Are we slaves of our genes?
Many of the debates that today are maintained in relation to psychology can be reduced to: Is our behavior the expression of our genetics (something innate), or does it depend in large part on the context in which we live? This question has been answered, analyzed and nuanced not only from different theoretical currents pertaining to science, but also from certain political, economic and philosophical positions.
Slaves of our genes? The evolutionist vision
Psychology can be considered a heterodox discipline, and has posed this problem in very different ways. There is a tradition in psychology that puts the accent on the biological, and that is based on fields of study such as neuroscience , and there is another that is responsible for studying the functioning of thought from symbols, concepts and thought structures . However, there is a relatively new approach that affects the importance of looking for the evolutionary antecedents of the human species to understand their behavior. It is about evolutionary psychology.
In the same way that some fields of study of psychology have a biological basis when investigating from alterations in the neuro-endocrine system, the evolutionary psychology is based on the discoveries of evolutionary biology to hypothesize about our behavior. That is to say: it is also based on the biological substrate, but not understood as something static, but in constant development according to the transformations that occur in the evolution of the species. From the discoveries that have been made about our ancestors and the context in which they lived, hypotheses can be posed that explain, at least in part, our behavior.
While it is true that these studies are conditioned by the accuracy of our knowledge about our ancestors and the environment in which they lived, evolutionary psychology can offer us interesting explanations about phenomena such as the emergence of language, breeding strategies, risk tolerance and many other aspects that are practically timeless and transversal to our species .
Somehow, then, appeals to what universal in the human being , since in order to be based on our evolutionary precedents we must investigate about the way of life of our common ancestors. On the other hand, if some differences on how we act could be genetically determined, a kind of psychological lag between two or more groups of people with other biological characteristics. The latter has caused evolutionary psychology to generate a certain controversy in some circles.
The context and the manifestation of genes
Indeed, evolutionary psychology can be a tool to legitimize situations of social inequality, Attributing 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 respond to the interests of the 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 collected by spokesmen for racism, machismo or xenophobia.
There is also a confrontation between the drivers of this focus of psychology and part of the international feminist movement, especially the circles related to Queer theory . In general, the comparative studies between sexes are a field very studied by these psychologists , who find in the distinction between the masculine and the feminine a universal variable to the human species, independently of the context. By influencing the differences between the two sexes, the differences in the way of life that today exist between men and women are justified to a certain extent. For example, studies that show a tendency in the female sex to look for a partner in someone with a higher status or capable of providing more resources have been especially controversial. In some way, they question the belief that gender is something socially constructed and determined by the historical moment.
However, it is important to note something: While it is true that these psychologists seem to pay more attention to what is already determined by DNA, it can also be said that DNA is determined by the context . Both our acts and the context we develop them greatly condition which genes are manifested, at what moment they do so ... and even if our genes are going to be transmitted or not! The very essence of the evolution of species explained by Darwin is the interaction between the genetic and the changing: the world in which we live, the experiences to which we expose ourselves. Evolutionary psychology is not about what we are programmed to do, but it offers an explanation about our potential.