by David F. Bjorklund and Anthony D. Pellegrini
American Psychological Association, 2001
Review by Keith S. Harris, Ph.D. on May 29th 2002
The authors of this book are
already respected and well-published scholars in the field of developmental
psychology. They have written
extensively on human development from the standard social sciences model. This current work, as its inner flap
explains, is the first book-length attempt to extend evolution-based psychology
to developmental psychology. The
authors add, Although much had been written about psychological developmental
issues from an evolutionary perspective, we found no over-arching evolutionary
perspective in developmental psychology (p. 3). The books primary position is explained in this way: [A]n understanding of human evolution
provides the framework for an understanding of psychological functioning and
development (p. 9).
For the purposes of this review,
the book can be divided into two major sections. In the first section, which is comprised of five chapters, the
principles of general evolutionary psychology are considered and explained, and
the concept of evolved adaptations is explicated. A developmental systems perspective is used to describe
gene-environment interactions. The
history of evolutionary theory as it applies to human development is discussed,
as are issues of timing (sequencing) and the development of cognitive abilities
in primates and humans. With that
grounding, five of the six remaining chapters address specific topics in
In Chapter 6 the authors consider
what is known and hypothesized about human learning. The issue of modularity, or domain-specific learning, is fully
explored. This is an especially
important area for evolutionary psychologists, because it addresses the
question of how and what we can learn, how we think about our world, and even
the limits of what can be thought.
Contrary to John Lockes position that humans are born tabula rasa,
all the evidence suggests that infants are born prepared to learn certain tasks
and information at specific stages of development, and less disposed to learn
other types of information.
Human thought and consciousness is
qualitatively different from that of other species. How have humans come to develop such a robust intellect? We believe, as do many others, that the
evolution of the human species unique intelligence was motivated by the need
to deal with other members of our social group (p. 193). So begins a very profound chapter on social
cognition. The authors do an excellent
job of bringing together and presenting theory and research findings. The brilliant work of Michael Tomasello and
his colleagues is given a prominent position in this chapter. The important concept known as theory of
mind deserves, and gets, special attention.
We view theory of mind as a set of cognitive abilities that are
necessary for sophisticated social interaction in human groups (p. 215). The hypothesis that the theory of mind
module (TOMM) itself involves a variety of modules (e.g., an intentionality
detector, an eye direction detector, and a shared attention module)
provides a very interesting discussion.
The question of whether only humans have theory or mind is also
considered, with the conclusion that Despite more than 20 years of research,
comparative psychologists have not reached a consensus on whether species other
than humans possess the cognitive abilities necessary for theory of mind (p.
This observation in the chapters
summary offers an especially interesting point of view:
When one thinks
of the great intellectual accomplishments of the human species, he or she tends
to focus on the invention some new form of technology, the discovery of a
medical procedure or a cure for a debilitating disease, or on abstract or
mathematical discoveries such as Einsteins theory of relativity. Yet our species most remarkable form of
intelligence, at least in the big picture, may be reflected in our day-to-day
interactions with other people. (p.
In the following chapter, the authors discuss Triverss now
well known parental investment theory, and provide extensions to this theory
that bring in the roles of grandparents, alloparents and general public
supports in modern societies.
Interesting asides are a discussion of birth order and incest avoidance
Of particular and practical significance is the authors
excellent concluding chapter. Here is provided a concise but comprehensive
integration of evolutionary principles and standard human developmental
psychology. A relatively brief section
of six pages, appropriately entitled, Basic Principles of Evolutionary
Developmental Psychology, provides a clear statement of what is known and in
what direction we should head from here.
The principles are (pp. 335-340):
Evolutionary developmental psychology involves the expression
of evolved, epigenetic programs.
An extended childhood is needed in which to learn the
complexities of human social communities.
Many aspects of childhood serve as preparations for adulthood
and were selected over the course of evolution.
Some characteristics of infants and children were selected to
serve an adaptive function at specific times in development and not as
preparations for adulthood.
Many, but not all, evolved psychological mechanisms are
domain-specific in nature.
Evolved mechanisms are not always adaptive for contemporary
For those who already appreciate the perspective of
evolutionary psychology, this book will be a welcome integration of
developmental issues. For those whose
background is developmental psychology, the book will likewise be a welcome
integration of evolutionary principles with the standard social sciences model.
© 2002 Keith Harris
Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and supervisor of Victor Valley
Behavioral Health Center in San Bernardino county, California. His interests
include clinical supervision, the empirical basis for psychotherapy research
(and its design), human decision-making processes, and the shaping of human
nature by evolutionary forces.