Evolutionary biology suggests that endurance running was important in the pursuit of prey, and instrumental in the evolution of hominins. According to fossil evidence, key physiological adaptions may have evolved approximately two million years ago to benefit long distance running. The relatively new field of evolutionary psychology, like cognitive science, identifies the human mind as a computational mechanism seated in neural tissue, designed, like any other organ, by the processes of natural selection. If correct, then many of our psychological constructs are a result of adaptations to previous environments that increased both the likelihood of survival and reproduction. In an attempt to explain the behavior of the modern human, evolutionary psychologists aim to answer how a particular behavior develops in relation to the environment, whether the mechanisms that underpin it were acquired or innate, and why such mechanisms evolved. More recently, this approach has been applied to performance, motivation and reasoning in the fields of sport and exercise psychology. As a result this presentation aims to provide clarity regarding the current understanding of evolutionary psychology and identify its application to endurance running.
Evolutionary psychology, as an approach, has been developing over the last twenty years though currently limited literature exists regarding the application of evolutionary psychology to sport. In particular, minimal research has been performed with regards to the evolutionary origins of the psychological mechanisms involved in endurance running. Future research, from an evolutionary perspective, may benefit areas such as motivation, mental toughness and attention strategies, and improve the support sport professionals and psychologists provide to endurance athletes.