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Curr Dir Psychol Sci. 2014 Apr 1;23(2):115-120.

The Co-evolution of Concepts and Motivation.

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Stony Brook University.
Griffith University, Mount Gravatt.


Does the human mind contain evolved concepts? Many psychologists have doubted this or have investigated only a narrow set (e.g., object, number, cause). Does the human mind contain evolved motivational systems? Many more assent to this claim, holding that there are evolved motivational systems for, among other tasks, social affiliation, aggressive competition, and finding food. An emerging research program, however, reveals that these are not separate questions. Any evolved motivational system needs a wealth of conceptual structure that tethers the motivations to real world entities. For instance, what use is a fear of predators without knowing what predators are and how to respond to them effectively? As we illustrate with case studies of cooperation and conflict, there is no motivation without representation: To generate adaptive behavior, motivational systems must be interwoven with the concepts required to support them, and cannot be understood without explicit reference to those concepts.


concepts; evolutionary psychology; formidability; free rider; motivation

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