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Randolph M. Nesse, M.D.

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Randolph M. Nesse, M.D.

Professor of Psychiatry
University of Michigan

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Dr. Nesse is a Professor of Psychiatry, a Professor of Psychology, a Research Professor at the Research Center for Group Dynamics at the Institute for Social Research, and Director of the Evolution and Human Adaptation Program. He conducts research on the evolutionary origins and functions of emotions. A central goal of his work is to understand how negative emotions are evolutionarily adaptive, and how natural selection shaped the mechanisms that “keep our emotions in check.”

Dr. Nesse is one of the founders of the field of Darwinian medicine, which uses the principles of evolutionary biology to address health problems. In particular, his research is about how low mood is useful when individuals are pursuing unreachable goals, and how it can escalate into clinical depression. He is also interested in why about 15% of the population is especially sensitive to such situations. Recently, he has focused on the evolutionary origins of human capacities for morality and close relationships.

Dr. Nesse received his M.D. from the University of Michigan, where he continues to teach, see patients, and conduct research. Among his many publications, Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine, coauthored with the evolutionary biologist George Williams, is often credited with igniting a new line of work. He is the editor of The Evolution and Medicine Review, he serves on the editorial board of many journals, and his extensive schedule of international lectures brings together people interested in evolution, emotions, and mental disorders.

Awards and Credentials

  1. American Psychiatric Society, Distinguished Psychiatrist Lecturer, May 2005
  2. Editor, The Evolution and Medicine Review
  3. Fellow, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (Institute for Advanced Study), 2007-2008
  4. Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association

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Recommended Reading List

  • Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine. Nesse, R., et al. (1994). Vintage Books.
  • “The Great Opportunity: Evolutionary Applications in Medicine.” Nesse, R.M., et al. (2008). Evolutionary Applications, 1 (1).
  • “Evolution, Emotions, and Emotional Disorders.” Nesse, R.M., et al. (2009). American Psychologist, 64(2).


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