A stimulating overview of the emerging field of evolutionary psychology. Can a brain that was forged to meet the challenges...


"THE STONE AGE PRESENT: How Evolution Has Shaped Modern Life -- From Sex, Violence, and Language to Emotions, Morals, and Communities"

A stimulating overview of the emerging field of evolutionary psychology. Can a brain that was forged to meet the challenges of the Stone Age cope with the problems of an urban, global society? This is the question posed by Allman (Apprentices of Wonder, 1989), a senior writer for U.S. News & World Report. He argues that human nature is a reflection of the various successful strategies that enabled our ancient ancestors to survive in harsh social and physical environments. Humanity's key asset, he asserts, is our ability to form groups and cooperate. In the Stone Age, our ancestors survived by forming small, mobile hunter/gatherer bands. Navigating the intricacies of this human social world -- e.g., learning to recognize deception -- fueled the rapid expansion of the brain. A warming trend in the global climate at the end of the last Ice Age, however, forced humans to adopt new social arrangements to meet different environmental demands. Humans settled into larger and more sedentary social groups -- marking the onset of the agricultural revolution, but also loosing the social bonds that had previously ensured cooperation. Unfortunately, new mental mechanisms haven't evolved as rapidly as new social orders. According to Allman, we must now navigate a complex industrial society with Stone Age minds. Allman cites various psychology experiments and computer simulations that indicate our cooperative abilities are stretched to their limits by living in such large assemblages, which helps explain the prevalence of stress and depression in developed nations. Using the tools of evolutionary psychology, he offers explanations of behaviors like why men and women pursue different sexual strategies, why men don't ask for directions when lost, why we still engage in warfare, and why we like fast food. Even though Allman occasionally strains credulity by drawing bold conclusions from flimsy evidence, his arguments are nevertheless compelling and thought-provoking.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1994


Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1994