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Evolution and Behaviour (Lance Workman & Will Reader)

Lance Workman & Will Reader

(Foundations of Psychology) Routledge, London (2016)

ISBN: 978 0 415 52202 1

Lance Workman is Visiting Professor of Psychology at the University of South Wales. Previously he was Head of Psychology Department Bath Spa University. Qualifications include BA (Joint Hons), Psychology & Biology (Keele), D.Phil Animal Behaviour/ Neuroethology (Sussex), CPsychol and AFBPsS. Lance presently provides interviews for The Psychologist magazine.

Will Reader is Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Sheffield Hallam University. Will has an interest in cognitive psychology, which he developed in his final year as an undergraduate and led him to undertake a masters in artificial intelligence in 1989. This in turn led him to enrol on a doctorate studying ways of applying artificial intelligence to education (1990- 1994). He has been lecturing full time since 1994 and has been at Sheffield Hallam since 2003.

Both Will and Lance are joint editors (along with Jerome Barkow) of the Cambridge Handbook of Evolution and Behaviour. They are also joint editors of Evolutionary Psychology which is now on the third edition (Cambridge University Press).

In ‘Evolution and Behaviour’ the authors explore the relationship between how we evolved and how we behave. This is a controversial and fascinating field of study including theories from how we choose a mate to how we socialise with other people. The evolutionary process has an enduring legacy on the way we view the world.

Evolutionary Psychology is not without its critics who frequently accuse its advocates of genetic determinism (behaviour is encoded in our genes and not subject to environmental influences). This is rejected as they consider the human brain to have evolved to exhibit adaptively flexible behaviour that is influenced, rather than determined by genes. Workman and Reader address this throughout the book and even go as far as suggesting that psychology itself adopt evolutionary theory if it is to more completely and appropriately understand human behaviour. They make this assertion as evolutionary psychology may answer those questions that other disciplines fail do so. The authors note questions like why do we (usually) love our children and why do we find some things disgusting? Workman and Reader tackle mainstream psychology disciplines taking each one in a separate chapter, which is useful for making comparisons against, for example, developmental, cognitive, abnormal and cultural psychologies. The layout is clear and each chapter starts with a list of what you can expect to learn and is backed up with good summaries and suggested further reading. There are also detailed explanations of key concepts and key terms which aids understanding of the more complex areas of evolutionary psychology.

An interesting chapter centres on evolution and abnormal psychology and looks at when things go wrong. Previous chapters, as expected, have considered the relationship between evolution and typical human behavioural responses but here the authors tackle some of the possible origins of why one in four people living in the West today will be afflicted with a mental health problem. Also included here are an account of psychopathology and the medicalisation of mental states. Workman and Reader stress that it is important to note that evolutionary psychologists do not assume that all traits are adaptive to present day social and ecological pressures. They also look at how evolutionary psychologists are beginning to advocate that lifestyle changes may reduce mental health problems.

Elsewhere in this publication Workman and Reader argue that culture is ingrained in biology in that the mechanisms that allow it have evolved but then question whether culture has changed us biologically in any way. They visit personality in non-human animals and then move on to evolution and individual differences in intelligence raising the question of why we all vary so much. The final chapter is very interesting as it deals with criticisms, debates and future directions for evolution and behaviour.

There is no doubt that evolutionary psychology is having a growing influence on mainstream psychology and the authors rightly suggest the subject can benefit greatly by integration into all aspects of mainstream psychology. Ignoring the title spelling of behaviour it is an excellent and very useful introductory book on the subject. The Foundations of Psychology Series of books are designed to bridge the gap between general text books and the advanced topic-specific books which may be inaccessible to those students who are in the early stages of their studies. Evolution and Behaviour is a valuable addition to gaining further knowledge and deepening ones understanding of evolutionary psychology. 

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