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Anxiety and Evolutionary Mismatch

According to “evolutionary mismatch theory,” there is a tension between our ancient biology and the modern world.  This tension plays a role in many issues, from drug use to excessive eating.


Human characteristics arose from evolution.  But the bulk of our evolution took place between 1.8 million and 150,000 years ago.  This means our traits evolved to help us survive in the Paleolithic era, when hunting, gathering, and escaping from predators were central tasks.  And because evolution tends to work quite slowly, many of these characteristics remain alive and well today.


Yet the present-day world is vastly different from the world that shaped our species.  Hunting and gathering became working and shopping, footpaths are now highways, and tigers morphed into the prospect of war.  Needless to say, the side effects of these changes can be quite significant.


Imagine how a caveman would feel while walking through our hustling, bustling world.  Cars whizzing by, strangers all around, information bombarding him from every direction: The potential of encountering threats would seem virtually endless.


Perhaps this is partially why 50% of Americans struggle with anxiety.  And a quarter develop anxiety disorders.  And $50 billion is spent each year on anxiety treatment.  Being equipped with our ancient biology is like taking a machine for one purpose and applying it to another: like using a snowmobile to commute to work in July.  This mismatch will not stop us from getting where we are going, but it makes for a bumpy ride!


Dylan M. Kollman, PhD