My interest in the Theory of Evolution began when I was in college, first as a biology major and then a psychology major. As soon as I understood the nature of “Comparative Anatomy,” in which human physical structures are compared with those of animals, I had my very own eureka moment where evolution through Natural Selection is concerned. I was simply blown away by the theory’s elegance, simplicity, and its ability to explain things that no other competing theory has ever come close to explaining. Why, for example, the bones in the wing of a bat, the flipper of a whale, the paws of a cat, and the hand of a human are nearly identical except for size.
I specialized in biological psychology in graduate school and that’s what I was hired primarily to teach at Xavier University of Louisiana when I got my first job there in 1986. I had been continually reading about the subject of evolution for nearly a decade by then, and I knew that biological psychology could ultimately make no sense unless understood from an evolutionary perspective. I always spent several class periods in the first week or so on the topic.
In my third year at Xavier I got to offer a seminar on any topic I wanted and I chose “Ethology,” which is the study of animal behavior. Evolution as a necessary mainstay of that class. I eventually began teaching this class as a regular offering, but in regard for my students’ interest, made it more about “comparative” psychology (humans in comparison with animals) than about ethology alone. I kept the evolutionary component.
Since I started at Xavier, however, a new field has emerged in psychology called Evolutionary Psychology. This year, I began teaching a course I’m calling Comparative/Evolutionary psychology, and am using an evolutionary psych text, which is very exciting reading. I’ve increased the details on evolutionary theory to fill a full third of the class, with the rest being focused on specific applications of evolutionary psych to traditional psychological study areas such as psychopathologies, and Social Psych. I rather wish the field would have been around when I was going to graduate school.
What an exciting time to be a psychologist, when a new way of looking at things is starting to permeate the field, and when we may be in sight of a unified theory of psychology the likes of which we’ve never had before. Here’s to Charles Darwin, one of the greatest thinkers of any age.