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Durham University

Department of Anthropology


Publication details for Prof Gillian Bentley

Bentley, G. (2016). Applying evolutionary thinking in medicine: an introduction. In Evolutionary Thinking in Medicine. From Research to Policy and Practice. Alvergne, A., Jenkinson, C. & Faurie, C. Cham: Springer. 1-16.

Author(s) from Durham


Evolutionary approaches to medicine are varied and underpinned by an understanding of basic principles in evolutionary biology. Rather than considering immediate or proximate causes for pathologies, or norms among and between individuals which is more typical of clinicians, evolutionary concepts address ultimate or “why” questions, as well as individual variation. Early evolutionary approaches in the nineteenth century underwent a demise with the rise of eugenics, and it was not until the 1990s that these approaches have re-emerged. While the literature in evolutionary medicine in recent decades has been typified by somewhat separate groups representing themes drawn from genetics, social science, and early life development, there has been a recent coalescence of the field as new endeavours have emerged, including an international society, two journals, and a multitude of academic papers. Evolutionary medicine now has increased visibility with a key aim of influencing medical thought and practice to revolutionise approaches to health and illness. Medical schools are already incorporating its principles into everyday practice and teaching, often with students at the vanguard of change. Evolutionary principles are perhaps poised to become embedded into everyday medical thinking.