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Outline the Processes Involved in Evolution and Discuss how Evolutionary Psychologists have Contributed to our Understanding of

Altruism as an Adaptive Behaviour

The book of Genesis states that God created life in an array of fixed species and it was not until the 19th Century, that paleontological discoveries started to cast doubt on creationism and Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution in On the Origin of the Species (Clegg, 2007, p.120). The two processes that are involved in evolution and the fundamental connections between the evolutionary process and behaviour, in particular that of altruism and whether it can be seen as an adaptive behaviour are considered here.

Evolution occurs due to two main processes: genetic variation and selection. A human being’s genetic make-up is created from 46 randomly selected chromosomes. The chromosomes are transmitted in equal measure from each parent. From this “mixing” (Clegg, 2007, p.117), these chromosomes will create the cells that become our body and our mind. We will likely inherit characteristics from both our parents, dependent on dominant and recessive alleles e.g. eye colour. Those cells known as neurons form part of our brains, our neural systems, these dictate our emotional characteristics such as our personality but also perform functions such as informing us that we need to find food or water.

Selection is split into two separate processes; natural selection and sexual selection. Natural selection is concentrated on survival and sexual selection is based on the need to reproduce.

Natural selection was first noted by Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution originates mainly from his observations of the Galapagos finch (Clegg, 2007) and how the species had evolved over time to best survive dependent on their environments. Darwin’s theory considers that each and every species is subject to change, evolving to better suit their “ecological niche” (Clegg, 2007, pg. 120) “the whole animal interacts with its external environment and genes interact with their cellular environment” (Johnson, 1987 as cited in Toates, 2007, pg.245), the environment affects the genotype which in turn has an effect on the development of the phenotype (Thomas, 2007). These changes happened very slowly over a vast time span. Darwin’s observations led him to believe that sexual reproduction and natural selection were responsible for these changes in order to further the species “survival of the fittest” (Clegg, 2007, pg. 121) and yet was unable to progress his theory at the time as the study of genetics did not commence until the early 1900s.

There are three principles that natural selection is based on. These are: variation -which refers to our personalities and appearance. Inheritance - which are those characteristics that we inherit from our parents and adaption – the adaption of certain traits in order for a species to best compete and survive. These traits will differ immensely from individual to individual. The most important genes are those that provide us with the best possibility for survival. These genes are known as “successful” genes (Clegg, 2007, pg.132) and have adapted and continue to adapt in order to provide the species with an ability to reach the age of sexual maturity, reproduce and be capable of raising their young so that they may then repeat the cycle in order to sustain survival of the species. Those genes that are not “successful” are phased out. As with natural selection, sexual selection was proposed by Darwin as a possible cause of evolution in characteristics. Darwin believed that sexual selection was based on the mate being chosen by the female and rivalry amongst the males. Physical characteristics indicative of health and good genes could be considered more attractive to a potential mate and thus could lead to an increase in sexual partners and in turn an...
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