Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Evolutionary Psychologist

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Evolutionary Psychologist

Article excerpt

Evolutionary psychologists analyze human behavior for traits that evolved to increase the odds of survival and reproduction. They may then apply this knowledge to redesign aspects of today's cultural institutions and practices--such as schools, workplaces, and child rearing--in ways that better align with human nature. Peter Gray is an evolutionary psychologist affiliated with Boston College. His area of focus is education, and he also writes the Freedom to Learn blog on the website of Psychology Today magazine.

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Work overview.

As a retired professor, I now mostly research and write about how children educate themselves when they are free to do so. I also examine how education data fit with evolutionary analysis.

A typical researcher may try to figure out which teaching method increases test scores. But when you look at education from an evolutionary perspective, you start to ask more basic questions, such as: What is the purpose of education? One experiment will not answer such questions. Instead, it's a scholarly approach that synthesizes knowledge from different fields, such as anthropology, history, and even animal behavior.

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For example, diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have increased possibly because society no longer tolerates children's normal unwillingness to sit still for long periods. Instead of adapting school to children, children are being adapted to school. It's also plausible that depriving children of play is leading to more impulsiveness, because play controls impulsiveness.

Career highlights.

My biggest fulfillment has been writing for the public, first through the blog and then through my book, Free to Learn. Many people find meaning in my writing, and it has led to speaking invitations and other opportunities.

Career path.

I went to college planning to major in physics. But then I started thinking that the world's biggest problems are about human behavior, and I wondered how we could bring out the better aspects of people's being. I became more drawn to psychology and biology. After getting my degrees in psychology and biological sciences, I accepted a job in the psychology department at Boston College.

Many of the introductory textbooks seemed superficial, so I wrote one that covered the usual topics (personality, development, and so on) but from a bio-evolutionary perspective. …

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