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Evolved Psychological Mechanism

Evolved psychological mechanisms (EPM) are also known as psychological adaptations and are responsible for the particular set of behaviours that humans or animals have in response to various evolutionary circumstances. EPM's are generally tuned to respond to specific adaptive problems. By being able to solve these specific adaptive problems, the EPM facilitates the survival of the organism and thus, the survival of said EPM. Instincts are an example of evolved psychological mechanisms. For example, these could include a fear of heights or the will to suckle a mother's breast.

EPM's typically operate in response to specific stimulus and then respond with a sort of if/then decision rule process. Humans and animals are hosts to hundreds of different EPM's. Buss has carefully laid out six properties of EPM's:¹

  1. An EPM exists in the form that it does because it solved a specific problem of survival or reproduction recurrently over evolutionary history.

  2. An EPM is designed to take in only a narrow slice of information

  3. The input of an EPM tells an organism the particular adaptive problem it is facing

  4. The input of an EPM is transformed through decision rules into output

  5. The output of an EPM can be physiological activity, information to other psychological mechanisms, or manifest behaviours

  6. The output of an EPM is directed toward the solution to a specific adaptive problem¹

EPM's are still a relatively new concept with many unknown aspects. Researches actively debate whether EPM's are domain-specific or domain-general. Domain-specific refers to those EPM's that solve very specific problems that come up over and over again. On the other hand, domain-general EPM's are, as the namesake suggests, mechanisms that have evolved to handle problems within a certain general environment.



1. Buss, D.M. (2004).Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind. Boston, MA. Pearson Education, Inc.

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