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Charles Darwin's Contribution to Psychology

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  • 0:00 Charles Darwin's Legacy
  • 0:43 Natural and Sexual Selection
  • 1:54 Comparative Psychology
  • 3:14 Evolutionary Psychology
  • 3:50 Child Development
  • 4:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

Charles Darwin made immense contributions to the field of psychology. Learn about Darwin in this lesson, as well as the revolutionary impact he had on psychological research, theory, and practice.

Charles Darwin's Legacy

Charles Darwin's theories were controversial in his day because they centered on the idea that humans and animals shared a common evolution and ancestry. These theories were appalling to religious individuals, as they starkly contrasted with the theory of creationism from the Old Testament in the Torah and the Bible. Charles Darwin is known for his evolution by natural selection theory, commonly known as survival of the fittest. But his legacy reaches further than that. He also made major contributions to the field of psychology.

Natural and Sexual Selection

Charles Darwin developed the theories of natural and sexual selection. Natural selection is the mechanism by which the variants within a species that are most fit to survive in their environment triumph in the reproductive game against other species with less fit variants.

Sexual selection is a subset of natural selection. It is the mechanism by which the physical and psychological variants that are most fit, in terms of sexual fitness and attractiveness, triumph in the reproductive game against other species with less sexually desirable characteristics.

For a simple example, humans who are more attractive physically are more sexually appealing by nature and will find reproductive mates more easily. Scientific studies have shown that men with muscular tone and a little facial hair, for example, are more attractive to women because these features are associated with masculinity and strength. Darwin's sexual selection theory would say that men with these attributes might have a greater chance of finding a sexual mate and producing offspring, carrying on their genes to the next generation (survival of species).

Comparative Psychology

Have you ever wondered why some research experiments study monkeys to make conclusions about human behavior? It is because of comparative psychology, which is the study of animal behavior in order to draw conclusions on human behavior. Comparative psychology was actually created by a student of Darwin.

Darwin revolutionized the way we think about animals. He claimed that we could learn more about human memory, behavior, instincts, and emotion if we only studied animals. If it wasn't for Darwin's conclusions that animals and humans share a lot in common biologically, comparative psychology may not exist today. Without comparative psychology, humans may not have gained the knowledge and information about human behavior that we have been able to gather by doing animal studies.

Comparative psychology is helpful because it allows us to:

  1. Compare the similarities and differences between humans and animals, which gives us comprehension of the developmental and evolutionary process.
  2. Generalize animal behavior to human behavior. Scientists and researchers have been able to make assumptions on aspects of human ability and behavior, such as memory, intelligence, and social interaction, because of animal studies.

Evolutionary Psychology

Thanks to Charles Darwin, an entire branch of psychology called evolutionary psychology exists. Evolutionary psychology attempts to determine which psychological traits, such as personality and behavior, are evolved adaptations due to natural selection.

For example, an evolutionary psychologist might attribute a person's revulsion at mating with their sibling as an adaptive trait to avoid having offspring with inherent defects. Language acquisition and alliance tracking mechanisms are other examples of study in evolutionary psychology.

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