Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder as an Adaptive Anachronism: The Operation of Phylogenetic Inertia Upon Obsessive Populations in Western Modernity


  • Steven Charles Hertler Department of Psychology, College of New Rochelle, New York, USA


obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, personality, phylogenetic inertia, modernity, evolution


Consistent with its classification by the American Psychiatric Association as one of ten personality disorders, nearly all etiologies assume Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder to be an environmentally instilled syndrome. However, a recent evolutionary etiology, better accounting for prevalence rates and heritability estimates, ecologically explains obsessive psychology as an adaptation to northern climates with express seasonality, low population density, and low social complexity. While this evolutionary etiology justifiably eschews assumptions of pathology, it does not explain why those assumptions were so long made. To this end, the concept of phylogenetic inertia, the decrease in fitness arising from incongruity between past and present selective pressures, is applied. The present paper considers how an evolved strategy could be mistaken for a detrimental disorder by examining the misalignment between evolved obsessive psychology and modernity's demands for flexible attention, communion and collaboration, openness and complexity. As discussed, however, empirical studies are divided, such that only some show evidence of dysfunction; moreover, any evidence of dysfunction is relativistic in that it does not impair survival or decrease reproduction. While suggestions for future research are made, from the weight of present evidence it appears that Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, evolved in prehistory, remains adaptive in modernity and so phylogenetic inertia can only be invoked as a metaphorical heuristic.

Author Biography

Steven Charles Hertler, Department of Psychology, College of New Rochelle, New York, USA

I am an alumnus of SUNY Cortland where I received a bachelor’s in psychology, and of Pace University where I received a doctorate in clinical psychology. Clincally, I work as a diagnostician at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and operate a private practice specializing in assessment and diagnosis.  I teach as an adjunct-assistant prof. at the College of New Rochelle, while also teaching classes at The College of Saint Elizabeth and Caldwell University.  The present submission is the sixth of approximately nine papers to mature from my past four years of research on the obsessive personality.  Previously published papers include: A Review and Critique of Obsesive-Compulsive Personality Disorder Etiologies-Europe's Journal of Psychology; Understanding Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder: A Review of Sensitivity and Specificity-Sage Open; The Continuum of Conscientiousness: The Antagonistic Interests Among Obsessive and Antisocial Personalities-The Polish Psychological Bulletin.  My efforts in this line of study are representative of my efforts generally to reinterpret the assumptions of the past with the aid of psychology’s recently acquired Darwinian metatheory.