Evolutionary Psychiatry

Information about the Evolutionary Psychiatry Network is at this link. 

Soon after joining the faculty in the Psychiatry Department at the University of Michigan I found myself frustrated because the field seemed to lack a solid scientific foundation that could contain battles between psychoanalysts, behaviorists, and biological psychiatrists. Faculty colleagues in biology helped me realize that my fine education had covered only one half of of biology; all traits need not only an explanation of how they work, but also an evolutionary explanation of why they are the way they are.  In1984 I published an article about how evolution could be useful for psychiatry, and soon realized that the project could succeed only after understanding why natural selection left us vulnerable to medical disorders in general. Work with George Williams advanced that project wonderfully, and evolutionary medicine now provides a foundation for evolutionary psychiatry. However, it is hard to frame hypotheses correctly and harder to test them. The 2023 article describes the opportunities and the challenges. 

Evolutionary psychiatry: foundations, progress and challenges, World Psychiatry, 2023
See also the related editorial by Jerry Wakefield

Why do mental disorders persist? Evolutionary foundations for psychiatry. 2022 Chapter in Evolutionary Psychiatry

Anxiety disorders in evolutionary perspective. 2022 Chapter in Evolutionary Psychiatry

Nesse, Randolph M. (2017). Evolutionary foundations for psychiatric research and practice. In B. J. Sadock, V. A. Sadock, & P. Ruiz (Eds.), Kaplan & Sadock’s comprehensive textbook of psychiatry (Tenth edition, pp. 769–780). Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer.

Nesse, RM (1984) An evolutionary perspective on psychiatry.
Many of my ideas about evolutionary psychiatry are in this 1984 article published 10 years before Why We Get Sick.  It includes the four questions that need to be answered for a full explanation, and suggestions about why we are vulnerable to panic disorder, depression, obesity, anorexia and premature ejaculation

Nesse RM & Williams GC Are mental disorders diseases, Chap 14 from Why We Get Sick, 1994.

Nesse, R. M. (2019, March). The Puzzle of the Unbalanced Mind. Psychology Today. 

Nesse RM: The evolution of hope and despair. Social Research, 429-469, 1999.

Explaining depression: Neuroscience is not enough, evolution is essential, 2009

Why has natural selection left us so vulnerable to anxiety and mood disorders? Can J Psychiatry, 2011

Evolutionary psychology and mental health. 2015

Nesse RM: What Darwinian medicine offers psychiatry. Evolutionary Medicine, W. R. Trevathan, J. J. McKenna and E. O. Smith. New York, Oxford University Press, 1999.

A general ''Theory of Emotion'' is neither necessary nor possible, Emotion Review, 2014

Nesse Anorexia: A Perverse Effect of Trying to Control the Starvation Response BBS 2017

Nesse, Finch, Nunn: Evolution, Sleep, & Alzheimer's Disease, 2017 

Nesse, RM: Evolutionary Psychology and Mental Health. Pages 903-937 in Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, Edited by David Buss, John Wiley and Sons, Hoboken , NJ, 2005.  Best general overview. See the 2015 revision. 

Nesse RM, Stein DJ. Towards a genuinely medical model for psychiatric nosology. BMC Med;10(1):5, 2012.

Nesse RM. An evolutionary perspective on panic disorder and agoraphobia. Ethology and Sociobiology;8:73S-83S, 1987.

Nesse RM: An evolutionary perspective on psychiatry. Comprehensive Psychiatry 25:575-580, 1984 An early overview of what evolutionary biology provides for psychiatry.

Nesse RM: What good is feeling bad? The evolutionary utility of psychic pain. The Sciences, 30-37, Nov./Dec. 1991.

An informal short overview of how negative feelings can be useful, with lovely illustrations

Articles on specific disorders

Nesse, RM: Evolutionary explanations for mood and mood disorders. The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Mood Disorders, edited by Daniel J. Stein , David J. Kupfer, and Alan F. Schatzberg, American Psychiatric Publishing, Washington DC, pp. 159-175, 2006.

This textbook chapter is the best starting place for clinical professionals who treat depression

Nesse RM. Explaining depression: Neuroscience is not enough, evolution is essential. In: Pariente CM, Nesse RM, Nutt DJ, Wolpert L, editors. Understanding depression: A translational approach. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. p. 17-36, 2009.

Why has natural selection left us so vulnerable to anxiety and mood disorders? Can J Psychiatry, 2011

Nesse & Stein: Towards a genuinely medical model for psychiatric nosology, BMC Medicine, 2012

Nesse RM, Berridge K Psychoactive drug use in evolutionary perspective. Science, 277: 63-65, 1997.

Nesse RM: What is mood for? Psycholoquy 2: Issue 9.2, November 24, 1991. 

An early statement about the utility of mood

Nesse RM Emotional Disorders in Evolutionary Perspective. British Journal of Medical Psychology 71:397-415, 1998.

An article on how evolution can help explain emotional disorders

Nesse RM Is depression an adaptation? Archives of General Psychiatry, 57: 14-20, 2000.

This is the classic statement, the widely cited first article published in the new millenium in The Archives of General Psychiatry

Nesse RM. Explaining depression: Neuroscience is not enough, evolution is essential. In: Pariente CM, Nesse RM, Nutt DJ, Wolpert L, editors. Understanding depression: A translational approach. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. p. 17-36, 2009. 

A good general statement of my ideas about depression

Nesse, RM: Motivation and Melancholy: A Darwinian perspective. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation 2001.

A general treatment of motivation and mood 

Nesse RM: Natural selection and the elusiveness of happiness. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci; 359(1449):1333-47, 2004

If natural selection is so great, why are we so prone to anxiety and depression? The answer is here. 

Nesse, RM: Evolutionary Psychology and Mental Health. Pages 903-937 in Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, Edited by David Buss, John Wiley and Sons, Hoboken , NJ, 2005.

The most comprehensive statement of how evolutionary biology can help us to understand and treat mental disorders