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Review
, 58 (1), 17-67

On the Universality of Human Nature and the Uniqueness of the Individual: The Role of Genetics and Adaptation

Review

On the Universality of Human Nature and the Uniqueness of the Individual: The Role of Genetics and Adaptation

J Tooby et al. J Pers.

Abstract

The concept of a universal human nature, based on a species-typical collection of complex psychological adaptations, is defended as valid, despite the existence of substantial genetic variation that makes each human genetically and biochemically unique. These apparently contradictory facts can be reconciled by considering that (a) complex adaptations necessarily require many genes to regulate their development, and (b) sexual recombination makes it improbable that all the necessary genes for a complex adaptation would be together at once in the same individual, if genes coding for complex adaptations varied substantially between individuals. Selection, interacting with sexual recombination, tends to impose relative uniformity at the functional level in complex adaptive designs, suggesting that most heritable psychological differences are not themselves likely to be complex psychological adaptations. Instead, they are mostly evolutionary by-products, such as concomitants of parasite-driven selection for biochemical individuality. An evolutionary approach to psychological variation reconceptualizes traits as either the output of species-typical, adaptively designed development and psychological mechanisms, or as the result of genetic noise creating perturbations in these mechanisms.

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