations to ancient environments, which, although may not be ideal for today’s environment, still highly influence the manner in which we behave.
What are the Responsibilities of an Evolutionary Psychologist?
Much of what evolutionary psychologists do is focused on education and research. For those who enter education, typical job duties include teaching undergraduate courses in related fields, such as psychology, biology, life span development, and anthropology. Teaching at the graduate level is also a common career for evolutionary psychologists. In this capacity, the focus is typically on teaching evolutionary psychology, cognitive psychology, and developmental psychology to master’s and doctorate students. Experienced evolutionary psychologists may teach specialized courses as well, including reproduction, primate behavior, comparative psychology, and feminist psychology.
Another typical job for evolutionary psychologists – whether they are employed in academia or not – is to conduct research. Most graduate-level professors conduct research in addition to their teaching duties. Other evolutionary psychologists focus solely on research. They may be employed by research facilities or institutes, independent laboratories, or by state or federal agencies. Research tends to revolve around biological topics, such as reproductive processes and physical attraction. Other topics might include behavioral research and issues related to inherited traits, such as physical or mental conditions.
Some evolutionary psychologists enter private practice as well. Typically, evolutionary psychologists work with individuals and groups who seek to change unwanted behavior. Evolutionary psychologists believe that behavior is the result of internal mechanisms that have evolved over time, so their job in this context is to help their clients understand why the behave the way in which they do. This might include examining the client’s environment and relationships to determine points of conflict or displeasure, and helping them outline goals to adapt their environment or relationships to be more facilitative of the life they desire.
Why is Evolutionary Psychology Important?
Evolutionary psychology argues that most of human behavior stems from adaptations that evolved over time due to recurring problems humans face, even in ancestral times. Common issues this field explores are things like the human abilities of inferring other emotions, differentiating between family and non-family, identifying and preferring healthier mates, and working with others.
This field of psychology helps us understand patterns in things like mating, marriage, parenting, jealousy, interactions with others, intelligence, and perceptions of beauty. In essence, evolutionary psychology seeks to explain why humans are the way that they are. It opens the doors to understanding why humans act and think the way they do, which is limitlessly beneficial in the world of science and in terms of human nature. It can put the puzzle pieces together regarding how the human brain – thus, human emotions – have evolved over time.
Evolutionary psychology can help gain an understanding as to how negative human emotions – like prejudice, hate, and anger – evolved from ancestral times to now. And once the origins of such negative emotions are established, humans can change these adapted behavior patterns such that positive behaviors emerge. Humans can use self-awareness and emotional control to break the cycle of prejudice, hate, and anger – all with the help of evolutionary psychology.
What is the Employment Outlook for Evolutionary Psychologists?
Job opportunities for individuals with training in evolutionary psychology are relatively rare. There are several reasons for this. First, evolutionary psychology is a highly specialized field of work, and there aren’t many jobs in the field to begin with. Second, individuals with jobs in academia, which account for a large number of evolutionary psychologists, tend to stay in their positions for quite some time. With little turnover, it is difficult to break into that particular field.
That being said, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that all psychology careers will experience 11 percent growth over the next few years, so jobs for evolutionary psychologists may be in greater number than they have been in the past. Research related jobs will represent the greatest opportunity, particularly as industries like healthcare seek qualified research specialists.
How Much Does an Evolutionary Psychologist Make?
The average salary for psychology as a whole is $98,230 per year, according to the BLS. Workers in the lowest ten percent of wages earn far less, at just under an average of $46,100 per year, while workers in the highest ten percent earn nearly $129,530 per year, on average. The BLS does not specifically identify evolutionary psychology as a separate field, however, the American Psychological Association places the annual yearly salary for experimental psychology – a closely related field – at a range of $76,090-$116,343.
There are a host of factors that influence the salary that an evolutionary psychologist can expect to make. Primary factors among them are the educational level, with individuals holding a doctorate making more than those with a master’s degree, and experience, with workers having more experience in the field commanding higher wages. Additionally, the type of industry in which one is employed will influence one’s salary. Evolutionary psychologists that work as independent consultants, for example, are likely to make more money than are evolutionary psychologists employed in academic or research settings.
What Degree is Required for an Evolutionary Psychologist?
Because most evolutionary psychologists work in academic or research settings, a Ph.D. is almost certainly required in order to take advantage of the best job opportunities.
Doctoral programs in evolutionary psychology are quite rare. Most programs typically focus on neuroscience, developmental psychology, ethnology, or a closely related field, with specialization available in evolutionary psychology. Ph.D. programs generally have two areas of emphasis – an educational track for students interested in teaching at the collegiate level, and a research track, for students interested in seeking employment in the research sector.
Students can expect five to seven years of study, which includes a tremendous amount of research, typically in a laboratory setting. Coursework in a variety of subjects, including human behavior, sexuality, personality theory, human adaptation, and physiological psychology is common as well.
Admissions requirements for Ph.D. programs vary somewhat from university to university. Generally speaking, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, although some schools allow students with a bachelor’s degree to pursue a doctorate without first having a master’s degree. Undergraduate and graduate studies should be in a related field in order to prepare students for advanced work in evolutionary psychology. Degrees in biology, anatomy and physiology, neuroscience, or psychology are highly recommended. Adequate test scores are often required as well, such as on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE).
Evolutionary psychologists that work in academia and research settings typically do not need to be licensed or certified because they are not working with clients. However, it is important to check with state regulations to ensure all relevant policies are followed. Evolutionary psychologists that work in a clinical setting must be licensed to practice in their state of residence. There are no professional certifications for evolutionary psychologists as of yet.
What are the Career Opportunities for Evolutionary Psychologists?
Evolutionary psychology is a relatively new area of psychology and its applications are still becoming established. For this reason, many evolutionary psychologists work in academia or research.
Many evolutionary psychologists are in involved in research, trying to progress the field. Research may be conducted from a university, a laboratory or a research institution. Psychologists here will be involved in developing, conducting and publishing experiments and research material.
In academia, evolutionary psychologists may be involved with undergraduate teaching, this may involve introducing the specialist field to students taking a more generalized psychology course or it may be teaching students who are pursuing an evolutionary psychology degree. In addition, academia may also involve the teaching and mentoring of graduate students who have a specialized interest in the field or one closely related.
Finally, some evolutionary psychologists will work, using the foundations of the field to treat patients directly. Opportunities for this are currently greatest within private practice but healthcare institutions and prisons may also provide some opportunity.
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