Frequently Asked Questions
What is an EPA?
An evolved psychological adaptation (EPA for short) is a
species-typical behavioral or cognitive trait which has been shaped by
the process of natural selection, because of genetic fitness benefits
it conferred to its bearers over the course of evolutionary time. For
example, organisms which need to consume water in order to survive may
have a set of EPAs which causes them to crave water, approach water
sources, drink water, and (possibly) experience the ingestion of water
as pleasurable or as relieving an aversive sensation we might call
PsychTable is about evaluating the evidence for biological
adaptations that were ‘‘functionally designed by the process of
evolution by selection acting in nature in the past’’ (Thornhill, 1997,
p. 4). It is, emphatically, not based on any concept of the human mind
as a collection of discrete adaptive modules. We are aware of the
limitations of specifying the boundaries and attributes of “an”
adaptation, and it is likely that EPAs all fall into systems
with complex overlapping, embedding, nesting, and
graded sharing among them. However, insofar as natural selection has
shaped cognitive/behavioral systems which guide humans to think and
behave in certain ways, these systems can be classified and
conceptualized individually, just as functional physiological
adaptations – such as the human hand – can.
In fact, PsychTable does not take a particular side in the “massive
modularity” empirical debate (please see our reply to FAQ #2 below).
Therefore, we base the site on the biological literature’s consensus
definitions of “adaptations,” as well as on traditional norms for
evaluating the empirical validity of psychological constructs (Barrett
and Kurzban, 2006; Thornhill, 1997; Whitley, 1996).
Is an EPA the same as a mental/cognitive
evolutionary approaches to understanding the brain and mind, especially
those which are informed by cognitive psychology, conceptualize the
mind as being comprised of a network of domain-specific processes,
known as "modules."
modern concept of modularity was first vocalized by Jerry Fodor of
Rutgers in his 1983 book
Modularity of Mind. Fodor propounded the view
that modularity underlies perceptual processes such as vision but not
higher-level cognitive processes such as social behavior and executive
decision-making. On the other hand, many evolutionary psychologists
from the cognitive psychology tradition advocate a view sometimes
referred to as "massive modularity," which posits that the entire
neurocognitive structure of the mind is modular, including lower and
higher level mental processes -- from color vision to mate choice to
Many researchers who support modularity theory view modules as
underlying evolutionarily relevant cognitive-behavioral domains, such
as mating, food acquisition, social behavior, etc. In this particular
vein, modules would certainly be EPAs. Similarly, Fodorian modules,
which underlie perceptual and other lower-level processes, would also
However, some evolutionary behavioral scientists believe that the term
"module" denotes specific definitional criteria which have not
conclusively been demonstrated to exist in the mind, and thus do not
view EPAs as necessarily modular.
While PsychTable does not take a particular side in this empirical
debate, we use the term EPA to refer to psychological adaptations which
may or not be modular, to ensure the participation of behavioral
scientists from a wide variety of theoretical stances. Instead, we
especially welcome users who submit concrete multidisciplinary evidence
for each EPA-- users can draw support for the existence of each EPA is
from eight diverse lines of evidence: Theoretical, Psychological,
Medical, Physiological, Genetic, Phylogenetic, Hunter-Gatherer, and
Cross-Cultural Evidence. (Balachandran and Glass, 2012) Citations are
added and assigned evaluative ratings by both general users and an
international community of trusted expert contributors; as such, the
content of the site will represent the consensus of the scientific
community and new research opportunities.
What role do developmental history, environmental
context, learning, and experience play in EPAs?
Many scientists with a background in developmental perspectives may
feel as if identifying that behaviors/cognitions have evolutionary
influences necessarily neglects the influence of environmental context
or individual experience.
Integrative models of psychology view behavior as due to a complex
interplay of evolutionary/genetic and developmental/environmental
factors. Therefore, any model which treats individual experience as
unimportant -- especially in regards to the behavior of humans, with
our long and salient developmental and learning periods -- is
Accordingly, it should be noted that the definition of an EPA does not
include behavioral inflexibility in the face of personal experience,
nor does it specify that EPAs are unchanging throughout the life
course. On the contrary, EPAs should be expected to display high levels
responsiveness and variability to different environmental inputs as
well as varying expression over different stages of the life course.
the defining criterion of an EPA is not that it universally develops
identically in all individuals regardless of environmental context, but
rather that it develops similarly in all individuals of a species given
a typical developmental environment (Barrett & Kurzban, 2004).
To paraphrase Michael Mills, PsychTable is the long-awaited
foundation for psychology that was first envisioned by Charles Darwin--
a catalog of each evolved "mental power and capacity." Darwin also
predicted that if such a theoretical foundation came to pass, "Much
light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history” (Darwin,
1859, p. 488).
This project aims to throw the most amount of empirical light on what
it means to be human-- and as a result, both scientists and the general
public are going to have a vastly better understanding of human nature
than ever before.
How does PsychTable.org benefit the scientific
community? PsychTable benefits the scientific research community in two main ways.
by providing a system to aggregate evidence for and against particular
EPAs, PsychTable allows researchers in the behavioral sciences to
quickly reference the available support for any given purported EPA; at
a glance, researchers can see how much research has been done to
support or challenge their EPA of interest and whether it is firmly
supported, lacking in empirical data, or somewhere in between.
PsychTable provides a system to categorize the EPAs that are strongly
supported. Through a dynamic and ever-improving taxonomic scheme,
PsychTable provides a service to the evolutionary behavioral sciences
by centrally displaying and organizing the current state of knowledge
in the field. Scientists can now reference a single, authoritative
resource to look up EPAs, rather than wading through the balkanized
literature and risk missing important data or findings.
in classifying and evaluating the evidence for EPAs,
inevitably encounter gaps in their knowledge which will allow them to
develop action plans and to lead new research directions to clarify our
current knowledge of EPAs which have not been discovered or
How does PsychTable.org benefit society at
large and the general public?
We see the following as key benefits for society at large and the general public:
•A place for students to explore and study EPAs for exams or research.
•Connections between an international community of scientists,
teachers, students, and general public.
•An opportunity for critics to debate, engage, find contrary evidence,
and display it on the site if they disagree with the existence of
on empirical grounds.
•A resource for the general public to learn the evidence for EPAs
•A roadmap of the human mind, which will allow the public to have a
greater understanding of what it means to be human
In sum, understanding the evolutionary significance of behavior and
recognizing the complex interactions between environmental and genetic
influences will allow us to better understand and impact the world. We
trust that PsychTable will become an invaluable resource and
reference tool not only within academia, but also for ethics, law,
medicine, education, public policy, foreign policy -- essentially any
discipline that deals with human cognition, behavior, emotions and
hope is that a bigger picture will eventually emerge, which will allow
us to provide informed solutions for some of the biggest
political and humanitarian issues facing the world today. Educating
global civil society about the evidence for mankind’s shared collective
consciousness would help to move civilization forward in terms of
understanding humans’ origins and place in nature, as well as working
towards making the Earth a better place to live.
Why do only the evolutionary behavioral/social sciences need an evidentiary system like PsychTable?
PsychTable was created by a team with research interests in the
evolutionary behavioral and social sciences, but we feel that the type
of evidentiary adjudication model upon which the site is based could
potentially be useful for any domain of scientific inquiry, from
linguistics to astronomy.
However, the field of evolutionary
approaches to human behavior may be especially benefitted by the type
of systematization that PsychTable brings to empirical evidence and
classification for several reasons.
Firstly, since the
evolutionary social sciences are a fairly young branch of scientific
knowledge, the findings of the field have yet to be systematically
organized (see Balachandran, 2011).
particular findings of fields such as evolutionary psychology have been
subject to much debate and controversy within academia, even within the
psychological and biological sciences. While constructive debate
and disagreement are the driving forces behind scientific progress and
discovery, much of the discourse on the empirical evidence for EPAs has
generated more heat than light. By providing a central resource to
aggregate, display, and evaluate the existing evidence for particular
EPAs, we hope that PsychTable will facilitate more productive
discussion of the literature and future directions of the field.
Balachandran, N. (2011). A proposed taxonomy of human evolved psychological adaptations.
Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 5(3), 194-207.
Balachandran, N., & Glass, D. J. (2012). PsychTable.org: The taxonomy of evolved human psychological adaptations. Evolution: Education and Outreach, 5(2), 312-320.
Barrett, H. C., and Kurzban, R. (2006). Modularity in cognition: Framing the debate. Psychological Review, 113, 628-647.
M. (2003, June). Toward a classification table of human psychological
adaptations. Talk presented at the annual meeting of the Human Behavior
and Evolution Society, Lincoln, Nebraska.
Schmitt, D. P.,
& Pilcher, J. J. (2004). Evaluating evidence of psychological
adaptation: How do we know one when we see one? Psychological Science, 15, 643-649.
B., Ganapathy, G., Hazkani-Covo, E., Jenkins, K. P., Lapp, H., McCall,
L. W., . . . Kidd, D. M. (2010). Linking big: The continuing promise of
evolutionary synthesis. Evolution, 64(4), 871-880.
Thornhill, R. (1997). The concept of an evolved adaptation. In G.R. Bock & G. Cardew (Eds.), Characterizing human psychological adaptations (pp. 4–22). West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons.
Whitley, B.E. (1996). Principles of research in behavioral science. Mountain View, CA: Mayﬁeld.