The Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness (EEA) refers to the historical conditions under which human traits evolved, typically related to the Pleistocene era. It provides a framework for understanding human behavior, cognition, and health from an evolutionary perspective.
Definition of EEA
EEA is a term from evolutionary psychology that refers to the set of environmental conditions during the period of evolution under which a species has evolved and adapted. It essentially denotes the historical context under which the current human psychological make-up has evolved.
Time Span and Environment
The EEA for human beings refers mainly to the Pleistocene epoch (approximately 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago). During this time, humans predominantly lived in hunter-gatherer societies. This environment shaped many of our physiological and psychological traits.
Over this long span of time, humans developed various traits to survive and reproduce in these conditions. These adaptations can be physical (like bipedalism) or psychological (like social behavior and communication skills).
The EEA is foundational to the “mismatch theory” in evolutionary psychology. This theory suggests that many modern human health and behavioral issues arise from the fact that our current environment is drastically different from our EEA. For example, our evolved preference for sweet and fatty foods, which would have been beneficial in the EEA, can lead to obesity and health problems in today’s world of easily accessible processed foods.
The EEA and Modern Human Behavior
Evolutionary psychologists use the concept of the EEA to understand why we behave the way we do today. Many of our psychological tendencies and social behaviors are hypothesized to have been adaptive in the context of our EEA.
Controversies and Criticisms
The concept of the EEA is not without criticism. Some argue that it oversimplifies human evolution and that it’s difficult to determine what exactly the “typical” EEA would have been like, as environments could have varied significantly. Others caution against the potential for misuse of the EEA concept to justify or normalize certain behaviors based on “natural” arguments.
Despite the criticisms, the concept of EEA continues to provide a useful framework for formulating hypotheses about human behavior and psychology. It’s used as a basis for research in fields like health and wellness, diet, exercise, social dynamics, and more.