Homology (psychology)

For use of the term 'homologous' in reference to chromosomes, see Homologous chromosomes. For use of the term 'homologous' in reference to anatomical characteristics, see Homology (biology).

Homology in psychology, like homology 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 drawn the attention of theorists at least since 1958 when the Nobel Prize-winning ethologist Konrad Lorenz concerned himself with 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]

Homology in developmental psychology

There continues to be debate among theorists regarding whether or not developmental psychologists might find the concept of homology to be a useful tool.[9] A small-group workshop funded primarily by the National Science Foundation and entitled “Exploring the Concept of Homology in Developmental Psychology” was held at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia from August 16 – 18, 2011. This interdisciplinary workshop focused on the potential utility of the idea of homology for developmental psychologists. An international group of evolutionary-developmental biologists, comparative psychologists, developmental psychologists, philosophers of science, and developmental psychobiologists attended the workshop. Its aim was to bring together theorists from different disciplines to explore how the concept of homology, properly imported from biology, might aid in understanding psychological/behavioral development. The primary product of the workshop was a special issue of Developmental Psychobiology, which contains papers written by the participants and informed by conversations that occurred at the meeting. The workshop website[10] holds information about the participants, the talks they gave, and video records of the talks.


  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. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
  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. doi:10.1002/dev.21055. PMID 22711453. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
  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". Biology & Philosophy. 22: 659–674. doi:10.1007/s10539-007-9091-9.
  6. Ereshefsky, Marc (March 2012). "Homology thinking". Biology & Philosophy. 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: 504–521. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2006.11.014.
  8. Striedter, Georg; Northcutt (1991). "Biological hierarchies and the concept of homology". Brain, Behavior and Evolution. 38: 177–189. doi:10.1159/000114387.
  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 3459138Freely accessible. PMID 22711221. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
  10. "Workshop: Homology in Developmental Psychology". Retrieved 11 July 2013.
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