Niche construction, human behavior, and the adaptive-lag hypothesis


  • Kevin N. Laland,

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    • Kevin N Laland received his PhD from University College London in 1990 and is currently Professor of Biology at the University of St Andrews. His research employs both experimental and theoretical methods to investigate a range of topics related to animal (including human) behaviour and evolution, particularly niche construction, social learning, and gene-culture co-evolution. He is the author of over 100 scientific articles and 5 books, including Niche Construction. The Neglected Process in Evolution (2003) Princeton University Press (with John Odling-Smee and Marc Feldman).

  • Gillian R. Brown

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    • Gillian R Brown received her PhD from the University of Cambridge in 1997 and is a lecturer in Psychology at St Andrews University. Her research focuses on animal behaviour from neuroendocrine, developmental and evolutionary perspectives, with a particular interest in the role of hormones in the development of sex differences in behaviour and the impact of external factors on behavioural development. She also investigates sex-biased parental investment, adapative birth sex ratio biasing and the evolution of female sexual behaviour in primates. Together with Kevin Laland she is the co-author of Sense and Nonsense: Evolutionary Perspectives on Human Behaviour (2002) Oxford University Press.


Niche construction is the process whereby organisms modify selective environments, thereby affecting evolution. The niche-construction perspective is particularly relevant to researchers using evolutionary methods to interpret human behavior and society. On the basis of niche-construction theory, we argue against the hypothesis that modern humans experience an atypically large adaptive lag. We stress that humans construct their world largely to suit themselves and frequently buffer adaptive lag through cultural niche construction. Where they are unable to do that, natural selection of genes rapidly ensues. Our argument has implications for evolutionary psychology and human behavioral ecology, and suggests that the methods of the latter are potentially applicable to all human societies, even postindustrial ones.