Introducing Evolutionary Psychology: A Graphic Guide by Dylan Evans and Oscar Zarate offers an easy-to-read intro to the human mind’s evolution over time. The book manages to cram some substantial subject matter into simple explanations and ultra-short chapters, all accompanied by fun illustrations.
The book begins with some foundational concepts like heredity, evolution, and natural selection. To give an idea of the time scale on which evolution operates, the authors explained that the 100,000 or so years since humans began spreading out of Africa is essentially nothing at all; it’s far too short a time span to see any substantial evolutionary changes. That’s why I mentioned in the post about gender, biology, and social construction that our biology hasn’t changed, so if other things have changed, something else is going on.
I liked the book’s simple, no frills explanations, such as “Genes cannot get themselves passed on to the next generation if their owner is eaten.” Fair enough.
The book also explained why it was more useful back in the African savannah days to have a predator detection system that was fast, even if that sacrifices accuracy. Another book I recently reviewed, Rewire Your OCD Brain, explained how that feeds into OCD. Thanks, evolution. Similarly, we are basically the same humans that wanted the fat and sugar that were so rarely available way back when. Those things are everywhere now, but our brains haven’t caught onto that quite yet.
After the background material on evolution, the book moves on to some of the “mental modules” that have become ingrained into the human mind. One important mental module is mind-reading. This isn’t in the ESP or cognitive distortion sense, but rather the idea that both our and others’ behaviours stem from mental processes like beliefs and desires. That may seem self-obvious, but that’s only because of that particular mental module. My guinea pigs don’t know, nor do they care, about my beliefs and desires; all they care about is if I’m doing the behaviours and making the sounds that result in food coming their way.
There were some interesting chapters related to mate selection, including differences between the sexes in short-term mating strategies, and why women prefer older men and men prefer younger women. The evolutionary psychology angle adds a twist to biological differences between the sexes, and while there’s probably a social element as well, humans (on a species level) share the drive to procreate with many other species.
The final section of the book addresses some of the criticisms of evolutionary psychology. I found this interesting, as the reader is unlikely to be familiar with the arguments that the authors are refuting, so it’s like a one-sided argument against a Steven Pinker cartoon. And yes, there are a number of illustrations of my academic crush Steven Pinker sprinkled throughout that last section. I recognized the cartoons by the hair before I saw the name written, and from the photo below, you can probably guess why.
This book was a perfect fit for my lousy concentration. I find the whole idea of evolutionary psychology to be quite fascinating, and this was a quick and easy way to learn more about it.
Introducing Evolutionary Psychology: A Graphic Guide is available on Amazon (affiliate link). It’s free through Amazon Prime Reading (or at least it is in Canada).