The Case for an Empirical View of Human Nature and

Why it Must be the Foundation of Clinical Psychology

Image Source: Tkgd2007
Image Source: Tkgd2007

For a series of brief articles on a variety of topics related to Evolutionary Psychology and Clinical Psychology see my

Psychology Today Blog:

Our Evolutionary Selves: Understanding our evolutionary history can help us now.


For anyone interested in an introduction to evolutionary psychology applied to contemporary behavior, clinical psychology, and psychological distress...........we touch on a variety of topics (the evolution of mind through various selection processes, evolutionary motives, nature versus nurture, does altruism exist, problems for males and females in the mating market, culture and evolution, mismatches in the current environment that are leading to increased psychological distress). LINK:

A second podcast, "Why the modern world is making us sick" focuses on mismatch theory as an explanation for mental health (e.g., depression, anxiety) as well as physical (e.g, diabetes) problems.

Lectures on the Empirical View of Human Nature on YouTube

Human Nature:

Why We Are the Way We Are


Speaker: William C. Sanderson, PhD

This lecture focused on defining human nature (that is, why are we the way we are) and why did it develop the way it did? The application of evolutionary theory to psychology provides a scientific foundation to understand the ultimate origins of human nature. Interestingly, humans tend to deny human nature and instead over emphasize the effect of the environment (e.g., culture) on our behavior. Professor Sanderson challenges that idea and instead makes the case that humans have a universal nature -- like all other species. Practical applications of evolutionary psychology will be briefly discussed, in particular understanding why some of the problems that exist are a challenge for our nature (e.g., feeling satisfied, difficulty controlling our appetite, interpersonal conflict).
To view this lecture (1 hour)

Human Nature & the Survival of Our Species:

How Our Evolved Instincts Place us at Extreme Risk for Catastrophic Self-Created Existential Threats.

Speaker: William C. Sanderson, PhD

The lack of acceptance of an empirical view of human nature has led us to ignore the realities of who we are. Only with accurate insight into human nature -- and an understanding of our cognitive and moral limitations -- can we begin to take the necessary steps to correct for the direction that our evolved instincts will lead us. Without attention to this, the outcome can be disastrous. Specifically, the toxic mix of human’s “tribalistic” nature with technological capabilities that can create astonishing levels of harm has us barreling towards the self-induced elimination of our species. I’ve been working on this talk for almost a decade - and unfortunately the current landscape has further validated this perspective.
Link to this presentation:

The New York City Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Association Presents

The Toxic Impact of the Pandemic on Human Nature: Adapting CBT Strategies to Reduce Psychological Distress

Speaker: William C. Sanderson, PhD

Clinical Psychology does not have an agreed upon and coherent view of human nature that would enable clinicians to have a nuanced perspective on fundamental human motives, including how failure to meet these motives often is paramount to human suffering and psychopathology. An empirical view of human nature from the field of evolutionary psychology will be presented, which the speaker believes should become the foundation of clinical psychology -- including CBT. The understanding of human nature and the adaptational function of emotions will be used to explain why mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and suicide were increasing to an alarming degree in the U.S. well-before the pandemic (i.e., psychological mismatch theory). And the pandemic has greatly accelerated the mental health crisis because it has further disrupted the ability of individuals to satisfy core human needs in the modern environment. Finally, an adaptation of CBT to deal with pandemic-related fear and sadness will be presented, with a focus on facilitating resilience and post-traumatic growth, which is based upon the speaker's recent paper on this topic, The Nature and Treatment of Pandemic-Related Psychological Distress (Sanderson et al., 2020).
Link to this presentation:

Table of Contents for this video:

0.00 - Evolutionary defined fundamental human motives which comprise an empirical view of human nature.
31:32 The nature of pandemic-related psychological distress in light of fundamental human motives.
36:28 - How to adapt various cognitive and behavioral treatment strategies to deal with pandemic-related psychological distress and facilitate resilience.