Carroll's Evolution and Literary Theory was one of the first literary studies to "take the cue from important developments in disciplines such as evolutionary psychology, evolutionary anthropology, and sociobiology," seeing evolutionary biology as an alternative to poststructuralism and rejecting poststructuralism's textualism (the notion that world is made of words) and indeterminancy (the self-subverting character of "discourse").
In the essays collected in Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature and Literature, Carroll has explored the emerging field of literary Darwinism, worked toward building a comprehensive model of human nature, critiqued poststructuralism, traditional humanism, ecocriticism, cognitive rhetoric, and narrow-school evolutionary psychology, and offered examples of practical Darwinist criticism.
In a volume of essays entitled Reading Human Nature, Carroll examined the adaptive function of literature and the other arts, offered Darwinist interpretations of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wuthering Heights, and Hamlet, gave examples of quantitative literary analysis, and reflected on the course of intellectual history from Darwin to the present. In Graphing Jane Austen, Carroll and colleagues has applied empirical methods like an Internet survey of reader responses to an evolutionary analysis of British nineteenth century fiction.
Joseph Carroll has also produced an edition of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, co-edited volumes 1 and 2 of The Evolutionary Review, and co-edited Evolution, Literature, and Film: A Reader.