Theoretical basics

Theoretical basics - Theoretical basics The thesis of this...

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Theoretical basics The thesis of this chapter is that evolutionary theory can make a major contribution to conceptualizing children's social development. However, at the outset it is useful to begin with a few definitions and general ideas. Evolutionists accept as a fundamental postulate that the process of natural selection over the course of evolutionary time has shaped every aspect of the human mind. Humans, like other animals, evolved a set of adaptations that functioned to solve particular adaptive problems occurring in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA)'the environment that humans evolved in and which presented the set of problems whose solutions constitute the set of human adaptations. Thus, for example, Bowlby (1969) proposed that a recurrent problem of our evolutionary past was that altricial human infants were helpless in the face of danger from predators. This problem was solved by the evolution of the human attachment system as a mechanism that reliably results in infants staying close to their mothers. The general principle that natural selection sculpted the human mind, by itself, tells us little about the structure of the human mind and even less about development. Basic evolutionary logic, however, requires that at least some evolved systems be domain-specific (Cosmides & Tooby 1987). Domain-specific mechanisms have two important characteristics: they evolved in order to solve a specific recurrent problem in the human EEA; the mechanisms are content- specific in the sense that they take in only a very delimited set of stimuli and, via a decision rule, produce only a limited set of outcomes which solve a highly discrete adaptive problem (Buss 1995: 6). Domain-specific psychological adaptations evolved in specific environments and responded to the recurrent properties of that environment. For example, the eye evolved to respond to the properties of light and the structure of surfaces as enduring and recurrent features of the environment, and children's cognitive abilities reflect adaptations to recurrent features of specific problem domains, including object construal, physical causality, motion, etc. (Gelman & Carey 1991). Within this perspective, then, domain-specific mechanisms are construed as species-typical universals which evolved to solve recurrent adaptive problems posed by recurrent features of the environment. However, there is every reason to suppose that domain-general mechanisms are also an important feature of human evolution. Domain-general mechanisms did not evolve to solve a specific recurrent problem in the human EEA, but rather can be utilized to solve a wide range of non-recurrent problems. Moreover, domain-general devices would be able to take in a wide range of stimuli and produce a wide range of responses which could solve these non- recurrent problems. Examples would be mechanisms of social learning (Boyd & Richerson 1985, 1988) and the g factor of intelligence tests (MacDonald 1991, 1997). For example, whatever the
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This note was uploaded on 11/17/2011 for the course PSY PSY2012 taught by Professor Scheff during the Fall '09 term at Broward College.

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Theoretical basics - Theoretical basics The thesis of this...

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