Evolutionary Psychology and Health: Confronting an Evolving Paradigm
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In much the same way that developments in genetics have opened up new areas of activity in health services, the 'new genetics' has also stimulated a renewal in approaches that try to explain the nature of health behaviours within the context of human biological development. Evolutionary psychology, as an umbrella term for these views, stresses the importance of the brain as an intermediary between genes and individual behaviour. From such a perspective, social context is less important than an understanding of why certain behaviours are 'chosen' by the evolutionary process and how they are predicated on reproductive success. Health policy is a key area where these ideas are likely to become important given evolutionary psychology's focus on the interplay between physiological and psychological factors in determining health behaviours. Health research provides a fertile environment because it is already seeking the hidden biological pathways connecting social status with specific diseases. The challenge represented by evolutionary psychology needs to be taken seriously because of the way in which such ideas mesh with the individualistic basis of much health promotion and health policy. In particular, it poses a challenge when it purports to explain how inequalities in health are not necessarily the result of the unequal distribution of income in society but are natural phenomena. It is also important to engage with such ideas because they increasingly seem likely to occupy the empty ideological space created by the disappearance of politics in policy and as such may have a greater impact than would otherwise be the case.
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