Research Approaches:

Evolutionary psychology has rapidly developed into a multidisciplinary integrative research framework within which cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, cultural anthropologists, evolutionary biologists, paleoanthropologists, hunter-gatherer researchers, primatologists, developmental psychologists, social psychologists, behavioral ecologists, and others are communicating and collaborating about issues of mutual relevance. The UCSB Center for Evolutionary Psychology brings together research teams with expertise in these fields to identify and progressively map (1) the recurrent adaptive problems and selection pressures our hunter-gatherer ancestors faced, (2) the cognitive modules and emotion programs that evolved to solve these problems, (3) the neural implementation of these mechanisms, (4) how these specialized mechanisms systematically pattern individual behavior and social interactions, and (5) how these mechanisms regulate transmission of cultural representations from mind to mind, generating and shaping culture.

Research approaches pursued by Center affiliates include:

Laboratory-based cognitive experimentation

Field studies of tribal and foraging peoples


Cross-cultural experimentation and observation

Cognitive neuroscience

Social psychological and survey methods

Developmental studies

Theoretical biology

Hunter-gatherer archaeology

UCSB Scientists affiliated with the Center are currently investigating:

Reasoning instincts: modules functionally specialized for reasoning about cooperation, exchange, threat, hazard avoidance, groups, and sharing

The functional design of emotions such as love, jealousy and disgust

The adaptive organization of the evolved modules of social cognition

Individual and group status and its cognitive basis

The investigation of human psychological universals

Mate choice, attractiveness, and human sexuality

Mechanisms for incest avoidance

Coalitional psychology and ethnocentrism

Violence, intergroup conflict and war

Judgment under uncertainty and decision-making specializations designed to reflect the ecological structure of the world

Foraging adaptations

Communicative functions of facial expression

Evolved inference engines for modeling the physical, biological, animate, and social worlds

Memory, inference, and the dynamics of cultural transmission

The Center and cross-university collaboration:

One important purpose of the Center is to foster cross-university and multidisciplinary collaboration. For example, the goal of the Human Universals Project is to coordinate researchers at a series of field sites so that hypotheses about human psychological universals can be tested in non-Western contexts, and an evolutionarily and ecologically valid social psychology can be developed for small face to face communities. Other ongoing multi-university projects include investigations of the cognitive neuroscience of social cognition, and the experimental investigation of alternative cognitive theories of cultural transmission.