Why human evolution should be a basic science for medicine and psychology students
Paola Palanza & Stefano Parmigiani
Department of Neuroscience, Unit of Behavioral Biology, University of Parma, Viale delle Scienze 11A, 43100 Parma, Italy
Based on our teaching experience in medicine and psychology degree programs, we examine different aspects of human evolution that can help students to understand how the human body and mind work and why they are vulnerable to certain diseases. Three main issues are discussed: 1) the necessity to consider not only the mechanisms, i.e. the “proximate causations”, implicated in biological processes but also why these mechanisms have evolved, i.e. the “ultimate causations” or “adaptive significance”, to understand the functioning and malfunctioning of human body and mind; 2) examples of how human vulnerabilities to disease are caused by phylogenetic constraints, evolutionary tradeoffs reflecting the combined actions of natural and sexual selection, and/or mismatch between past and present environment (i.e., evolution of the eye, teeth and diets, erect posture and their consequences); 3) human pair-bonding and parent-offspring relationships as the result of socio-sexual selection and evolutionary compromises between cooperation and conflict. These psychobiological mechanisms are interwoven with our brain developmental plasticity and the effects of culture in shaping our behavior and mind, and allow a better understanding of functional (normal) and dysfunctional (pathological) behaviors. Thus, because the study of human evolution offers a powerful framework for clinical practice and research, the curriculum studiorum of medical and psychology students should include evolutionary biology and human phylogeny.
Keywords - Science education, Natural selection, Sexual selection, Ultimate causation, Human health, Darwinian medicine.
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