For every focus within psychology, psychologists primarily work around the questions and subjects within that focus. Cognitive psychologists, for example, focus on how cognitive processes like memory and language acquisition shape how we see the world and make decisions. Biological psychologists blend psychology and neuroscience to study the mind-body (or mind-brain) connection. Evolutionary psychologists - well, you can probably guess they have something to do with studying evolution and psychology.
This focus within psychology can be controversial, although (and because) it relies on a scientific theory that not everyone accepts, for some people, that makes evolutionary psychology a focus to stay away from. For others, this is extremely appealing. If you are of the latter group, a career in evolutionary psychology may appeal to you. Read on for information about what an evolutionary psychologist does, how to become one, and where to start engaging with this specific focus.
What does an Evolutionary Psychologist Do?
Evolutionary psychologists study how evolution and natural selection have influenced human behavior and personality. They look at traits that may have evolved or been left behind throughout human existence. They also examine how different instincts and problem-solving approaches have continued evolving our species.
This lens looks at humankind and consciousness, language, sexual reproduction, and personality. By thinking about the evolution of our species, this approach to psychology may come to different conclusions about what makes us human and what makes individuals who they are. What we think, perceive, and do today is also influenced by innate properties passed down and evolved through human existence.
Evolutionary psychologists typically spend their time teaching and researching different topics within evolutionary psychology. Companies or organizations that need psychologists typically want psychologists with other specialties. If this is the approach you want to take as a psychologist, it’s best to work directly under evolutionary psychologists and follow their path.
This means starting like any other psychologist - in academia. Psychologists usually earn a Ph.D. or PsyD in their field. There are many schools offering study specifically in evolutionary psychology.
Once you have obtained this degree, you may know your next steps and what other requirements you must fulfill. Most evolutionary psychologists go into research, which requires a degree and some experience working directly under researchers. Some state licenses and national boards require that you complete an internship and written examination. If you own a private practice, you may not need these credentials but find them useful as you work with clients. Writing a book on different topics within evolutionary psychology, for example, does not require licensure, but the credentials will help you in the long run.
Salary (How Much Do Evolutionary Psychologists Make?)
The average salary for an evolutionary psychologist is around $140,000, with a high of $200,000 and a low of around $29,000. Evolutionary psychology is merely an approach taken on by psychologists who work in various jobs, so it’s hard to pinpoint the exact salary of an evolutionary psychologist. The few sources that look at evolutionary psychology salaries consider it a miscellaneous form of psychology. We know that the average salary for all psychologists is above six figures, although the range of salaries starts at $29,000 and ends at $200,000. The highest-paying psychology careers offer an average of $167,000 per year.
Schools for Evolutionary Psychology Degrees
The best way to immerse yourself in evolutionary psychology and explore its vast career opportunities is through a dedicated degree program. Here are ten schools that stand out in providing a robust education in evolutionary psychology, setting you on a path for a rewarding career:
- The University of California - Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara, CA): Renowned for its Center for Evolutionary Psychology, it's directed by pioneering figures Leda Cosmides and John Tooby. Their groundbreaking work has set UCSB apart as a leading institution in the field.
- Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ): ASU emphasizes interdisciplinary programs, blending anthropology, biology, and psychology. Its evolutionary perspective makes it a hub for holistic understanding.
- The University of Texas - Austin (Austin, TX): Boasts a strong research-oriented psychology department that often collaborates with its anthropology and biology departments, fostering an enriched environment for evolutionary studies.
- University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA): Known for integrating evolutionary biology with psychological theories, UPenn has produced influential research that has furthered the field.
- The University of Arizona (Tucson, AZ): Offers a specialized program that merges cognitive science with evolutionary principles, leading to nuanced insights into human behavior.
- Georgetown University (Washington D.C.): With its rich history, Georgetown offers a robust curriculum that integrates evolutionary theory with societal impacts, examining how evolutionary processes shape contemporary human societies.
- Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH): Dartmouth's interdisciplinary approach fosters collaborations between its psychology, biology, and anthropology faculties, promoting cutting-edge research.
- Michigan State University (East Lansing, MI): Renowned for its research-intensive environment, MSU emphasizes the evolutionary underpinnings of human cognition and behavior.
- University of Colorado - Boulder (Boulder, CO): With its pristine location, CU Boulder provides a unique platform for studying evolutionary processes in natural settings, pushing the boundaries of experimental design.
- University of New Mexico (Albuquerque, NM): Notable for its focus on the practical applications of evolutionary psychology, it integrates teachings on how evolutionary principles can be applied to solve real-world problems.
Choosing any of these institutions will equip you with a deep understanding of evolutionary psychology, its methodologies, and its practical implications.
Companies That Hire Evolutionary Psychologists
Your journey as an evolutionary psychologist will predominantly be rooted in academia. While some evolutionary psychologists extend their reach through platforms like podcasts, authoring books, or giving public talks, the core of their research and contributions largely take place within university walls. Some renowned academic institutions recognized for their pioneering research or significant contributions in the realm of evolutionary psychology include:
- The University of California - Santa Barbara: Home to the Center for Evolutionary Psychology, directed by influential figures like Leda Cosmides and John Tooby.
- Harvard University: Where notable evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker has been both a researcher and professor.
- University of Oxford: Known for its strong emphasis on evolutionary biology, which intertwines with evolutionary psychology.
- Arizona State University: Renowned for its interdisciplinary programs that merge anthropology, biology, and psychology with an evolutionary perspective.
If you're passionate about a career in evolutionary psychology, it's advantageous to track the careers of leading figures. Observe how they've navigated their academic journey, expanded upon their theories, and disseminated their findings to the academic community and the general public. By aligning yourself with prestigious institutions and mentors, you can carve a meaningful and impactful path in evolutionary psychology.
Evolutionary Psychology and Anthropology: A Convergence of Fields
Evolutionary psychology and anthropology often explore human nature, behavior, and development. Both fields seek to understand how our evolutionary past influences our modern behavior, albeit from slightly different angles. Evolutionary psychology focuses on cognitive processes and behavioral adaptations, whereas anthropology, especially physical or biological anthropology, studies human evolution, adaptation, and variation from a broader standpoint.
Overlap Between the Fields:
- Origins of Human Behavior: Both evolutionary psychology and anthropology aim to understand the origins of human behavior. Evolutionary psychologists might study innate fears or attractions humans have, attributing them to evolutionary survival mechanisms. On the other hand, anthropologists might study ancient cultures or primates to understand the evolutionary origins of certain behaviors.
- Cultural Evolution: While evolutionary psychology investigates the universality of behaviors across different cultures, anthropologists delve into the evolution of culture, examining how cultural practices might have evolutionary roots or have provided a survival advantage.
- Mate Selection: Both fields have shown interest in human mating strategies. Evolutionary psychologists often explore preferences or behaviors in mate selection, while anthropologists might study the cultural and social rituals surrounding mating in various societies.
Career Examples in Both Fields:
- Evolutionary Psychologist: Professionals in this role often research to understand how evolution has shaped human cognition and behavior. They may work in academia, research institutions, or occasionally in clinical settings.
- Physical Anthropologists: They study the biological development of humans, often examining human fossils or studying primates to understand our evolutionary past. Many work in museums, universities, or in the field.
- Cultural Anthropologist: These anthropologists study living societies to understand their cultural practices, rituals, and beliefs. They often conduct fieldwork, immersing themselves in the societies they study.
- Human Behavioral Ecologist: Bridging both worlds, these professionals study the adaptive value of human behaviors in specific ecological contexts, combining theories from evolutionary biology, anthropology, and psychology.
- Forensic Anthropologist: Leveraging knowledge about human anatomy and its variations, these experts help identify unknown human remains in legal contexts.
- Consulting Cross-Cultural Psychologist: Drawing from evolutionary principles and anthropological insights, these professionals advise organizations or entities on cross-cultural matters, ensuring that products, services, or interventions are culturally sensitive.
While evolutionary psychology and anthropology have distinct methodologies and emphases, their shared objective is to decode the complex tapestry of human behavior. For aspiring professionals, an interdisciplinary approach, integrating principles from both fields, can provide a richer, more nuanced perspective on humanity's evolutionary journey.
Interviews with an Evolutionary Psychologist
What is this focus, and why does it produce so many notable figures? You can find the answers by listening to evolutionary psychologists and their theories about the human mind.
Take a listen to Noam Chomsky as he talks about evolutionary psychology. Geoffery Miller talks about different topics in evolutionary psychology and why their takes are often controversial. Leda Cosmides & John Tooby discuss how evolutionary psychology is connected to other psychology studies and how it differs. These psychologists have a different perspective but have significantly contributed to evolutionary psychology.
Famous Evolutionary Psychologists
Not many evolutionary psychologists are practicing today, so the ones that do are more likely to make a name for themselves. We cannot mention figures in evolutionary psychology without mentioning Charles Darwin, the most well-known man for his theory of evolution. Although Charles Darwin was considered a naturalist, his theory laid the groundwork for evolutionary psychology.
Steven Pinker is a Harvard professor and one of the most public voices in the field. He has written many books, spoken worldwide about evolutionary psychology, and was named one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World Today.”
Leda Cosmides and John Tooby have continued to develop this field of psychology. Together, the husband-wife duo founded (and continue to direct) the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at The University of California - Santa Barbara. This is considered the center for studying evolutionary psychology - if you want to learn from some of the best minds in the field, apply to UC Santa Barbara.
Evolutionary Psychology Examples
Evolutionary psychologists may be hired by more companies and organizations as the field develops or gains popularity. Still, they are restricted to academia and sharing their ideas in books and other publications. As an evolutionary psychologist, you may spend your days:
- Conducting research based on theories that you or other evolutionary psychologists have developed
- Writing articles and books about evolutionary psychology
- Teaching evolutionary psychology at colleges and universities
- Sharing these ideas with the media through public debates or interviews