Using Evolutionary Theory to Guide Mental Health Research Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • Evolutionary approaches to medicine can shed light on the origins and etiology of disease. Such an approach may be especially useful in psychiatry, which frequently addresses conditions with heterogeneous presentation and unknown causes. We review several previous applications of evolutionary theory that highlight the ways in which psychiatric conditions may persist despite and because of natural selection. One lesson from the evolutionary approach is that some conditions currently classified as disorders (because they cause distress and impairment) may actually be caused by functioning adaptations operating "normally" (as designed by natural selection). Such conditions suggest an alternative illness model that may generate alternative intervention strategies. Thus, the evolutionary approach suggests that psychiatry should sometimes think differently about distress and impairment. The complexity of the human brain, including normal functioning and potential for dysfunctions, has developed over evolutionary time and has been shaped by natural selection. Understanding the evolutionary origins of psychiatric conditions is therefore a crucial component to a complete understanding of etiology.

publication date

  • March 2016