Life-history theory in psychology and evolutionary biology: One research programme or two?
SourcePhilosophical Transactions - Royal Society. Biological Sciences, 375, 1803, (2020), article 20190490
Article / Letter to editor
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Philosophical Transactions - Royal Society. Biological Sciences
The term 'life-history theory' (LHT) is increasingly often invoked in psychology, as a framework for integrating understanding of psychological traits into a broader evolutionary context. Although LHT as presented in psychology papers (LHT-P) is typically described as a straightforward extension of the theoretical principles from evolutionary biology that bear the same name (LHT-E), the two bodies of work are not well integrated. Here, through a close reading of recent papers, we argue that LHT-E and LHT-P are different research programmes in the Lakatosian sense. The core of LHT-E is built around ultimate evolutionary explanation, via explicit mathematical modelling, of how selection can drive divergent evolution of populations or species living under different demographies or ecologies. The core of LHT-P concerns measurement of covariation, across individuals, of multiple psychological traits; the proximate goals these serve; and their relation to childhood experience. Some of the links between LHT-E and LHT-P are false friends. For example, elements that are marginal in LHT-E are core commitments of LHT-P, and where explanatory principles are transferred from one to the other, nuance can be lost in transmission. The methodological rules for what grounds a prediction in theory are different in the two cases. Though there are major differences between LHT-E and LHT-P at present, there is much potential for greater integration in the future, through both theoretical modelling and further empirical research. This article is part of the theme issue 'Life history and learning: how childhood, caregiving and old age shape cognition and culture in humans and other animals'.
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