Darwin’s Influence

To say the least, Darwin’s theory was revolutionary. Its impact has been compared to that of the theories of Copernicus and Newton. He changed the traditional view of human nature and with it changed the history of philosophy and psychology. Many of the topics dismissed by Titchener because they did not represent pure experimental psychology were encouraged by Darwin’s theory. Popular topics in contemporary psychology clearly reveal a strong Darwinian influence: developmental psychology, animal psychology, comparative psychology, psychobiology, learning, tests and measurements, emotions, behavioral genetics, abnormal psychology, among others. In general, Darwin stimulated interest in the study of individual differences and showed that studying behavior is at least as important as studying the mind. As we will see, Darwin’s theory of evolution played a significant role in the development of the schools of function- alism and behaviorism.


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Darwin’s influence, however, was not entirely positive. He entertained a number of ideas now considered highly questionable or mistaken. This included his belief that contemporary primitive people are the link between primates and modern humans (that is, Europeans) and are, therefore, infe- rior. Darwin also felt that women were intellectually inferior to men. Alland (1985) says, “Darwin at his worst is Darwin on women” (for examples of Darwin’s beliefs concerning the intellectual inferiority of women, see Darwin). And, that long practiced habits become heritable instincts; in other words, in explaining cultural differences among humans, Darwin accepted Lamarckian theory.

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