Tag Archives: evolution

Human Conflict & Cooperation – It's Evolutionary!

Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud

Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud

Evolutionary Psychology: the Context

Evolutionary Psychology is a course that focuses explicitly on social behavior and how evolutionary pressures may have selected for both conflict and cooperation between humans. Throughout, theoretical analyses are integrated with empirical studies to demonstrate how evolutionary psychology can be applied to significant human concerns. Students must master foundational textbooks and apply course content to current events and the observation of behavior in daily life.

The course’s culminating essay integrates scientific literature, current events, and personal observations, while challenging students to reconstruct their views of human behavior from an evolutionary perspective and develop a new constructive perspective solidly grounded in theory, evidence and direct observation.

The Activity: People Watch Journals

 Students support their contributions to class discussions with direct observations of people in public places, in films and advertising media. They collect ‘data’ by systematically engaging in ‘field observations’ and then post their observations weekly as a journal entry to inform the discussions. The goal of the discussions is to encourage students to develop the ability to conceptualize and analyze human behavior in terms of evolutionary psychology and then link those analyses to observable human behavior in real-life situations.

The People Watch Journals are regular assignments in which students share, discuss and analyze one another’s real-life observations, employing new concepts as they are introduced throughout the course.


Journal Prompt
Module 1
Intro and Overview         


Find a setting where behavior influenced by natural selection might be observed, such as parties, committee meetings, children at play (3 year olds are best; teenagers are good too).Organize the notes from your field observations and enter them into your journal. Focus on describing what you see and the context in which you made the observations. This need not be anything elaborate, a paragraph or two is enough. (Note: this paragraph is repeated in each prompt.)
Module 2
The Evolution of Cognitive Processes         


The task here is to search your daily life for evidence of apparent remnants of the hunting gathering lifestyle of our ancestors. I can imagine that organized sport, hunting, fishing and camping provide rich grounds for collecting such anecdotes. The day-to-day lives of children might also provide fertile ground.
Module 3
Sexual Selection and the Challenges of Mating         


Pay attention to how people present themselves in ordinary day-to-day situations in terms of behavior, dress, and the use of jewelry and cosmetics. Write down one or more descriptions of one or more interactions that illustrate how males and females react to each other at a non-verbal level.
Module 4
Parenting and Kinship: The Basis of Society         


While in the mall or in the grocery store, observe and later write a posting in your journal of observations of parent-child conflict that can be analyzed in terms of Triver’s theory.
Module 5
Cooperation and Competition: The Foundation of Social Life         


Pay attention to how people manage conflict in daily life. For example, how do people react when others cut in front of them in line, or how do adults react when teenagers slouch in their presence? (a very subtle display of disrespect, with overtones of a threat).
Module 6
Organizing Social Activity: Status, Prestige and Social Dominance         


Whenever two or more people come together, there are almost constant battles over dominance. Watch and listen, searching for little demonstrations of status seeking.  Try viewing casual conversation as a stage for dominance displays.  Write down one or more descriptions of one or more interactions that illustrate how males and females react to each other at a non verbal level.
Module 7
Primates on Facebook: A World to Which We Are Not Adapted         


Collect field observations to support the points you want to develop in your culminating essay. At this point in the history of Evolutionary Psychology, careful observations under well defined naturalistic conditions can still make a real contribution. You have had the opportunity to develop substantial skills as an observer; put those skills to work.