Evolutionary Psychology Seminar – recommended readings

People often ask me for evolutionary psychology reading recommendations. I taught a couple of seminar series on evolutionary psychology for laypeople. Below see my seminar welcome email plus highlighted readings for the four topics, foundations of evolutionary psychology, sex and sex differences, emotions and mental health and morality.

Evolutionary Psychology: Foundations, Questions, and Controversies with Diana Fleischman 


Thanks for signing up to my evolutionary psychology seminar! My name is Diana Fleischman and I’m an evolutionary psychologist who has been teaching and researching for almost 20 years.

For each seminar I have curated some readings. The core readings include my highlights and notes, these will help you have a better idea of what’s most important. If you don’t have time to do the readings that’s totally fine. I have designed this series to be accessible regardless of your prior knowledge.

First session: Foundations of Evolutionary Psychology

What are the basics of natural selection? How do evolutionary psychologists generate and test hypotheses? How do evolutionary psychologists view how the mind works? This session will be more like a lecture than the other three sessions where we’ll have much more time for discussion.

The core reading for the first session:

This paper that I’ve highlighted – Foundations of Evolutionary Psychology, by Cosmides and Tooby.

Further resources:

I can also recommend this article by Al’Shawaf covering levels of analysis (which will be important in seminar). Al’Shawaf’s other Areo essays are a good defense of evolutionary psychology from common criticisms.

If you’re interested to know more about evolutionary psychology, I can recommend David Buss “Evolutionary Psychology, the New Science of the Mind” and Steve Stewart-Williams, The Ape that Understood the Universe.

Second session: Sex and Sex differences

Why does sex exist and why are there two sexes? Why should we, from an evolutionary perspective, expect the sexes to differ psychologically?  If we have time I’ll cover more about sexuality including evolutionary perspectives on homosexuality.

The core readings for this second session are:

The Truth about Sex Differences by David Schmitt and, further, Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

Further resources:

I can also recommend David Schmitt’s psychology today blogs about sex differences.  Marco del Giudice and David Geary, including his book, are good to check out for a deeper dive.

Third Session- Emotions and Mental Health

Why do we have emotions? How do emotions help us survive and reproduce? How does our environment influence our emotions, like disgust and fear? 

The core reading for this third session is:

Evolution, Emotions and Emotional Disorders by Nesse and Ellsworth.

Further resources:

If you want to know a bit more about disgust, I gave a mini lecture about it here.

For a deeper dive into emotions and mental health from an evolutionary perspective, I can recommend Nesse’s “Good Reasons for Bad Feelings which I wrote about here.

Fourth Session: Morality

How and why did morality evolve? What kinds of moral psychology do we see in nonhuman animals?  I’ll end the seminar series with a discussion, answering any questions you have and telling you about future seminars I have planned.

The core reading for this fourth session is:

Oliver Curry’s excellent paper examining an evolutionary perspective on morality as cooperation.

Further resources:

If you want to learn more, I delivered this lecture on evolutionary morality. I also can recommend these books that touch on evolutionary psychology and morality, Why Everyone Else is a Hypocrite and The Elephant in the Brain.

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