The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘evolutionary biology’

The Evolutionary Biology of Obesity

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 13, 2012

Harvard’s Daniel Lieberman, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology, speaks about the evolutionary origins of today’s obesity epidemic.

For more on the situation of eating, see Situationist contributors Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosfion’s law review article Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America.  For a listing of numerous Situaitonist posts on the situational sources of obesity, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Evolutionary Psychology, Food and Drug Law, History, Life, Video | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Iain Couzin Speaks Tomorrow on the Situation of Collective Behavior

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 27, 2012

“From Democratic Consensus to Cannibalistic Hordes: The Principles of Collective Behavior”

Lecture by Iain Couzin

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 6:00 PM

Why do billions of locusts suddenly break into motion? How do ants carry heavy loads and march with orderly precision along densely packed trails? How do flocks of birds and schools of fish select their navigators? And how do we—humans—make decisions as citizens, drivers, and numerous other social situations? Iain Couzin, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton, has made major contributions to understanding the dynamics and evolution of collective animal behavior.

  • Free and open to the public, Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street.
  • Free parking available in the 52 Oxford Street garage.
  • Part of the Evolution Matters lecture series. Supported by a generous gift from Drs. Herman and Joan Suit.

You can watch an earlier version of Professor Couzin’s lecture below.

Sample of related Situationist posts:

Image from Flickr.

Posted in Events, Evolutionary Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Even monkeys know when they’re being treated unfairly

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 2, 2010

In the video below the jump, primate expert Frans de Waal explores the effect of unequal rewards on behavior.


Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Distribution, Evolutionary Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

The Situation of Political and Religious Beliefs?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 1, 2010

Science Daily summarized an intriguing (and, no doubt, soon-to-be-very-controversial study) finding that “Intelligent People Have Values Novel in Human Evolutionary History,” (such as liberalism and atheisim).  Here are some excerpts from that summary.

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More intelligent people are statistically significantly more likely to exhibit social values and religious and political preferences that are novel to the human species in evolutionary history.  Specifically, liberalism and atheism, and for men (but not women), preference for sexual exclusivity correlate with higher intelligence, a new study finds.

The study, published in the March 2010 issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal Social Psychology Quarterly, advances a new theory to explain why people form particular preferences and values.  The theory suggests that more intelligent people are more likely than less intelligent people to adopt evolutionarily novel preferences and values, but intelligence does not correlate with preferences and values that are old enough to have been shaped by evolution over millions of years.”

“Evolutionarily novel” preferences and values are those that humans are not biologically designed to have and our ancestors probably did not possess.  In contrast, those that our ancestors had for millions of years are “evolutionarily familiar.”

“General intelligence, the ability to think and reason, endowed our ancestors with advantages in solving evolutionarily novel problems for which they did not have innate solutions,” says Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics and Political Science.  “As a result, more intelligent people are more likely to recognize and understand such novel entities and situations than less intelligent people, and some of these entities and situations are preferences, values, and lifestyles.”

An earlier study by Kanazawa found that more intelligent individuals were more nocturnal, waking up and staying up later than less intelligent individuals.  Because our ancestors lacked artificial light, they tended to wake up shortly before dawn and go to sleep shortly after dusk.  Being nocturnal is evolutionarily novel.

In the current study, Kanazawa argues that humans are evolutionarily designed to be conservative, caring mostly about their family and friends, and being liberal, caring about an indefinite number of genetically unrelated strangers they never meet or interact with, is evolutionarily novel.  So more intelligent children may be more likely to grow up to be liberals.

Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) support Kanazawa’s hypothesis.  Young adults who subjectively identify themselves as “very liberal” have an average IQ of 106 during adolescence while those who identify themselves as “very conservative” have an average IQ of 95 during adolescence.

Similarly, religion is a byproduct of humans’ tendency to perceive agency and intention as causes of events, to see “the hands of God” at work behind otherwise natural phenomena.  “Humans are evolutionarily designed to be paranoid, and they believe in God because they are paranoid,” says Kanazawa.  This innate bias toward paranoia served humans well when self-preservation and protection of their families and clans depended on extreme vigilance to all potential dangers.  “So, more intelligent children are more likely to grow up to go against their natural evolutionary tendency to believe in God, and they become atheists.”

Young adults who identify themselves as “not at all religious” have an average IQ of 103 during adolescence, while those who identify themselves as “very religious” have an average IQ of 97 during adolescence.

In addition, humans have always been mildly polygynous in evolutionary history.  Men in polygynous marriages were not expected to be sexually exclusive to one mate, whereas men in monogamous marriages were.  In sharp contrast, whether they are in a monogamous or polygynous marriage, women were always expected to be sexually exclusive to one mate.  So being sexually exclusive is evolutionarily novel for men, but not for women.  And the theory predicts that more intelligent men are more likely to value sexual exclusivity than less intelligent men, but general intelligence makes no difference for women’s value on sexual exclusivity.  Kanazawa’s analysis of Add Health data supports these sex-specific predictions as well.

One intriguing but theoretically predicted finding of the study is that more intelligent people are no more or no less likely to value such evolutionarily familiar entities as marriage, family, children, and friends.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Stone-Age Mind in an Information-Age Situation,” Seeing Faces,” “The Situation of Hair Color,”The Situation of Reason,” “The Situation of Ideology – Part I,” “The Magnetism of Beautiful People,”The Situation of Revenge,” and “The Situation of Kissing.”

(The illustration above is by Situationist artist Marc Scheff.)

Posted in Ideology, Illusions, Life, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Endowment Effect in Chimpanzees – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 14, 2008

Chimpanzee by lightmatter - FlickrSarah F. Brosnan, Owen D. Jones, Susan P. Lambeth, Mary Catherine Mareno, Amanda S. Richardson, and Steven Schapiro, posted their article, “Endowment Effects in Chimpanzees” 17 Current Biology, 1704-1707 (October 9, 2007) on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

* * *

Human behavior is not always consistent with standard rational choice predictions. The much-investigated variety of apparent deviations from rational choice predictions provides a promising arena for the merger of economics and biology. Although little is known about the extent to which other species also exhibit these seemingly irrational patterns of human decision-making and choice behavior, similarities across species would suggest a common evolutionary root to the phenomena.

The present study investigated whether chimpanzees exhibit an endowment effect, a seemingly paradoxical behavior in which humans tend to value a good they have just come to possess more than they would have only a moment before. We show the first evidence that chimpanzees do exhibit an endowment effect, favoring items they just received more than items they prefer that could be acquired through exchange. Moreover, we demonstrate that – as predicted – the effect is far stronger for food than for less evolutionarily salient objects, perhaps due to historically greater risks associated with keeping a valuable item versus attempting to exchange it for another. These findings suggest that the larger set of seeming deviations from rational choice predictions may be common to humans and chimpanzees, and that the evaluation of these through a lens of evolutionary relevance may yield further insights in both humans and other species.

* * *

To read about a related paper, see “A New Theory of the Endowment Effect.”

Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics, Choice Myth, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

A New Theory of the Endowment Effect – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 26, 2008

Image by by Chi King - FlickrOwen Jones and Sarah Brosnan have posted their article, “Law, Biology, and Property: A New Theory of the Endowment Effect” 48 William & Mary Law Review (2008) on SSRN. We’ve included the abstract below.

* * *

Recent work at the intersection of law and behavioral biology has suggested numerous contexts in which legal thinking could benefit by integrating knowledge from behavioral biology. In one of those contexts, behavioral biology may help to provide theoretical foundation for, and potentially increased predictive power concerning, various psychological traits relevant to law. This Article describes an experiment that explores that context.

The paradoxical psychological bias known as the endowment effect puzzles economists, skews market behavior, impedes efficient exchange of goods and rights, and thereby poses important problems for law. Although the effect is known to vary widely, there are at present no satisfying explanations for why it manifests when and how it does. Drawing on evolutionary biology, this Article provides a new theory of the endowment effect. Briefly, we hypothesize that the endowment effect is an evolved propensity of humans and, further, that the degree to which an item is evolutionarily relevant will affect the strength of the endowment effect. The theory generates a novel combination of three predictions. These are: (1) the effect is likely to be observable in many other species, including close primate relatives; (2) the prevalence of the effect in other species is likely to vary across items; and (3) the prevalence of the endowment effect will increase or decrease, respectively, with the increasing or decreasing evolutionary salience of the item in question.

The authors tested these predictions in a chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) experiment, recently published in Current Biology. The data, further explored here, are consistent with each of the three predictions. Consequently, this theory may explain why the endowment effect exists in humans and other species. It may also help both to predict and to explain some of the variability in the effect when it does manifest. And, more broadly, the results of the experiment suggest that combining life science and social science perspectives could lead to a more coherent framework for understanding the wider variety of other cognitive heuristics and biases relevant to law.

Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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