Evolutionary psychology is based on the idea that animal (including human) behavior is contrained by genetic predispositions. These behavioral tendencies evolved by natural selection. Evolutionary psychologists seek to understand human behavior by understanding the survival-conferring functions that our behavioral predispositions might have served in the past. For example, not all animals have color vision. We can seek to understand the important role that color vision has in human behavior in terms of an evolutionary past in which it was important for survival that our ancestors had good color vision. A serious limitation on evolutionary psychology is that its practitioners tend to construct hypothetical accounts of the origins of human behavioral predispositions without having a way of verifying those accounts.
One area of evolutionary psychology is Evolutionary Esthetics. We can ask: to what extent are human esthetics a function of our genes? An important task for any sexually reproducing species is to make sure that boy meets girl. Do human genes tend to provide humans with an innate tendency to enjoy the sight of the opposite sex?
Steven Pinker wrote in his book The blank slate:
"Western societies are good at providing things that people want: clean water, effective medicine, varied and abundant food, rapid transportation and communication. They perfect these goods and services not from benevolence but from self-interest, for the profits to be made in selling them. Perhaps the aesthetics industry also perfected ways of giving people what they like -- art forms that appeal basic human tastes, such as calendar landscapes, popular songs, and Hollywood romances and adventures. So even if an art form matured in the West, it may be not an arbitrary practice spread by a powerful navy but a successful product that engages a universal human aesthetic."
From "Darwinian aesthetics: sexual selection and the biology of beauty" in Biol. Rev. Camb. Philos. Soc. (2003) volume 78, pages 385-407.
"Although beauty standards may vary between cultures and between times, we show in this review that the underlying selection pressures, which shaped the standards, are the same. Moreover we show that it is not the content of the standards that show evidence of convergence--it is the rules or how we construct beauty ideals that have universalities across cultures. These findings have implications for medical, social and biological sciences."
Would it be possible to identifiy genes that contribute to these "aesthetic universalities across cultures"?
- EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY: AN EMERGING INTEGRATIVE PERSPECTIVE WITHIN THE SCIENCE AND PRACTICE OF PSYCHOLOGY By Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair.
- The (Im)moral Animal A Quick & Dirty Guide to Evolutionary Psychology & the Nature of Human Nature By Frank Miele.
- Theory of Mind
- Wikipedia article on evolutionary psychology