email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
A Companion to GenethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Cooperative SpeciesA Mind So RareA Natural History of RapeAcquiring GenomesAdapting MindsAgeing, Health and CareAlas, Poor DarwinAn Introduction to Evolutionary EthicsAncient Bodies, Modern LivesAnimal ArchitectsAping MankindAre We Hardwired?Bang!BehavingBeyond EvolutionBeyond GeneticsBlood MattersBody BazaarBoneBrain Evolution and CognitionBrain StormBrave New BrainBrave New WorldsChoosing ChildrenCloneCloningConceptual Issues in Evolutionary BiologyConsciousness EvolvingContemporary Debates in Philosophy of BiologyControlling Our DestiniesCooperation and Its EvolutionCreatures of AccidentDarwin Loves YouDarwin's Brave New WorldDarwin's Gift to Science and ReligionDarwin's UniverseDarwin's WormsDarwinian ConservatismDarwinian PsychiatryDarwinism and its DiscontentsDarwinism as ReligionDebating DesignDecoding DarknessDefenders of the TruthDo We Still Need Doctors?Doubting Darwin?Early WarningEngineering the Human GermlineEnhancing EvolutionEnoughEntwined LivesEthical Issues in Human CloningEthical Issues in the New GeneticsEvil GenesEvolutionEvolutionEvolution and Human BehaviorEvolution and Human BehaviorEvolution and Human Sexual BehaviorEvolution and LearningEvolution and ReligionEvolution and the Human MindEvolution in MindEvolution, Gender, and RapeEvolution: The Modern SynthesisEvolutionary Ethics and Contemporary BiologyEvolutionary Origins of MoralityEvolutionary PsychiatryEvolutionary PsychologyEvolutionary Psychology and ViolenceEvolutionary Psychology as Maladapted PsychologyExploding the Gene MythFaces of Huntington'sFlesh of My FleshFrom Chance to ChoiceFrom Darwin to HitlerGenesGenes in ConflictGenes on the CouchGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGenes, Women, EqualityGenetic Nature/CultureGenetic PoliticsGenetic ProspectsGenetic ProspectsGenetic SecretsGenetics of Criminal and Antisocial BehaviourGenetics of Mental DisordersGenetics of Original SinGenetics of Original SinGenomeGenomeGenome: Updated EditionGenomes and What to Make of ThemGlowing GenesHow Women Got Their Curves and Other Just-So StoriesHuman CloningHuman Evolution, Reproduction, and MoralityImproving Nature?In Our Own ImageIn Pursuit of the GeneIn the Name of GodIngenious GenesInheritanceInside the Human GenomeInside the O'BriensIntegrating Evolution and DevelopmentIntelligence, Race, and GeneticsIs Human Nature Obsolete?Language OriginsLess Than HumanLiberal EugenicsLiving with Our GenesMaking Genes, Making WavesMaking Sense of EvolutionMan As The PrayerMean GenesMenMood GenesMoral OriginsMothers and OthersNature Via NurtureNever Let Me GoNot By Genes AloneOf Flies, Mice, and MenOn the Origin of StoriesOrigin of MindOrigins of Human NatureOrigins of PsychopathologyOur Posthuman FuturePhilosophy of BiologyPlaying God?Playing God?Portraits of Huntington'sPrimates and PhilosophersPromiscuityPsychiatric Genetics and GenomicsPsychologyQuality of Life and Human DifferenceRe-creating MedicineRedesigning HumansResearch Advances in Genetics and GenomicsResponsible GeneticsResponsible GeneticsScience, Seeds and CyborgsSex and WarSociological Perspectives on the New GeneticsStrange BedfellowsStrange BehaviorSubjects of the WorldSubordination and DefeatThe Age of EmpathyThe Agile GeneThe Ape and the Sushi MasterThe Biotech CenturyThe Blank SlateThe Book of LifeThe Boy Who Loved Too MuchThe Bridge to HumanityThe Case Against PerfectionThe Case for PerfectionThe Case of the Female OrgasmThe Century of the GeneThe Common ThreadThe Concept of the Gene in Development and EvolutionThe Debated MindThe Double-Edged HelixThe Epidemiology of SchizophreniaThe Ethics of Choosing ChildrenThe Ethics of Human CloningThe Evolution of CooperationThe Evolution of MindThe Evolution of MindThe Evolved ApprenticeThe Evolving WorldThe Extended Selfish GeneThe Fact of EvolutionThe Folly of FoolsThe Future of Human NatureThe God GeneThe Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Impact of the GeneThe Innate MindThe Innate MindThe Innate Mind: Volume 3The Limits and Lies of Human Genetic ResearchThe Lives of the BrainThe Maladapted MindThe Meme MachineThe Misunderstood GeneThe Moral, Social, and Commercial Imperatives of Genetic Testing and ScreeningThe Most Dangerous AnimalThe New Genetic MedicineThe Nurture AssumptionThe Origin and Evolution of CulturesThe Origins of FairnessThe Paradoxical PrimateThe Perfect BabyThe Robot's RebellionThe Selfish GeneThe Shape of ThoughtThe Shattered SelfThe Stem Cell ControversyThe Story WithinThe Stuff of LifeThe Talking ApeThe Temperamental ThreadThe Terrible GiftThe Theory of OptionsThe Top 10 Myths About EvolutionThe Triple HelixThe Triumph of SociobiologyThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaTwinsUnderstanding CloningUnderstanding the GenomeUnnatural SelectionUnto OthersUp From DragonsVoracious Science and Vulnerable AnimalsWar Against the WeakWhat Genes Can't DoWhat It Means to Be 98 Percent ChimpanzeeWho Owns YouWhose View of Life?Why Evolution Is TrueWhy Think? WondergenesWrestling with Behavioral GeneticsYour Genetic Destiny
The profession of psychotherapy is pursued by a plethora of specialists, including psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, and counselors of various derivations. And theories about what goes wrong with humans -- and why -- are even more numerous than the professions that practice the treatment of such problems.
Until now the mainstream theories have been, in my opinion, necessarily incomplete, mainly because they typically approach human nature as though it has no meaningful past (and therefore no real connection to the world around us), and inherent psychological processes as though they can be simply and straightforwardly reworked if they seem problematic (with of course the help of a therapist).
Genes on the Couch is a collection of self-contained but well-matched chapters that place human nature in a much more salient and meaningful context -- that of human evolution. Contributors include such internationally recognized academics and theorists as Paul Gilbert (UK), Nicholas Allen (Australia), Kent Bailey (USA), Michael McGuire (USA), Alfonso Troisi (Italy), and Anthony Stevens (UK).
The chapters cover an assortment of topics, but share the common theme of connecting some aspect of psychology or psychopathology to evolutionary forces and evolved adaptations. For example, several authors address the functions of shame and guilt, the importance of social relationships and social intelligence to adequate psychological functioning, and the evolved (natural) tendency toward rejection-avoidance and status seeking.
In general, psychopathology might be said to be the result of natural but problematic responses to social or socio-environmental situations. "Try as we might to be rational and reasonable in facing our personal, social and ecological problems, our evolved nature can overrule common sense" (p. 4). Further, emotional responses can actually change the physiological functioning of the body, e.g., depressed serotonin levels are correlated with depressed mood (p. 5).
One of the more important introductory points made by the editors is that we are designed to serve distal causes but, as people, we are motivated by our own proximal causes. The flexibility built into our minds and bodies has made us a wildly successful species, in evolutionary terms, but this same flexibility allows misdirected responses to occur in individuals (and groups). "
[G]enes are the fundamental building blocks of life and . . . shape and (distally) predispose organisms to do certain things. But it is these proximal 'things' in a single individual's life that tells us most about normality and abnormality, joy and sadness, and relief from suffering" (p. 8).
Why, when it comes down to us as individuals, should we suffer depression, anxiety, and all the other host of emotional difficulties common in our species? Why should we struggle with love, social status, peer relations, and the more abstract but powerful drives toward "success"? If evolution had merely relied on reproductive success - - the numbers of surviving offspring and linear descendants - - to motivate us, why do humans seek so many different goals, and why are we so prone to unhappiness when these goals are thwarted? "[T]o achieve the ultimate goal of enhancing one's own reproductive success, a person must correctly execute a variety of adaptive behaviours including identifying, selecting and acquiring a mate, accurately interpreting his or her need and desires, and arousing his or her sexual interest. Each of these activities is a short-term goal that may be primarily rewarding [italics added], not simply secondarily rewarding because of its contiguous relationship to the ultimate [distal] goal" (p. 29).
Nature has provided us with an inner compass of sorts: when the achievement of primary (proximate) goals is frustrated, or our behaviors are maladapted or misdirected and don't appropriately serve such goals, we suffer corrective psychological distress. (However, this hypothesis may not adequately address all the functions of emotional distress. For example, just as a burned finger continues to hurt long after the damage has been done, psychological reactions to loss of status may drag us down into seemingly non-productive depression. Theorists have devised various hypotheses to explain this process, but these won't be covered in the current review.)
The "mainstream" theories of Jung and Freud, and the practical ideas and techniques of cognitive-behavioral therapies, are clearly shown in this book to be compatible with evolutionary theory as it is applied to human psychology.
For example, a psychoanalytically-oriented contributor (Daniel Kriegman of the Massachusetts Institute for Psychoanalysis) notes that an understanding of evolutionary psychology can help correct the tendency in the analytic process for the analyst to indoctrinate patients with their own core beliefs and biases. "The evolutionary perspective can help to correct this detrimental bias .... the evolutionary psychoanalyst/psychotherapist must struggle -- often against his or her own natural impulses -- to help patients find, define, uncover, and develop their own unique configurations of interests, abilities, talents, and beliefs" (p. 87-88).
Anthony Stevens, who has written extensively on Jungian therapy, notes that "In practice, the Jungian analyst, like the evolutionary psychiatrist, looks beyond the personal predicament of the patient and relates it to the story of humankind . . . . This perhaps is the most important conceptual contribution that evolutionary psychotherapy has to make: it grants an expanded view of the self" (p. 104).
Representing the cognitive approach, Nicholas Allen and Paul Gilbert observe, "Unlike standard cognitive therapy, we suggest it is important to consider the (possible) adaptive (strategic) significance of certain types of beliefs, and not view them as simply errors in reasoning" (p. 164).
This is just a small sampling of the excellent material found in this collection. The writers are uniformly facile in presenting their positions, and the writing is therefore a pleasure to read. There is much here from which therapists, researchers, clients and potential clients will benefit, and the book is heartily recommended.
© Keith S. Harris, 2001 Keith Harris, PhD, 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.