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3 mins

Simplify Psychiatry: Randolph Nesse Explains Evolution’s Role in our Emotions

This episode of Simplify features Randolph Nesse explaining how the science of evolution and psychiatry can help us understand anxiety, depression and more.
by Ines Bläsius | Oct 17 2019

What does anxiety have to do with our ancestors hiding from lions? How can the process of apple picking help to explain bouts of depression?

In this episode of Simplify, Caitlin asks Randolph Nesse why he believes that humans have evolved to experience hardships such as depression, anxiety and grief. As it turns out, while many of our most painful emotions often do not serve a proper function in our modern world, they may have a history that allowed for our ancestors to survive.

Randolph Nesse reveals the ways in which the fields of psychiatry and psychology could benefit from a focus on evolutionary biology, and shares a specific strategy which he uses in his own practice with patients.

“You know, some people would imagine an evolutionary view would treat everybody as if they’re the same and in fact, my conclusion is exactly the opposite. It offers a very personalized way of trying to understand each individual as an individual.”
Randolph Nesse

Understanding why you or someone you care about is experiencing anxiety or depression can often be the most productive first step in helping to deal with these difficult emotions. It’s clear in this episode, that Randolph Nesse has given this question an enormous amount of time in order to effectively help his patients. The experience and research that he shares in this episode of Simplify is bound to help you view human emotions in a new way.

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Who’s Randolph Nesse?

Randolph Nesse is a Professor and Founding Director of The Center for Evolution and Medicine at Arizona State University. His decades of experience in a clinical setting have informed his research and commitment to furthering our understanding of modern psychology through the study of evolution. He has written a handful of books covering topics such as bereavement, depression, interpersonal relationships, and his latest book, Good Reasons for Bad Feelings, connects all of these with Evolutionary Psychiatry. He has devoted his career to bringing insights from evolutionary biology into our practice of medicine today.

Randolph Nesse’s Recommended Read

Why Buddhism Is True by Robert Wright

Fellow Evolutionary Psychologist Robert Wright dives into the teachings of Buddhism as an effective way of handling the challenges of human nature. If evolutionary psychology helps provide answers to why we suffer, this book goes one step further in answering what we can actually do about it.

Extra Credit Reading

If you would like to dive deeper into some of the topics Randolph Nesse covers in this Simplify episode, check out this book list composed by Ben and Caitlin!

This beautifully written memoir follows Joan Didion’s grieving process after both her husband and daughter died in the span of just a few years. It is a book on grief that is written by someone experiencing it first hand, and is able to find meaning in some of the most painful moments of her life.

This is a book that is not just for animal lovers! As it turns out, the psychology of other animals gives us tremendous insight into human emotions, as well. Check out this title for a compassionate and surprising read.

This recommendation supports the argument for never overlooking the classics. Published in 1976, this book introduces the ideas of transactional analysis, and helps people to understand the emotions and decisions of themselves and others in a whole new light.

What’s Simplify?

Simplify is a podcast for anybody who’s taken a close look at their habits, their happiness, their relationships, or their health and thought “There’s got to be a better way to do this.” We talk to bestselling writers, productivity wizards, sex geniuses, and happiness experts to find it for you.

Simplify is made with love by Blinkist. Click here to try Blinkist free for 14 days with the voucher code: evolve

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Talk to us!

We want to hear from you! Drop a line to us at [email protected] about whatever tickles your fancy.

If you want to say hi to Ben and Caitlin in the meantime, you can find them on Twitter: @bsto and @CaitlinSchiller.

Who made this?

Your hosts are Caitlin Schiller and Ben Schuman-Stoler.

Research and production assistance by Ines Bläsius, sound and editing by Florian Tippe.

Gorgeous new music by the one and only Odysseas Constantinou.

Got links?

Randolph Nesse’s Website

Read the transcript here!

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