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Evolutionary and Comparative Psychology

Master of Science and Ph.D. in Evolutionary and Comparative Psychology

The Master of Science with a concentration in evolutionary and comparative psychology is a two-year terminal degree program in experimental methodology. The Ph.D. is a four-year program aimed at preparing the candidate for an academic career in evolutionary psychology or in comparative psychology. Research within this concentration has the principle goal of gaining a clearer and more comprehensive understanding of human and non-human psychology and behavior by exploring research questions as they pertain to natural and sexual selection.

The concentration targets the development of the research skills necessary to pursue (M.S.) or complete (Ph.D.) doctoral training in areas of psychology, such as evolutionary perspectives on cognitive processes, individual differences, and factors influencing behavior in both humans and non-humans. Faculty in the evolutionary and comparative psychology concentration have varied, active research programs currently investigating several facets of psychological experience, including human and non-human cognition, prosociality, cooperation, memory, concept formation, theory of mind, individual differences, behavioral endocrinology, mate choice, interpersonal relationships, mate guarding/jealousy, mate choice copying, person perception, preferences, attractiveness, human sexual behavior and animal/human interactions.

Faculty in the Evolutionary and Comparative Psychology Concentration

Dr. Melissa McDonald: My primary program of research attempts to improve our understanding of why intergroup bias is a pervasive feature of human societies. To this end, I adopt an interdisciplinary approach drawing on research from social and personality psychology as well as anthropology and evolutionary biology. Within this framework, I am interested in how the psychological systems that produce intergroup bias operate, with a particular emphasis on how these systems differ for men and women. For example, my research explores questions such as: Why is intergroup bias so often a male-on-male affair? What are the ultimate motivations of intergroup bias for men and women, and more specifically, when and why do they differ? And, how do situational features and individual differences shape the expression of intergroup bias?  Most recently, I have become interested in developing practical interventions for reducing bias and conflict between groups. For more information, please visit:

Dr. Todd Shackelford: Much of my research addresses sexual conflict between men and women, guided by an evolutionary psychological perspective. I am particularly interested in testing hypotheses derived from sperm competition theory. I use several methodologies in this research, including semen analysis, penile plethysmography, self-report and partner-report surveys, content analyses of pornographic DVDs and websites, and meta-analytic reviews of psychiatric case reports. For additional information and to download publications, please visit

Dr. Jennifer Vonk: I am a comparative/cognitive psychologist with primary research interests in two overlapping areas: (1) animal cognition, and (2) cognitive development. The underlying goal of my work is to examine cognitive continuities and discontinuities between humans and both closely and distantly related species. Thus, my work focuses on examining both phylogenetic and ontogenetic origins of cognitive processes that may or may not be shared with humans. Current work centers on social cognition, such as theory of mind, co-operation, prosociality, and reasoning about emotions, as well as physical cognition, such as causal reasoning, analogical reasoning, numerosity, and natural concept formation. I am collaborating with the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare at the Detroit Zoo and the Organization for Bat Conservation to tackle issue of animal welfare as well. Recent work with humans is focused on examining the effects of religiosity, attachment, and perspective-taking on human decision-making processes. For additional information and to download publications, please visit

Dr. Lisa Welling: My research mainly focuses on hormonal and psychological sources of individual differences in human preferences, perception, and behavior.  For example, my work has investigated how menstrual cycle effects, hormonal contraceptive use, and other sources of hormonal variation affect mate choice and person perception in men and women. Other research interests into individual differences in adaptive preferences have investigated penchants for sexually dimorphic cues, cues to kinship/relatedness, dominance, health, condition-dependent preferences, and salience of emotional expressions.  Finally, given the incredible importance of mate choice and interpersonal relationships on reproduction and overall fitness, I am interested in human sexual behavior and adaptive preferences for underlying markers of mate quality. For more information and to download publications, please visit

Dr. Virgil Zeigler-Hill: My primary research interests are in three interrelated areas: (1) self-esteem, (2) dark personality features (e.g., narcissism, psychopathy, spitefulness), and (3) interpersonal relationships. Though divergent at times, these substantive areas often overlap in my research so that much of my work reflects an integration of these topics. In my research concerning self-esteem, I have focused primarily on the causes and consequences of fragile high self-esteem as well as the development of the status-signaling model of self-esteem. My research concerning dark personality features is focused on identifying potentially maladaptive aspects of personality and examining their connections with important life outcomes (e.g., psychological adjustment). Finally, in the area of interpersonal relationships, I examine how personality features as well as beliefs about the self and one’s romantic partner influence intimacy, relationship satisfaction, jealousy, infidelity, and longevity in close relationships. For more information about my research and to download publications, please visit