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Evolutionary Psychology: A Fresh Perspective for Understanding and Changing Problematic Behavior


  • Joshua M. Tybur is assistant professor of social and organizational psychology at VU University in Amsterdam. He has a doctorate in psychology, and his current research concerns the psychology of pathogen avoidance and the emotion disgust. He has published more than 20 articles in top psychology journals, most of which have examined social behavior from an evolutionary perspective. E-mail:

  • Vladas Griskevicius is the McKnight Professor and associate professor of marketing and psychology in the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. He holds a doctorate in psychology and studies the evolutionary bases of human behavior and decision making. He has published more than 40 articles in top business and psychology journals examining how motivation and emotion infl uence fi nancial decisions, consumer behavior, and sustainability.


From rising obesity and soaring health care costs to escalating violence and environmental degradation, contemporary society faces many challenges. Are there policies that are naturally effective in changing the behaviors that produce these problems? In this article, the authors examine some of the roots of socially problematic behavior by taking an evolutionary perspective that considers human nature. They review four insights that an evolutionary approach provides into human behavior. Then they discuss how a deeper understanding of the ancestral roots of modern behavior can provide a fresh perspective for policy makers and public administrators while also providing fertile ground for novel research and applications for altering behavior. The central takeaway is that optimal strategies for changing problematic behaviors require harnessing our deep-seated ancestral nature rather than ignoring it or working against it.