Frequently Asked Questions

What is an EPA? 

An evolved psychological adaptation (EPA for short) is a species-typical behavioral or cognitive trait which has been shaped by the process of natural selection, because of genetic fitness benefits it conferred to its bearers over the course of evolutionary time. For example, organisms which need to consume water in order to survive may have a set of EPAs which causes them to crave water, approach water sources, drink water, and (possibly) experience the ingestion of water as pleasurable or as relieving an aversive sensation we might call "thirst."

PsychTable is about evaluating the evidence for biological adaptations that were ‘‘functionally designed by the process of evolution by selection acting in nature in the past’’ (Thornhill, 1997, p. 4). It is, emphatically, not based on any concept of the human mind as a collection of discrete adaptive modules. We are aware of the limitations of specifying the boundaries and attributes of “an” adaptation, and it is likely that EPAs all  fall into systems with complex overlapping, embedding, nesting, and graded sharing among them. However, insofar as natural selection has shaped cognitive/behavioral systems which guide humans to think and behave in certain ways, these systems can be classified and conceptualized individually, just as functional physiological adaptations – such as the human hand – can.

In fact, PsychTable does not take a particular side in the “massive modularity” empirical debate (please see our reply to FAQ #2 below). Therefore, we base the site on the biological literature’s consensus definitions of “adaptations,” as well as on traditional norms for evaluating the empirical validity of psychological constructs (Barrett and Kurzban, 2006; Thornhill, 1997; Whitley,  1996).

Is an EPA the same as a mental/cognitive module?

Certain evolutionary approaches to understanding the brain and mind, especially those which are informed by cognitive psychology, conceptualize the mind as being comprised of a network of domain-specific processes, known as "modules."

The modern concept of modularity was first vocalized by Jerry Fodor of Rutgers in his 1983 book Modularity of Mind. Fodor propounded the view that modularity underlies perceptual processes such as vision but not higher-level cognitive processes such as social behavior and executive decision-making. On the other hand, many evolutionary psychologists from the cognitive psychology tradition advocate a view sometimes referred to as "massive modularity," which posits that the entire neurocognitive structure of the mind is modular, including lower and higher level mental processes -- from color vision to mate choice to cheater detection. 

Many researchers who support modularity theory view modules as underlying evolutionarily relevant cognitive-behavioral domains, such as mating, food acquisition, social behavior, etc. In this particular vein, modules would certainly be EPAs. Similarly, Fodorian modules, which underlie perceptual and other lower-level processes, would also be considered EPAs.

However, some evolutionary behavioral scientists believe that the term "module" denotes specific definitional criteria which have not conclusively been demonstrated to exist in the mind, and thus do not view EPAs as necessarily modular.

While PsychTable does not take a particular side in this empirical debate, we use the term EPA to refer to psychological adaptations which may or not be modular, to ensure the participation of behavioral scientists from a wide variety of theoretical stances. Instead, we especially welcome users who submit concrete multidisciplinary evidence for each EPA-- users can draw support for the existence of each EPA is from eight diverse lines of evidence: Theoretical, Psychological, Medical, Physiological, Genetic, Phylogenetic, Hunter-Gatherer, and Cross-Cultural Evidence. (Balachandran and Glass, 2012) Citations are added and assigned evaluative ratings by both general users and an international community of trusted expert contributors; as such, the content of the site will represent the consensus of the scientific community and new research opportunities.

What role do developmental history, environmental context, learning, and experience play in EPAs?

Many scientists with a background in developmental perspectives may feel as if identifying that behaviors/cognitions have evolutionary influences necessarily neglects the influence of environmental context or individual experience.

Integrative models of psychology view behavior as due to a complex interplay of evolutionary/genetic and developmental/environmental factors. Therefore, any model which treats individual experience as unimportant -- especially in regards to the behavior of humans, with our long and salient developmental and learning periods -- is untenable.

Accordingly, it should be noted that the definition of an EPA does not include behavioral inflexibility in the face of personal experience, nor does it specify that EPAs are unchanging throughout the life course. On the contrary, EPAs should be expected to display high levels of responsiveness and variability to different environmental inputs as well as varying expression over different stages of the life course.

Therefore, the defining criterion of an EPA is not that it universally develops identically in all individuals regardless of environmental context, but rather that it develops similarly in all individuals of a species given a typical developmental environment (Barrett & Kurzban, 2004).

To paraphrase Michael Mills, PsychTable is the long-awaited foundation for psychology that was first envisioned by Charles Darwin-- a catalog of each evolved "mental power and capacity." Darwin also predicted that if such a theoretical foundation came to pass, "Much light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history” (Darwin, 1859, p. 488).  

This project aims to throw the most amount of empirical light on what it means to be human-- and as a result, both scientists and the general public are going to have a vastly better understanding of human nature than ever before.

How does benefit the scientific community? 

PsychTable benefits the scientific research community in two main ways.

Firstly, by providing a system to aggregate evidence for and against particular EPAs, PsychTable allows researchers in the behavioral sciences to  quickly reference the available support for any given purported EPA; at a glance, researchers can see how much research has been done to support or challenge their EPA of interest and whether it is firmly supported, lacking in empirical data, or somewhere in between.

Secondly, PsychTable provides a system to categorize the EPAs that are strongly supported. Through a dynamic and ever-improving taxonomic scheme, PsychTable provides a service to the evolutionary behavioral sciences by centrally displaying and organizing the current state of knowledge in the field. Scientists can now reference a single, authoritative resource to look up EPAs, rather than wading through the balkanized literature and risk missing important data or findings.

Lastly,  in classifying and evaluating the evidence for EPAs, scientists will inevitably encounter gaps in their knowledge which will allow them to develop action plans and to lead new research directions to clarify our current knowledge of EPAs which have not been discovered or investigated yet.

How does benefit society at large and the general public? 

We see the following as key benefits for society at large and the general public:

•A place for students to explore and study EPAs for exams or research.
•Connections between an international community of scientists, teachers, students, and general public.
•An opportunity for critics to debate, engage, find contrary evidence, and display it on the site if they disagree with the existence of particular EPAs on empirical grounds.
•A resource for the general public to learn the evidence for EPAs
•A roadmap of the human mind, which will allow the public to have a greater understanding of what it means to be human

In sum, understanding the evolutionary significance of behavior and recognizing the complex interactions between environmental and genetic influences will allow us to better understand and impact the world. We trust that PsychTable will become an invaluable resource and reference tool not only within academia, but also for ethics, law, medicine, education, public policy, foreign policy -- essentially any discipline that deals with human cognition, behavior, emotions and their implications.

Our hope is that a bigger picture will eventually emerge, which will allow us to provide  informed solutions for some of the biggest social, political and humanitarian issues facing the world today. Educating global civil society about the evidence for mankind’s shared collective consciousness would help to move civilization forward in terms of understanding humans’ origins and place in nature, as well as working towards making the Earth a better place to live.

Why do only the evolutionary behavioral/social sciences need an evidentiary system like PsychTable?

PsychTable was created by a team with research interests in the evolutionary behavioral and social sciences, but we feel that the type of evidentiary adjudication model upon which the site is based could potentially be useful for any domain of scientific inquiry, from linguistics to astronomy.

However, the field of evolutionary approaches to human behavior may be especially benefitted by the type of systematization that PsychTable brings to empirical evidence and classification for several reasons.

Firstly, since  the evolutionary social sciences are a fairly young branch of scientific knowledge, the findings of the field have yet to be systematically organized (see Balachandran, 2011).

Moreover, the particular findings of fields such as evolutionary psychology have been subject to much debate and controversy within academia, even within the psychological and biological sciences.  While constructive debate and disagreement are the driving forces behind scientific progress and discovery, much of the discourse on the empirical evidence for EPAs has generated more heat than light. By providing a central resource to aggregate, display, and evaluate the existing evidence for particular EPAs, we hope that PsychTable will facilitate more productive discussion of the literature and future directions of the field.


Balachandran, N. (2011). A proposed taxonomy of human evolved psychological adaptations.
Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 5
(3), 194-207.

Balachandran, N., & Glass, D. J. (2012). The taxonomy of evolved human psychological adaptations. Evolution: Education and Outreach, 5(2), 312-320.

Barrett, H. C., and Kurzban, R. (2006). Modularity in cognition: Framing the debate. Psychological Review, 113, 628-647.

Mills, M. (2003, June). Toward a classification table of human psychological adaptations. Talk presented at the annual meeting of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, Lincoln, Nebraska.

Schmitt, D. P., & Pilcher, J. J. (2004). Evaluating evidence of psychological adaptation: How do we know one when we see one? Psychological Science, 15, 643-649.

Sidlauskas, B., Ganapathy, G., Hazkani-Covo, E., Jenkins, K. P., Lapp, H., McCall, L. W., . . . Kidd, D. M. (2010). Linking big: The continuing promise of evolutionary synthesis. Evolution, 64(4), 871-880.

Thornhill, R. (1997). The concept of an evolved adaptation. In G.R. Bock & G. Cardew (Eds.), Characterizing human psychological adaptations (pp. 4–22). West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons.

Whitley, B.E. (1996). Principles of research in behavioral science. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.