Professor Lawrence Reed: Helping Students Answer the “Why” of Evolutionary Psychology — Not Just the “How”

Professor Lawrence Reed: Helping Students Answer the “Why” of Evolutionary Psychology — Not Just the “How”

Dr. Lawrence Reed is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and a Psychology Professor based in New York City. He specializes in the field of Evolutionary Psychology and, this summer at Columbia, he invites students to join his “Evolutionary Psychology” course, PSYC S2490D. 

We caught up with him to learn a little more about his background and why students should take his class this summer.

Tell us a little about your background and what you research. 

I study facial expression of emotion, focusing on why we visibly express our private emotional and motivational states.  I'm also a clinically trained and licensed psychologist with a specialization in treating adolescents and adults with mood and emotional disorders.

Why should students take your summer course?

Traditional psychologists have focused primarily on answering "how?" questions regarding the mechanisms that underlie behavior (i.e. How does the system work?). In contrast, evolutionary psychologists focus primarily on answering ultimate, or "why?" questions (i.e. Why does this system exist, and why does it have the form that it does?).

This course is designed to apply our knowledge of evolutionary theory to psychology in order to answer such questions. We explore many questions of this nature including, but not limited to: 

  • Why is there variation among humans if we all face the same selection pressures? 
  • Why do we seek revenge after-the-fact if they cannot get back what they have lost? 
  • Why do we honestly express something as subjective as our emotional states on our faces? 
  • Why do we take so long to develop? 
  • If we can live nearly 100 years, why can’t we live 150 or 200? 
  • Why do we have sex? 
  • Why do my children play nicely with their friends, but not their siblings?

Evolutionary psychologists have made specific predictions regarding each of these questions and many of their answers are based on strong empirical findings.

Interested in taking Professor Reed’s Evolutionary Psychology course during Columbia Summer? You can learn more here and apply here