Advancing the Science of Self and Identity with Evolutionary Theory

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Self and Identity


Evolutionary theory has revolutionized our understanding of the physical world. With the advent of such journals as Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences and Evolutionary Psychology, evolutionary frameworks have been flourishing within Psychology to provide novel ways of thinking about human behavior and functioning. That influx, however, is more prevalent in some areas than others. Consider the subfields of Social Psychology, which is home to most members of the International Society for Self and Identity. The percentage of publications in each subfield that involve evolution from the present back to 1900—two years after the publication of what is arguably the first social psychological experiment, i.e., Triplett (1898), and forty-one years after the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859)—varies considerably and the study of self and identity is among the least to involve evolution. Hence, our goal for this special issue is to (re)introduce readers of Self and Identity to the potential conceptual and empirical insights offered by an evolutionary framework.

To that end, this special issue on Evolution and the Self includes five articles that approach different issues of self and identity from an evolutionary perspective. Skowronski and Sedikides (2019) revisit and update after 20 years of additional data their original proposition that the human capacity for a self is a product of evolution (Sedikides & Skrownski, 1997). Young, Simpson, Griskevicious, Huelsnitz, and Fleck (2019) use evolutionary life-history theory (e.g., Kaplan & Gangestad, 2005; Stearns, 1992) to predict and explain why childhood attachment in the first year-and-a-half of life prospectively forecasts two clusters of Big 5 personality traits at age 32. Beall and Schaller (2019) also draw from life-history theory to demonstrate that two motivational aspects of the self-system, acquiring mates and providing parental-care, have inverse manifestations. Reynolds and McCrea (2019) use an evolutionary framework to question the assumption that self-control is invariantly advantageous and demonstrate that its functionality is context-dependent. Dean, Wentworth, and LeCompte (2019) use an evolutionary approach to examine how social vulnerability promotes experiences of physical vulnerability and tests whether threats to belonging evoke perceived threats to physical safety.

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