Evolutionary Data Sources for Testing Hypotheses

Evolutionary psychologists often examine biological and cultural anthropological data through archaeological records and controlled observations of modern hunter-gatherer societies. The archaeological record has allowed researchers to examine many details about ancestral humans, including the evolution of human diets, brain size, and sources of injury and death.

There are six primary data sources for testing evolutionary psychology hypotheses: archaeological records, modern hunter-gatherer cultures, self-report measures, behavioral observations in public places, historical public records, and human products. While these six data sources have provided valuable insight into the evolutionary history of the human species and have allowed many evolutionary psychological hypotheses to be tested, other scientific methods for testing hypotheses The theory of evolution continues to evolve.

Evolutionary Data Sources

Advances in behavioral genetics research have led to discoveries about the heritability of the Big Five personality traits (i.e., extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism), personality disorders, and dissociative disorders. A frequent criticism of evolutionary psychology is that its assumptions are difficult or impossible to test, raising questions about its status as an experimental science.

For example, critics point out that many current features may have evolved to serve different functions than they do today, confusing attempts to make historical inferences. Evolutionary psychologists recognize the difficulty of testing their hypotheses but insist it is still possible.

Critics argue that many theories to explain the adaptive nature of human behavioral traits are "just such stories"; Neatly adaptive explanations for the evolution of specific traits are not based on evidence other than their intrinsic logic. They argue that evolutionary psychology can predict many, if not all, behaviors in a given situation, including contradictory ones.

A 2010 review paper by evolutionary psychologists describes how an evolutionary theory can be tested experimentally. A hypothesis about the evolutionary cause of one or more psychological phenomena is put forward. The researcher then makes predictions that can be tested. It is a matter of predicting that evolutionary causes will cause effects other than those already discovered and known. These predictions are then tested.

Data Sources to Test Evolutionary Hypotheses

Following are the major sources to test evolutionary hypotheses −

Evolutionary psychologists also use a variety of data sources for testing, including archaeological records, data from hunter-gatherer societies collection, observational research, self-report, and human products.

Archives of Archeology

Cognitive archeology can be divided into two branches. Evolutionary Cognitive Archeology (ECA) is the branch of prehistoric archeology that studies the evolution of human cognition. Practitioners are united by a methodological commitment to the idea that archaeological traces of past activity provide access to the minds of the responsible actors.

The second branch, ideal cognitive archeology, consists of archaeologists attempting to uncover the meaning of symbolic systems, primarily through symbolic analysis. This approach differs from ECA in epistemology, historical origins, and citation cosmology and focuses on relatively recent periods (after 10,000 years). Evolutionary cognitive archaeologists are interested in consciousness and its evolutionary development from the time of the last common ancestor, chimpanzees, to the last ancestor of modern humans.

Hunter-Gatherer Data

Cave drawings by hunter-gatherers are a source of archaeological information. For several reasons, examining data from mobile teams is helpful for the social sciences. First, as noted, much of humanity's evolutionary past occurred in this nomadic foraging society. Therefore, it is a form of life for economic survival and a stable form of life. Demographic summary studies are periodically reported to dozens of mobile browser companies worldwide.

Recurring patterns include small size (average 25-50 individuals) and low population densities, fluid mobility and variability in group composition, and intergroup affiliation (especially among speakers of the same or similar languages). The territory is loosely defined between groups. Bilateral root systems (mother and child) are highlighted.

Second, nomads forage worldwide and exhibit repetitive patterns of behavior and orientation. Nomadic foraging data offers a glimpse into multiple baselines for human societies: (1) they provide humanity's evolved nest to their young; (2) they demonstrate similar cultures and personalities which likely are related to evolved nest provision, including (3) alternative ways of dealing with conflict; (4) they display a human nature and worldview distinctive from the modern.

Observational Studies

Evolutionary psychology studies the human brain and its behavioral products from an evolutionary perspective; it uses evolutionary theory (and insights from evolutionary biology) as a meta-theoretical framework to generate hypotheses about human psychology and behavior.


Life history theory (LHT) is a robust evolutionary framework for understanding physiological, psychological, and behavioral variations between and within species. Researchers and theorists are increasingly integrating LHT into evolutionary psychology, as it provides a strong foundation for research across many topical areas.

Human life history variation has been represented in psychological and behavioral research in several ways, including indicators of conditions in the developmental environment, indicators of conditions in the current environment, and indicators of maturation and life milestones (e.g., menarche, initial sexual activity, first pregnancy), and in self-report survey scale measures. Survey measures have included concepts such as time views and future discounts.

Life-History Data and Public Records

Humans put their imprints on public materials. Marriages and divorces, births and deaths, felonies and misdemeanors are all public information. Bobbi Low, an evolutionary biologist, found data on weddings, divorces, and remarriages from different parishes in Sweden documented several centuries ago in one set of investigations. The pastors of these churches meticulously recorded and chronicled these public occurrences.

By examining marriage and divorce rates from 400 years ago, we may determine if the current patterns are long-standing and recurring throughout human history or are solely products of our modern era. Using these public records, Low was able to test a variety of evolutionary ideas. She verified, for example, that wealthier men married younger (and hence more fertile) women than poorer men. Additionally, the older the male, the more significant the age difference between him and his bride—a result we see throughout cultures today.

In essence, public records are an essential data source for evaluating evolutionary ideas. They are, of course, restricted in many ways. For example, the numbers they rely on may be erroneous or biased, and public records seldom contain all of the information researchers require to rule out plausible alternative explanations. However, public records may be a gold mine for creative scientists, especially when combined with other data sources.

Human Products

Evolution produces three products: naturally selected traits (adaptations), by-products of naturally selected traits, and residual noise again. In principle, the components of a species can be analyzed, and empirical studies can be performed to determine which are adaptations, which are by-products, and which by-products represent noise. Humans create things as a result of their advanced thoughts.

Fast-food outlets, for example, are the result of evolving taste preferences. Fat, sugar, salt, and protein are abundant in hamburgers, French fries, milkshakes, and pizza. They sell successfully because they match and capitalize on developed preferences for these drugs. As a result, culinary inventions indicate evolving taste preferences. Various types of human goods illustrate the evolution of our thinking.

Pornography and romance novel businesses might be manifestations of widespread fantasies. The fact that "skin mags" are read mainly by men and romance books by women indicates something about men's and women's evolving sexual natures.

Transcending the Limitations of Single Data Sources

Every data source has limits. The fossil record is sparse, with significant gaps. We do not know how much modern influences, such as television, have influenced contemporary hunter-gatherers' activities. People may lie or not know the truth when they self-report. Several key domains of behavior are hidden from prying eyes with observational reports; those that are not maybe skewed owing to observer bias.

Laboratory experiments are frequently contrived and unnatural, casting doubt on their applicability to real-world circumstances. Although ostensibly impartial, life data from public sources might be prone to systemic biases. Even human goods must be understood through a series of conclusions, some of which may or may not be correct. The solution to these issues is to evaluate evolutionary ideas using different data sources. Results that arise consistently across data sources with different methodological constraints are powerful. Researchers can overcome the limits of any single data source by combining many data sources, resulting in a stronger empirical foundation for evolutionary psychology.


The evolutionary ecological perspective provides new insights into general contemporary population issues and population-environment issues. In turn, rich and detailed human demographic data can help solve problems of interest to the theory of evolution. These data have been detailed in studies of traditional and historical societies.

Evolutionary approaches use historical data beyond anthropological studies on small samples to apply evolutionary approaches to large data sets and unravel correlational similarities—the importance between traditional small-scale societies and large populations living in new evolutionary environments.

Updated on: 11-Apr-2023


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