Cognitive and Evolutionary Schools of Thought

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Both cognitive psychology theory and evolutionary psychology theory have their roots firmly ensconced in previously established schools of thought. 

 Cognitive Psychology

 Although cognitive psychology and behaviorism have elemental similarities, cognitive psychology is significantly different on several points.  Cognitive psychology is concerned with the process of knowing rather than merely responding to stimuli (Schultz and Schultz, 2008).  The primary distinction lies in the fact that cognitive psychology is concerned with mental processes and not stimulus-response connections, which characterize behaviorism.   Moreover, cognitive psychology focuses on how the mind structures and organizes experiences.

 Perhaps cognitive psychology owes its existence to early structuralism.  Specifically, research on mapping brain functions dates from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries ultimately resulting in what is known today as cognitive neuroscience.  Using methods such as extirpation and electrical stimulation, early psychologists attempted to determine the specific parts of the brain that controlled various cognitive functions (Schultz and Schultz, 2008).

 It was the acceptance of conscious experiences that led cognitive psychologists to contemplate the importance of introspection as a means of understanding conscious experiences.  According to Wilson, (2003), not only is introspection widely used but the conscious states revealed by introspection are frequently good predictors of behavior. 

 It is important to note that the term “unconscious” as used in cognitive psychology literature, should not be confused with its usage in a psychoanalytic context. The unconscious mind of which Freud spoke reflects the overflowing of repressed desires and memories brought into conscious awareness only through psychoanalysis (Schultz and Schultz, 2008).

 The credibility and acceptance of cognitive psychology is also due to the inclusion of research on animal cognition.  About thirty yeas ago, animal psychologists began an attempt to demonstrate how animals encode, transform, compute and manipulate symbolic representations of the real world’s spatial, temporal, and causal textures for the purposes of adaptively organizing their behavior (Cook, 1993).

 It is also important to note that the term “consciousness” is cross-sectional with respect to several schools of thought and theory.  According to Schultz and Schultz (2008), with the cognitive movement in experimental psychology and the emphasis on consciousness within humanistic psychology and post-Freudian psychoanalysis, one can understand the contemporaneity of the concept of consciousness. As a result, it has reclaimed the central position it held when the field formally began.

 An application of cognitive psychology to experimental research in general psychology has proven to be an easy endeavor.  Past and current literature supports this belief with a plethora of documented data, in areas such as intelligence appraisal, perception, and perhaps most importantly learning theory(s).

 Evolutionary Psychology

 Evolutionary psychology is considered to be the most recent approach to psychology, evolutionary psychology, contend that people are principally biological creatures that have been programmed (wired) by evolution to behave, think, feel and learn in ways that have fostered survival over many past generations (Schultz and Schultz, 2008). 

 The following tenets define evolutionary psychology: 1) psychological mechanisms owe their existence to evolutionary processes, 2) specifically, evolutionary processes  owe their existence and durability to Darwin’s theories of natural and sexual selection, 3) evolved psychological mechanisms can be described as information processing devices, and 4) evolved psychological mechanisms are functional, owing a special tribute to an application of functionalism.

 Perhaps it was the result of research conducted by Wilson (1975) and his creation of the term sociobiology that jettison the creation of the term evolutionary psychology.  Wilson considered the concomitant relationship between human biology and social impinging as being responsible for human psychological construction. Wilson believes that human beings inherit a propensity to acquire behavior and social structures, a propensity that is shared by enough people to be called human nature.  He went on to elaborate that the defining traits include division of labor between the sexes, bonding between parents and children, heightened altruism toward closet kin, incest avoidance, other forms of ethical behavior, suspicion of strangers, tribalism, dominance orders within groups, male dominance overall, and territorial aggression over limiting resources.  Moreover, he believed that although people have free will, psychological development is more deeply determined by genetics (Wilson, 1994).

 The demeaning and ultra-elemental tenets contained in Wilson’s psycho-developmental theory resulted in an overall rejection by other theorist of the day.  As a result, the study Wilson started became incorporated into a more palpable context, currently known a s evolutionary psychology. 

 Despite the popularity of evolutionary psychology, it has generated considerable criticism. The denouncing of Wilson’s conceptualizations did not fully purge the idealizations contained in socio-biology.  Evolutionary psychology is predicated on such a wide and diverse theoretical base, that it makes it extremely difficult to test in a persuasive way.

 Pursuant to any investigation of research in the field of general psychology, an evolutionary psychological approach would probably prove beneficial in supporting a broad, sweeping direction prior to creating an experimental design.  However, the researcher would probably not be able to support the findings reliably and statistically.


Cook, R. (1993). The experimental analysis of cognition in animals. Psychological Science, 4, 174- 178.

 Schultz, D. and Schultz, S. (2008). A history of modern psychology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

 Wilson, E. (1975). Sociobiology: A new synthesis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univesity Press.

 Wilson, T. (2003). Knowing when to ask: Introspection and the adaptive unconscious. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 10,131- 140.

 Wilson, E. (1994). Naturalist. Washington, D. C.

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