Homology (psychology)

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Homology in psychology, as in biology, refers to a relationship between characteristics that reflects the characteristics' origins in either evolution or development. Homologous behaviors can theoretically be of at least two different varieties.[1] As with homologous anatomical characteristics, behaviors present in different species can be considered homologous if they are likely present in those species because the behaviors were present in a common ancestor of the two species. Alternatively, in much the same way as reproductive structures (e.g., the penis and the clitoris) are considered homologous because they share a common origin in embryonic tissues,[2] behaviors—or the neural substrates associated with those behaviors[3]—can also be considered homologous if they share common origins in development.

Behavioral homologies have been considered since at least 1958, when Konrad Lorenz studied the evolution of behavior.[4] More recently, the question of behavioral homologies has been addressed by philosophers of science such as Marc Ereshefsky,[5][6] psychologists such as Drew Rendall,[7] and neuroscientists such as Georg Striedter and Glenn Northcutt.[8] It is debatable whether the concept of homology is useful in developmental psychology.[9][10][11]

For example, D. W. Rajecki and Randall C. Flanery, using data on humans and on nonhuman primates, argue that patterns of behaviour in dominance hierarchies are homologous across the primates.[12]


  1. ^ Moore, David S. (2013). "Importing the homology concept from biology into developmental psychology". Developmental Psychobiology. 55 (1): 13–21. doi:10.1002/dev.21015. PMID 22711075.
  2. ^ Wagner, G. P. (1989). "The biological homology concept". Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics. 20: 51–69. doi:10.1146/annurev.es.20.110189.000411.
  3. ^ Anderson, Michael L.; Penner-Wilger, M. (2013). "Neural reuse in the evolution and development of the brain: Evidence for developmental homology?". Developmental Psychobiology. 55 (1): 42–51. CiteSeerX doi:10.1002/dev.21055. PMID 22711453.
  4. ^ Lorenz, Konrad (1958). "The Evolution of Behavior". Scientific American. 199 (6): 67–78. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican1258-67.
  5. ^ Ereshefsky, Marc (2007). "Psychological categories as homologies: Lessons from ethology" (PDF). Biology & Philosophy. 22 (5): 659–674. doi:10.1007/s10539-007-9091-9.
  6. ^ Ereshefsky, Marc (March 2012). "Homology thinking". Biology & Philosophy. 27 (3): 381–400. doi:10.1007/s10539-012-9313-7.
  7. ^ Rendall, Drew; Di Fiore (2007). "Homoplasy, homology, and the perceived special status of behavior in evolution". Journal of Human Evolution. 52 (5): 504–521. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2006.11.014. PMID 17383711.
  8. ^ Striedter, Georg; Northcutt (1991). "Biological hierarchies and the concept of homology". Brain, Behavior and Evolution. 38 (4–5): 177–189. doi:10.1159/000114387. PMID 1663811.
  9. ^ Blumberg, Mark S. (2013). "Homology, correspondence, and continuity across development: The case of sleep". Developmental Psychobiology. 55 (1): 92–100. doi:10.1002/dev.21024. PMC 3459138. PMID 22711221.
  10. ^ "Workshop: Homology in Developmental Psychology". Retrieved 11 July 2013.
  11. ^ Moore, David S. (January 2013). "Importing the homology concept from biology into developmental psychology". Developmental Psychobiology. 55 (1): 13–21. doi:10.1002/dev.21015. PMID 22711075.
  12. ^ Rajecki, D. W.; Flanery, Randall C. (2013). Lamb, M. E.; Brown, A. L., ed. Social Conflict and Dominance in Children: a Case for a Primate Homology. Advances in Developmental Psychology. Taylor and Francis. p. 125. ISBN 978-1-135-83123-3. Finally, much recent information on children's and nonhuman primates' behavior in groups, a conjunction of hard human data and hard nonhuman primate data, lends credence to our comparison. Our conclusion is that, based on their agreement in several unusual characteristics, dominance patterns are homologous in primates. This agreement of unusual characteristics is found at several levels, including fine motor movement, gross motor movement, and behavior at the group level.