An evolutionary perspective on psychiatry

Randolph M. Nesse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Recent progress in the evolutionary understanding of behavior may greatly assist psychiatry. Although explanations of psychopathology have traditionally emphasized proximate causes of individual differences, consideration of the evolutionary functions of human behavior is essential for psychiatry, just as biology, ethology, and medicine routinely consider both proximate and evolutionary explanations for a variety of phenomena. The methods and data for testing evolutionary hypotheses are reviewed, and the ways in which evolutionary principles can help to explain maladaptive behaviors are considered. Some psychiatric symptoms that seem maladaptive may, in fact, serve specific survival functions. Hypotheses are proposed about the possible evolutionary significance of overeating, anorexia nervosa, panic attacks, and sexual disorders, and tests of these hypotheses are considered. By incorporating an evolutionary perspective on psychopathology, psychiatry may share the foundation that evolution provides for the rest of natural science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)575-580
Number of pages6
JournalComprehensive Psychiatry
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1984
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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