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How evolution can help us understand child development and behaviour

  • Annie Swanepoel, Daniela F. Sieff, Graham Music, John Launer, Michael Reiss and Bernadette Wren...
Summary

The traditional disease model, still dominant in psychiatry, is less than ideal for making sense of psychological issues such as the effects of early childhood experiences on development. We argue that a model based on evolutionary thinking can deepen understanding and aid clinical practice by showing how behaviours, bodily responses and psychological beliefs tend to develop for ‘adaptive’ reasons, even when these ways of being might on first appearance seem pathological. Such understanding has implications for treatment. It also challenges the genetic determinist model, by showing that developmental pathways have evolved to be responsive to the physical and social environment in which the individual matures. Thought can now be given to how biological or psychological treatments – and changing a child's environment – can foster well-being. Evolutionary thinking has major implications for how we think about psychopathology and for targeting the optimum sites, levels and timings for interventions.

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Copyright
Corresponding author
Dr Graham Music, Child and Family Department, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, 120 Belsize Lane, London NW3 5BA, UK. Email: gmusic@tavi-port.ac.uk
Footnotes
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LEARNING OBJECTIVES

• Understand the value of applying the principles of evolutionary theory to human behaviour

• Understand the evolutionary basis of attachment theory, and how this can help to make sense of different responses to danger, reproductive strategies and internal models of the world

• Use evolutionary theory to understand the adaptive nature of certain apparently abnormal forms of behaviour observed in clinical practice

DECLARATION OF INTEREST

The authors are members of the evo-psychotherapy study group at the Tavistock Clinic

Footnotes
References
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BJPsych Advances
  • ISSN: 2056-4678
  • EISSN: 2056-4686
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How evolution can help us understand child development and behaviour

  • Annie Swanepoel, Daniela F. Sieff, Graham Music, John Launer, Michael Reiss and Bernadette Wren...
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