Darwin in the Madhouse: Evolutionary Psychology and the Classification of Mental Disorders

Dominic Murphy, Stephen Stich

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter examines the implications that the theories proposed by evolutionary psychologists might have for the classification of mental disorders. It begins with a brief overview of the account of the mind advanced by evolutionary psychologists. It then explains why issues of taxonomy are important and why the dominant approach to the classification of mental disorders is radically and alarmingly unsatisfactory. It illustrates some of the virtues of the evolutionary-psychological approach to classification and highlights a fundamental distinction between those disorders that arise from the malfunction of a component of the mind and those that can be traced to the fact that our minds must now function in environments that are very different from the environments in which they evolved. Next, the chapter describes the ways in which module malfunctions might arise and sketches two strategies for incorporating this etiological information in a system for classifying mental disorders. Finally, it explains why an evolutionary approach may lead to a radical revision in the classification of certain conditions. It argues that, from an evolutionary perspective, some of the disorders recognized in standard manuals like DSM-IV (American Psychiatric Association, 1994) may turn out not to be disorders at all. The people who have these conditions do not have problems; they just cause problems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCollected Papers
Subtitle of host publicationMind and Language, 1972-2010
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780190267513
ISBN (Print)9780199734108
StatePublished - Sep 22 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


  • Classification
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Evolutionarypsychological approach
  • Mental disorders
  • Taxonomy

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