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Evolutionary educational psychology is the study of the relation between inherent folk knowledge and abilities and accompanying inferential and attributional biases as these influence academic learning in evolutionarily novel cultural contexts, such as schools and the industrial workplace. The fundamental premises and principles of this discipline are presented below.
The premises of evolutionary educational psychology state there are:
The principles of evolutionary educational psychology represent the foundational assumptions for an evolutionary educational psychology. The gist is knowledge and expertise that is useful in the cultural milieu or ecology in which the group is situated will be transferred across generations in the form of cultural artifacts, such as books, or learning traditions, as in apprenticeships (e.g., Baumeister, 2005; Richerson & Boyd, 2005; Flinn, 1997; Mithen, 1996). Across generations, the store of cultural knowledge accumulates and creates a gap between this knowledge base and the forms of folk knowledge and abilities that epigenetically emerge with children’s self-initiated activities.
There must of course be an evolved potential to learn evolutionarily novel information and an associated bias to seek novelty during the developmental period and indeed throughout the life span; this may be related to the openness to experience dimension of personality (Geary, 1995, 2002, in press).
However, the cross-generational accumulation of knowledge across cultures, individuals, and domains (e.g., people vs. physics) has resulted in an exponential increase in the quantity of secondary knowledge available in modern societies today. For most people, the breadth and complexity of this knowledge will very likely exceed any biases to learn in evolutionary novel domains.
A related issue concerns the traits that enable the creation of biologically secondary knowledge and thus culture and the extent to which these traits overlap with the ability to learn knowledge created by others.
Stated differently, Is the goal of education to have children recreate the process of discovery, to learn the products of discovery, or some combination? Some educators have advocated a focus on the process of discovery without full consideration of the constellation of traits and opportunity that contribute to the creation of secondary knowledge (e.g., Cobb, Yackel, & Wood, 1992). In fact, research on creative-productive individuals suggests that the full constellation of traits that facilitate the discovery and creation of secondary knowledge is rare and not likely reproducible on a large scale (Simonton, 1999a, 1999b, 2003; Sternberg, 1999; Wai, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2005).