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Evolutionary Psychology and psychopathology

Kennair, Leif Edward Ottesen

History and philosophy

Purpose of review In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in evolutionary approaches to the understanding of human nature. Although there are many different approaches to the evolutionary study of mind and behaviour within mainstream academic psychology, Evolutionary Psychology is one that has developed a theoretically rigorous research programme. Thus far, evolutionary studies of psychopathology have not produced a coherent, unifying model. This review is intended both to assess recent research on evolutionary psychopathology, and to consider structuring such research by bringing Evolutionary Psychology and evolutionary psychopathology closer together.

Recent findings Modern evolutionary psychopathology is a young field, and conceptual issues are much debated: there is still clear resistance to the adoption of an evolutionary perspective. Also, most evolution-oriented research on psychopathology is mainly theoretical, generating hypotheses, few of which are being empirically tested. Nonetheless, this theoretical work is very interesting and creative, based, in most cases, on general, scientifically sound biological theories. There also seems to be a trend toward empirical studies.

Summary Research on psychopathology from an evolutionary perspective is generating many interesting hypotheses, and promises to integrate data and theories from biological psychiatry, cognitive neuroscience and clinical psychology in a truly biopsychosocial theory. A few theoretical points are already making their way into clinical practice in the form of clinical heuristics; alas, this is probably premature from a strictly empirical viewpoint. The efficacy of these interventions will need to be documented. The potential of this research at present is mainly to broaden our theoretical understanding of human nature, including the nature of psychopathology.

Nordfjord Psychiatric Centre, Nordfjordeid, Norway

Correspondence to Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair, Nordfjord Psychiatric Centre, N-6770 Nordfjordeid, Norway Tel: +47 57 86 43 30; fax: +47 57 86 43 26; e-mail:

© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.