Evolutionary Psychology is the science of universal features of the human mind as evolved by natural selection. Organs in the human body have adapted to function well in the ancestral environment, and the brain is no exception. A major selection pressure for a social species is the social environment. Related cognitive capabilities, including capacities for face recognition, language development, social cognition, and social motivation, are at least partly encoded in our genes. In ASD some of these social traits are compromised. This presents a unique opportunity for research. Understanding ASD has the potential to illuminate typical human behavior, and understanding typical behavior is necessary for understanding ASD.
The Handicap Principle
The handicap principle stresses the role of prestige in social situations. People may insist on showing generosity and benevolence, but notice that this behavior promotes their social status, while the status of the person on the receiving end could decline.
The handicap principle also explains why some people perform seemingly illogical acts, like consuming substances that may compromise their functioning, or engaging in dangerous behavior, like climbing Mount Everest.
Following a social species of desert birds, Dr. Amotz Zahavi came up with some keen perceptions on the nature of communication signals. His ground breaking idea can be applied all across nature, mankind included. I would highly recommend it.
The Handicap Principle: a Missing Piece of Darwin’s Puzzle. Amotz Zahavi and Avishag Zahavi. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Honest Signalling Theory: A Basic Introduction. Carl T. Bergstrom. University of Washington, 2006.
The Mind is Modular
People can harbour inconsistent beliefs: part of them can think one way, while a different part reasons differently. Each of the contradictory beliefs will be expressed under different circumstances. For more watch Robert Kurzban’s talk and read the book.
Why Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind. Robert Kurzban. Princeton University Press, 2011.
The Moral Instinct. Steven Pinker. The New York Times, January 13, 2008.
Is God an Accident? Paul Bloom. The Atlantic, December 2005.