Adaptations, Exaptations, and Spandrels

David M. Buss, Martie G. Haselton, Todd K. Shackelford, April L. Bleske, Jerome C. Wakefield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Adaptation and natural selection are central concepts in the emerging science of evolutionary psychology. Natural selection is the only known causal process capable of producing complex functional organic mechanisms. These adaptations, along with their incidental by-products and a residue of noise, comprise all forms of life. Recently, S. J. Gould (1991) proposed that exaptations and spandrels may be more important than adaptations for evolutionary psychology. These refer to features that did not originally arise for their current use but rather were co-opted for new purposes. He suggested that many important phenomena - such as art, language, commerce, and war - although evolutionary in origin, are incidental spandrels of the large human brain. The authors outline the conceptual and evidentiary standards that apply to adaptations, exaptations, and spandrels and discuss the relative utility of these concepts for psychological science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)533-548
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican Psychologist
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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