Describe and Evaluate the Evolutionary Theory of Food Preferences

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Describe and evaluate the evolutionary theory of food preferences

According to an evolutionary approach current human behaviour can be understood in terms of how it may have been adaptive in our ancestral past. Evolutionary theorists are concerned with behaviour which is adaptive and having survival value, these researchers look for ultimate explanations. Current behaviours may be maladaptive and dysfunctional but can be understood as having been adaptive and functional in some way. To undertake this type of analysis they draw on the theory of natural selection and suggest that all species including humans, evolve through a process of natural selection and that only those characteristics that confer advantage or at least do not confer disadvantage survive as the species evolve. This is an interactionist approach, as an individual’s genetic predisposition is assumed to interact with their environment.

In terms of eating behaviour, an evolutionary psychologist is interested in the following questions: “Are there innate preferences for certain foods?”, “How would these preferences have been adaptive in the past?” and “How do these preferences function now?”

Early research by Davis investigated the eating behaviour of infants and young children. Davis observed the kinds of choice children living in a paediatric unit made in relation to their diet. Based on her data, Davis concluded that young children have an innate, regulatory mechanism and are able to select a healthy diet. However she emphasized that they could only do this if healthy food was available and suggested that the children’s food preferences changed over time and ere modified by experience.

Subsequent research has provided further support for some form of innate regulatory mechanisms. For example, there is consistent evidence that newborn babies demonstrate innate food preferences. Using facial expressions and sucking behaviour as an index of preference, babies have been shown to prefer...
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