Applying evolutionary methods in economics: progress or pitfall?
The Darwinian theory of evolution has arguably become an important building block for experimental and theoretical economists. According to Burnham (J Econ Behav Org 90:S113–S127, 2013), it is possible to formulate novel hypotheses and predictions about human preferences, on the basis of what patterns of behavior would have been adaptive in the ancestral environment. After clarifying two theoretical concepts, the Adaptively Relevant Environment and fitness maximization, I argue that multiple scientifically plausible hypotheses about human preferences are compatible with evolutionary models that target behavior. Moreover, I propose a refinement of Burnham’s method based on theoretical resources provided by the indirect evolutionary approach. Economists apply or build evolutionary models of their own that target particular features of human psychology and cognition. Such models may reduce the number of plausible hypotheses to allow for rigorous scientific testing in laboratory or field experiments.