Evolutionary explanation of eating behaviour
Evolutionary explanations of food preference:
The evolutionary approach to explaining eating behaviour suggests that all current human behaviour
can be explained in terms of how it may have been adaptive in our ancestral past.
Evolutionary psychologists refer to this as the ‘ultimate explanation’
Although current behaviours may appear to be maladaptive or dysfunctional, evolutionary
psychologists argue that they can be analysed and understood as having been adaptive and
functional in some way in the past.
They draw on the theory of natural selection and suggest that all species including humans,
evolve through a process of natural selection and that only those characteristics confer
advantage (or at least do not confer disadvantage) survives as the species evolves.
This is an interactionist approach, as an individual’s genetic disposition is assumed to interact with
their environment (nature AND nurture)
The environment of evolutionary adaptation:
To understand the adaptive problems faced by our distant ancestors, we must first understand the
environment in which they lived. The environment of evolutionary adaptation (EEA)refers to the
environment in which a species first evolved. For most of our evolutionary history, we have probably
lived in hunter gatherer societies.
Early diets of ‘hunter-gatherers’:
Hunter gatherer’s diets mainly consisted of animals and plants which were found in their natural
environment. It makes sense that these early humans developed a preference for fruits and meat,
for the vitamins and minerals they contained, and avoided bitter or sour tasting foods for a fear of
toxins or poisons. These preferences may be used to explain the eating behaviour of individuals
Taste test:Rate the following foods on a scale from 1-5 (1= hate, 5=love)
Food one:Fruit Food three:Crisps
Food two: Chocolate Food four: Sour sweets
What do our findings suggest about our food preference?
Do we have an innate preference for certain foods?
Research has found that human beings may have an innate preference for certain foods.
Davis (1928)investigated the kinds of food choices that children make
about their diet. She wanted to examine young children’s responses to
a self-selected diet and whether there was an ‘intrinsic means of handling
the problem of optimal nutrition’.
To investigate this, Davis observed the eating behaviour of children living
in an American paediatric unit for several months. The children in the
study were offered…
Davis observed and recorded the foods they chose. These findings indicated that…
These findings formed the basis of the…
Evaluation of Davis (1928)
This research used naturalistic observations, as the children were observed in their natural environment.
This means that…
This study only used American children, making it…
This means that…
These findings have been used to support both sides of the same
Research has found that human beings may have evolved to be born with innate preferences for
certain foods, which have previously aided survival due to the benefits they pose for survival.
Other research has supported the idea of innate regulatory mechanisms:
Studies investigating food preferences of new born babies (using facial expressions and sucking behaviour)
have indicated that we have an innate preference for certain foods, and an innate dislike for others.
Desor et al (1973) found that new born babies show a preference for…
Geldard (1972) found that new born babies reject…
Milton (2008) suggests that an innate preference for meat may have evolved
Research using animals has also indicated that there might be an innate preference for salt (Denton, 1982).
These findings do suggests that certain food preferences are innate. This idea, however, has been
contradicted by Beauchamp and Moran (1982). They found that six month old babies who were accustomed
to drinking sweetened water drank more sweetened water than babies who were not.
This suggests that…
How might innate food preferences have been adaptive?
Our early human ancestors lived in hunter-gatherer communities in which men were responsible for hunting
and the woman were responsible for gathering. Their diets consisted mainly of fruits, berries, vegetables and
some meat. Our innate food preferences can be explained as follows:
An innate preference for sweet foods:
Natural avoidance of bitter foods:
Preference for salt:
Preference for meat:
Innate food preferences in the modern world:
Our innate food preferences may have helped us to evolve and survive in the past, but nowadays food is not
as scarce and our lives are not as physically active. The innate food preferences observed in research may
now lead individuals’ to eat certain types of food. Nowadays, a sweet preference may not lead an individual
to eat berries and fruit, but may lead them to highly calorific, energy-dense foods (such as chocolate).
Gibson and Wardle (2001) carried out research which suggested that humans have maintained this innate
preference for highly calorific foods. They observed the food choices of 4 to 5 year old children. They found
that food preference was determined by…
The children were more likely to choose calorie-rich food, such as…
This suggests that…
Evaluation of the evolutionary explanation of eating behaviour:
This approach can explain innate food preferences:
Observed food preferences can support nurture and nature:
This approach focuses on ultimate rather than proximate causes:
This approach is reductionist because…
This approach is deterministic because…
This approach is difficult to falsify because…