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Evolutionary Explanations of Anxiety Disorders

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Practice Essay Question Discuss evolutionary explanations of anxiety disorders. According to evolutionary psychology, all human behaviour including anxiety disorders evolved in the Pleistocene period between 2 million and 10,000 years ago in the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation (EEA), the open Savannah of Central/East Africa where early humans lived in small, competitive hunter-gatherer communities. This behaviour has been included in the human genome as part of our phylogenetic development because it serves, or did previously serve an adaptive function, helping us to survive or to reproduce. If it did not serve such a function it would have been removed by the selective pressures of natural and sexual selection, such as environmental threats, competition and reduced reproductive success. This essay will now discuss the following behaviours: obsessive-compulsive disorders, prepotency and preparedness, in the light of evolutionary theory, to discuss the extent to which they can be viewed as adaptive. ...read more.


If we were to experience anxiety after a loss, this would not have been adaptive therefore we developed a response to potential threats, ancestors who were able to respond to threats efficiently were therefore more likely to survive and pass on their genes to subsequent generations. Henceforth, as a result of natural selection, our nervous system has been shaped to attend more to certain cues than to others. An example for this can be found in a study by Bennett-Levy & Marteau (1969) in which it was found that participants expressed the greatest fear of animals who bore the least resemblance to the human form in terms of skin texture and number of limbs. Preparedness adds a notion of flexibility to our responses in that we develop selectiveness as to what stimuli to respond to through experience of our environment. Seligman proposed that animals, including humans, are biologically prepared to rapidly learn an association between particular stimuli and fear (for example, those which may be life threatening) ...read more.


This is problematic as it neglects the possibility that other environments and historical periods may have had an influence on the development of anxiety disorders. Evolutionary Psychology has also been criticised for being too deterministic in its outlook. The importance of anxiety disorders being influenced by our genes adapting to pressures in our environment is a problem as it does not consider the role of free will. It can also be seen as reductionist as the emphasis on genes neglects the consideration of other means of transmitting behaviours between generations, e.g. culture. A final criticism of these explanations lies in their Panglossian nature. Evolutionary psychologists assume that there is an adaptive function for every behaviour that has persisted, including anxiety disorders. It could be that this has persisted because it is neutral or that the genes related to it are also connected with another behaviour that is adaptive. Despite these problems, the theories of anxiety disorders are based upon the process of evolution which is fact, therefore evolution must play some role, but perhaps within a multi-factoral, eclectic approach. ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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