Exploring the potential of the human mind and body

Homo sapiens are, as a species, designed for endurance…

…with highly developed, specialised features that provided a significant contribution to the evolution of the human form (Brooks, 2012; Hawley et al. , 2014; Schulkin, 2016; Bramble & Lieberman, 2004).

Evolutionary biology suggests that endurance running was important in the pursuit of prey, and key physiological adaptions may have evolved millions of years ago to benefit long distance running. Fossils have evidenced a number of key physiological adaptations and potential behaviour in earlier hominins:

Australopithicus (4-6 million years ago), moved out of the forests, walked bipedally, and lived as a hunter-gatherer;

Homo Erectus (2 million years ago), had physiological changes including plantar arches, long achilles tendons, enlarged gluteus maximus, reduced body hair, and narrow elongated body form;

Homo Sapiens (200 thousand years ago to now): large brain, requiring 20% energy, and participation in persistence hunting.

Humans perform remarkably well at endurance running thanks to a diverse set of evolved physiological adaptations that may have been key in the survival and evolution of the human form. The physiology that evolved to enable, or resulting from, endurance related activities may have also been accompanied by inherited psychological adaptations. Evolutionary psychology proposes that evolution, through natural and sexual selection, designed the structure, and content of human psychology and physiology (Balish, Eys, Schulte-Hostedde, 2013, in the journal, ‘Psychology of Sport and Exercise’). According to the work of Buss (2009) psychology traits are important adaptations designed to solve challenges faced by our ancestors, and may provide some insight into the shared pre-prerequisites for endurance activities. The psychology of modern man and woman may therefore be a consequence of adaptations evolved to enable, or because of, endurance related activities.

“Evolutionary theory can be described as a meta-theory, building on the success of cognitive science, to better understand the development, structure and content of human psychology.”

The relatively new field of evolutionary psychology identifies the human mind as a computational mechanism seated in neural tissue, designed, like any other organ, by the processes of natural selection. If correct, then many of our psychological constructs may be a result of adaptations that increased the likelihood of survival and reproduction. Natural selection overcome many problems to ensure the survival of the species adapting focussed, content-rich, highly specialised, architecture that meet specific information-processing requirements: cooperation with our kin, dealing with our enemies, communication, including both language and non-verbal, identification and location of food, hunting, mate selection and avoiding infectious disease and poisonous food (Buss, 2009; Cosmides & Tooby, 2013).

According to evolutionary psychologists, the mind is neither born as a blank slate, nor a general-purpose computer, but is instead a set of highly specific, and evolved adaptive programs (Cosmides & Tooby, 2013). Each mechanism within the brain has been shaped through natural, and sexual, selection, to solve the problems encountered within the environment of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA). Our ancestors evolved to survive over 4 million years of living as a hunter-gatherer, and only within the last 10,000 years have we developed a more sedentary, farming lifestyle. Evolutionary psychologists aim to better understand how a particular behaviour develops and whether the underlying mechanisms were acquired or innate. More recently, this approach has been applied to performance, motivation and reasoning in the fields of sport and exercise psychology.
“Multiple adaptive mechanisms, physical and psychological, are likely to have evolved for specifically for endurance.”

If physiological adaptations evolved to facilitate endurance, and, if according to evolutionary psychologists, psychological traits are important adaptations designed to solve challenges faced by our ancestors (Buss, 2009), then it may be speculated that the psychology of modern humans is, in part, a consequence of evolutionary adaptations for endurance.