Are we slaves to our genes?

Many of the debates that remain about psychology today can be boiled down to: Is our behavior the expression of our genetics (something innate) or does it largely depend on the context in which we live?

This question has been answered, analyzed and qualified not only from different theoretical currents belonging to science, but even from certain political, economic and philosophical positions.

Slaves to our genes? The evolutionary vision

Psychology can be seen as a heterodox discipline and has raised this question in very different ways. There is a tradition in psychology that emphasizes the biological, and that is based on areas of study such as neuroscience, and there is another that is responsible for studying the workings of thought from symbols, concepts and structures of thought. However, there is a relatively new approach that emphasizes the importance of looking at the evolutionary context of the human species to understand its behavior. This is evolutionary psychology.

In the same way that certain fields of study of psychology have a biological basis by seeking it from alterations in the neuro-endocrine system, the evolutionary psychology it is based on the findings of evolutionary biology make assumptions about our behavior. In other words, it is also based on the biological substrate, but not understood as a static thing, but in constant development according to the transformations that take place in the evolution of species. Of discoveries that were made about our ancestors and the context in which they lived, they can raise hypotheses which explain, at least in part, our behavior.

While it is true that these studies are conditioned by the accuracy of our knowledge of our ancestors and the environment in which they lived, evolutionary psychology can offer us interesting explanations of phenomena such as the emergence of language, breeding strategies, risk tolerance and many other aspects that are practically timeless and transversal in our species.

In a way, then, he appeals to the universal in human beings, Because to build on our evolutionary precedents, we need to study the way of life of our common ancestors. On the other hand, if some differences in the way we act could be genetically determined, a kind of psychological retardation between two or more groups of people with other biological characteristics. The latter has caused evolutionary psychology to generate some controversy in some circles.

The background and manifestation of genes

Indeed, evolutionary psychology can be a tool to legitimize situations of social inequality, attribute this to genetics and not to a context in which a minority is discriminated against. An explanation of the different ways of life between two nationalities based on ancestral origins, may very well meet the interests of social Darwinism, Or the domination of the white man over all others. Although the results of scientific studies do not establish moral precepts, they may have their origin in the need to justify or perpetuate injustice: science, as the creation of a political animal, is not neutral , and the conclusions of an experiment can be retained. by spokespersons for racism, masculinity or xenophobia.

There is also a confrontation between the proponents of this approach to psychology and part of the international feminist movement, in particular circles linked to Queer theory. In general, gender-based studies is an area much studied by these psychologists, who find in the distinction between male and female a universal variable in the human species, regardless of the context.

By affecting the differences between the two sexes, the differences in lifestyle that exist today between men and women are justified to some extent. For example, studies showing a tendency in women to seek a partner in someone of higher status, or able to provide more resources, have been particularly controversial. In a way, they challenge the belief that gender is something socially constructed and determined by historical moment.

However, it is important to note one thing: while it is true that these psychologists seem to pay more attention to what is already determined by DNA, we can also say that DNA is determined by context.. Our actions and the context in which we develop them remarkably condition which genes manifest themselves, when they do so … and even whether our genes will be transmitted or not! The very essence of the evolution of species explained by Darwin is the interplay between genetics and change: the world we live in, the experiences we are exposed to. Evolutionary psychology is not about what we are programmed to do, but offers an explanation of our potential.

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