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The Shape of Thought: How Mental Adaptations Evolve Paperback – Feb 5 2015

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (Feb. 5 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199348316
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199348312
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 3 x 15.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 454 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #159,429 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"Rich and thoughtful, this book lays out why, if we want to understand human psychology, neural plasticity, cultural differences and cognitive development, we need evolutionary theory, and an understanding of how humans evolved. In Barrett's hands, the pernicious dichotomy that divides 'learning' from 'innate' explanations crumbles, leaving only evolutionary explanations, which may involve different types of developmental processes. In setting the house back in order, Barrett synthesizes insights and findings from psychology, culture-gene coevolutionary theory, anthropology, developmental biology and philosophy. He delivers Evolutionary Psychology 2.0." --Joe Henrich, Canada Research Chair in Culture, Cognition and Coevolution, University of British Columbia

"In this lucid book, Barrett explains how thinking about the evolution of the mind should shape our understanding of how the mind works. Bringing sophisticated knowledge of evolutionary biology and cognitive science together, he reconciles opposing views about the role of learning and culture in the workings of the human mind. This book will be the bible for a broader, more inclusive evolutionary psychology." --Rob Boyd, Origins Professor, Arizona State University

"Barrett has read your mind, and knows your questions. He will lead you gently but fiercely through the controversies that surround evolutionary psychology and cognitive science, showing you that one cannot exist without the other." --Leda Cosmides, Center for Evolutionary Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara

"Clark Barrett takes the reader from the basics of evolutionary psychology to exciting stuff at the cutting-edge of today's research. He does so with splendid clarity, illuminating examples, and an engaging balance of wisdom and passion. An important book and an excellent read!" --Dan Sperber, Professor of Cognitive Science and of Philosophy at the Central European University, Budapest

About the Author

H. Clark Barrett is an evolutionary anthropologist who studies the evolution of cognition. For the past fifteen years he has conducted field work in the Amazon region of Ecuador, and uses experimental cognitive tasks across cultures to test hypotheses about the evolution of the mind. He is now Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9ed9dd80) out of 5 stars 2 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9edd53a8) out of 5 stars An essential review of evolution's role in psychology Feb. 9 2015
By bsuddath - Published on
Format: Paperback
Clark Barrett's The Shape of Thought is a lucid and important work that formulates a modern approach to studying the mind by taking seriously the consequences of viewing the mind as the product of evolution and seeing what this entails. This approach inevitably requires abandoning long-held naïve conceptions of mind--still prevalent in psychology and neuroscience--that essentially approach the mind in a dualistic fashion. Barrett shows that this dualism results in biologically implausible hypotheses that unjustifiably divide the mind into a set of two opposing processes: domain-specific ones, which are responsible for behavior that is evolved and therefore innate or instinctive, and domain general processes, which are learned and therefore responsible for flexibility and higher cognitive functions. Barrett exposes this simplification as unrealistic; the products of evolution are created by the process of development, which requires two-way interactions between genes and the environment. Learned, then, should not necessarily be seen as opposed to evolved. For example, it may be (and certainly in many cases is) the case that evolution uses environmental input in the form of learning as part of the stimulus required to produce its target phenotype. Barrett further shows that the flexibility of the human mind is unlikely to be purely the result of a single general-purpose learning mechanism. Instead he shows how flexibility can arise from the interactions of multiple specialized components and that in many cases this is more consistent with what we know about how evolution works, as well as with the current evidence we have from developmental biology and neuroscience. Showing the flaws in this dualistic approach to the mind is the crux of Barrett's argument, but the book is not limited to this. It also contains fascinating discussions of theory of mind, answers questions about cultural evolution, shows why the "gene shortage" argument is incorrect, and shows how moving targets are not the evolutionary problem many researchers think they are. The Shape of Thought is an excellent refutation to many critics of evolutionary psychology and is an essential read for anyone looking to understand how the mind is likely to have evolved.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9eddf540) out of 5 stars Highly recommended. Nov. 14 2015
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Full of new ideas about the evolution of the mind. Will challenge your preconceptions about why we think the way we do. A fresh take on evolutionary psychology that is incisive, readable, and unconventional. Highly recommended.