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Encyclopedia of Psychology Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, Editor-in-Chief

EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY

The functional specialization of evolved psychological mechanisms means that they are highly sensitive to narrow slices of context. Even a complex mechanism like the eye is not designed to “see everything.” In fact, the eye is functionally specialized to see only electromagnetic waves within a narrow range (the visual spectrum), and not waves outside that range, such as radio waves or X rays. Moreover, within the visual spectrum, the eye is further designed to register motion, edges, particular colors, depth, and so on. Contrary to most people’s intuitions, the exquisite flexibility and context-sensitivity of human behavior comes from having a large number of these functionally specialized mechanisms, not from having a few general “plastic” psychological mechanisms.

Women are also predicted to get jealous, but no woman has ever faced the adaptive problem of maternity uncertainty. From an ancestral woman’s perspective, however, if her mate committed an infidelity she stood to lose her mate’s investment, commitment, and resources-all of which could get channeled to rival women. Therefore, the prediction is that women’s jealousy will focus more on cues to the long-term diversion of her partner’s commitments, such as him becoming emotionally involved with another woman. It is important to recognize that, although jealousy has been studied extensively, no previous social science theories prior to the evolutionary one had ever predicted that the sexes would differ in the weighting given to the triggers of jealousy.

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