The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘evolutionary psychology’

25 Mil­lion Years of Us vs. Them

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 21, 2011

From World News:

Like peo­ple, some of our mon­key cousins tend to take an “us ver­sus them” view of the world, a study has found. This sug­gests that the ten­den­cy for hu­man groups to clash may stem from a dis­tant ev­o­lu­tion­ary past, sci­en­tists say.

Yale Un­ivers­ity re­search­ers led by psy­chol­o­gist Lau­rie San­tos found in a se­ries of ex­pe­ri­ments that mon­keys treat mon­keys from out­side their groups with the same sus­pi­cion and dis­like as their hu­man cousins tend to treat out­siders. The find­ings are re­ported in the March is­sue of the Jour­nal of Per­son­al­ity and So­cial Psy­chol­o­gy.

“One of the more trou­bling as­pects of hu­man na­ture is that we eval­u­ate peo­ple dif­fer­ently de­pend­ing on wheth­er they’re a mem­ber of our ‘in­group’ or ‘out­group,’” San­tos said. “Pretty much eve­ry con­flict in hu­man his­to­ry has in­volved peo­ple mak­ing dis­tinc­tions on the ba­sis of who is a mem­ber of their own race, re­li­gion, so­cial class, and so on. The ques­tion we were in­ter­est­ed in is: Where do these types of group dis­tinc­tions come from?”

The an­swer, she adds, is that such bi­ases have ap­par­ently been shaped by 25 mil­lion years of ev­o­lu­tion and not just by hu­man cul­ture.

“The bad news is that the ten­den­cy to dis­like out­group mem­bers ap­pears to be ev­o­lu­tion­arily quite old, and there­fore may be less sim­ple to elim­i­nate than we’d like to think,” San­tos said. “The good news, though, is that even mon­keys seem to be flex­i­ble about who counts as a group mem­ber. If we hu­mans can find ways to har­ness this evolved flex­i­bil­ity, it might al­low us to be­come an even more tol­er­ant species.”

San­tos and mem­bers of her lab stud­ied rhe­sus ma­caque mon­keys liv­ing on an is­land off the coast of Puerto Rico. Mon­keys in this popula­t­ion nat­u­rally form dif­fer­ent so­cial groups based on family his­to­ry.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tors ex­ploited a well-known ten­den­cy of an­i­mals to stare long­er at new or fright­en­ing things than at fa­mil­iar or friendly things. They showed mon­keys pic­tures of oth­er mon­keys who were ei­ther in their so­cial group or mem­bers of a dif­fer­ent group. They found that mon­keys stared long­er at pic­tures of oth­er mon­keys who were out­side their group, sug­gest­ing the crea­tures spon­ta­ne­ously de­tect who is a strang­er and who is a group mem­ber.

* * *

The Yale team’s re­sults sug­gest that the dis­tinc­tions hu­mans make be­tween “us” and “them”— and there­fore the roots of hu­man prej­u­dice—may date back at least 25 mil­lion years, when hu­mans and rhe­sus ma­caques shared a com­mon an­ces­tor.

“So­cial psy­chol­o­gists in­tro­duced the world to the idea that the im­me­di­ate situa­t­ion is hugely pow­er­ful in de­ter­min­ing be­hav­ior, even in­ter­group feel­ings,” said [Situationist Contributor] Mahza­rin Ba­naji of Har­vard Un­ivers­ity, a co-author of the pa­per. “Evo­lu­tion­ary the­o­rists have made us aware of our an­ces­tral past. In this work, we weave the two to­geth­er to show the im­por­tance of both of these in­flu­ences at work.”

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More here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Conflict, Evolutionary Psychology, Implicit Associations, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

The Situation of Experimental Subjects

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 22, 2010

Joe Henrich, Stephen Heine,  and Ara Norenzayan recently posted their paper, “The Weirdest People in the World?” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

* * *

Behavioral scientists routinely publish broad claims about human psychology and behavior in the world’s top journals based on samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) societies. Researchers – often implicitly – assume that either there is little variation across human populations, or that these “standard subjects” are as representative of the species as any other population. Are these assumptions justified? Here, our review of the comparative database from across the behavioral sciences suggests both that there is substantial variability in experimental results across populations and that WEIRD subjects are particularly unusual compared with the rest of the species – frequent outliers. The domains reviewed include visual perception, fairness, cooperation, spatial reasoning, categorization and inferential induction, moral reasoning, reasoning styles, self-concepts and related motivations, and the heritability of IQ. The findings suggest that members of WEIRD societies, including young children, are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans. Many of these findings involve domains that are associated with fundamental aspects of psychology, motivation, and behavior – hence, there are no obvious a priori grounds for claiming that a particular behavioral phenomenon is universal based on sampling from a single subpopulation. Overall, these empirical patterns suggests that we need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature on the basis of data drawn from this particularly thin, and rather unusual, slice of humanity. We close by proposing ways to structurally re‐organize the behavioral sciences to best tackle these challenges.

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You can download the paper for free here.  To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Nicole Stephens on ‘Choice, Social Class, and Agency’,” “Deep Capture – Part VIII,” “The Situation of I.Q.,” and “Cultural Thinking.”

Posted in Abstracts, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 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 Situation of Kindness

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 9, 2009

Yamin Anwar wrote an interesting press release about recent and ongoing research at University of California, Berkeley suggesting that the kindest, and not just the fittest, survive.   Here are some excerpts.

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Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are challenging long-held beliefs that human beings are wired to be selfish. In a wide range of studies, social scientists are amassing a growing body of evidence to show we are evolving to become more compassionate and collaborative in our quest to survive and thrive.

In contrast to “every man for himself” interpretations of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley psychologist and author of “Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life,” and his fellow social scientists are building the case that humans are successful as a species precisely because of our nurturing, altruistic and compassionate traits.

They call it “survival of the kindest.”

“Because of our very vulnerable offspring, the fundamental task for human survival and gene replication is to take care of others,” said Keltner, co-director of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. “Human beings have survived as a species because we have evolved the capacities to care for those in need and to cooperate. As Darwin long ago surmised, sympathy is our strongest instinct.”

Empathy in our genes

Keltner’s team is looking into how the human capacity to care and cooperate is wired into particular regions of the brain and nervous system. One recent study found compelling evidence that many of us are genetically predisposed to be empathetic.

The study, led by UC Berkeley graduate student Laura Saslow and Sarina Rodrigues of Oregon State University, found that people with a particular variation of the oxytocin gene receptor are more adept at reading the emotional state of others, and get less stressed out under tense circumstances.

Informally known as the “cuddle hormone,” oxytocin is secreted into the bloodstream and the brain, where it promotes social interaction, nurturing and romantic love, among other functions.

“The tendency to be more empathetic may be influenced by a single gene,” Rodrigues said.

The more you give, the more respect you get

While studies show that bonding and making social connections can make for a healthier, more meaningful life, the larger question some UC Berkeley researchers are asking is, “How do these traits ensure our survival and raise our status among our peers?”

One answer, according to UC Berkeley social psychologist and sociologist Robb Willer is that the more generous we are, the more respect and influence we wield. In one recent study, Willer and his team gave participants each a modest amount of cash and directed them to play games of varying complexity that would benefit the “public good.” The results, published in the journal American Sociological Review, showed that participants who acted more generously received more gifts, respect and cooperation from their peers and wielded more influence over them.

“The findings suggest that anyone who acts only in his or her narrow self-interest will be shunned, disrespected, even hated,” Willer said. “But those who behave generously with others are held in high esteem by their peers and thus rise in status.”

“Given how much is to be gained through generosity, social scientists increasingly wonder less why people are ever generous and more why they are ever selfish,” he added.

Cultivating the greater good

Such results validate the findings of such “positive psychology” pioneers as Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania whose research in the early 1990s shifted away from mental illness and dysfunction, delving instead into the mysteries of human resilience and optimism.

While much of the positive psychology being studied around the nation is focused on personal fulfillment and happiness, UC Berkeley researchers have narrowed their investigation into how it contributes to the greater societal good.

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The sympathetic touch

As for college-goers, UC Berkeley psychologist Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton has found that cross-racial and cross-ethnic friendships can improve the social and academic experience on campuses. In one set of findings, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, he found that the cortisol levels of both white and Latino students dropped as they got to know each over a series of one-on-one get-togethers. Cortisol is a hormone triggered by stress and anxiety.

Meanwhile, in their investigation of the neurobiological roots of positive emotions, Keltner and his team are zeroing in on the aforementioned oxytocin as well as the vagus nerve, a uniquely mammalian system that connects to all the body’s organs and regulates heart rate and breathing.

Both the vagus nerve and oxytocin play a role in communicating and calming. In one UC Berkeley study, for example, two people separated by a barrier took turns trying to communicate emotions to one another by touching one other through a hole in the barrier. For the most part, participants were able to successfully communicate sympathy, love and gratitude and even assuage major anxiety.

Researchers were able to see from activity in the threat response region of the brain that many of the female participants grew anxious as they waited to be touched. However, as soon as they felt a sympathetic touch, the vagus nerve was activated and oxytocin was released, calming them immediately.

“Sympathy is indeed wired into our brains and bodies; and it spreads from one person to another through touch,” Keltner said.

The same goes for smaller mammals. UC Berkeley psychologist Darlene Francis and Michael Meaney, a professor of biological psychiatry and neurology at McGill University, found that rat pups whose mothers licked, groomed and generally nurtured them showed reduced levels of stress hormones, including cortisol, and had generally more robust immune systems.

Overall, these and other findings at UC Berkeley challenge the assumption that nice guys finish last, and instead support the hypothesis that humans, if adequately nurtured and supported, tend to err on the side of compassion.

“This new science of altruism and the physiological underpinnings of compassion is finally catching up with Darwin’s observations nearly 130 years ago, that sympathy is our strongest instinct,” Keltner said.

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Caring,” New Study Looks at the Roots of Empathy,” “Well-Being Is a Walk in the Park,” and “Some Situational Sources of Longer Life.”

Posted in Life, Positive Psychology | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

Situationism in the News – October

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 18, 2008

situationism-in-the-news

Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of the Situationist news items of October 2008. (They are listed in alphabetical order by source.)

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From Battle of Ideas: “The dubious science of evolutionary psychology

“Evolutionary psychology prides itself on being a valid, scientific account of human psychology (and behaviour) by tying itself to the scientific theory of natural evolution. But evolution is an explanation of physical, anatomical traits . . . The plausibility of evolutionary psychology rests on the question of whether psychological attributes (patriotism, altruism, romantic love, aesthetic judgments, logical reasoning, recollecting your grandmother’s birthday, and studying to get into college) are analogous to anatomical structures in their origins and in their functioning. If they are not analogous, then it is a mistake to explain them in terms of evolutionary theory which explains physical, anatomical features determined by biological mechanisms.” Read more . . .

From CNN Money: “How to rebuild America

“America can pull through the current economic crisis with a dose of political maturity and a bit of luck. Success will mean the end of the Reagan era, of an ideology that has brought the country to its knees.” Read more . . .

From The Independent: “Scientists prove it really is a thin line between love and hate

“Love and hate are intimately linked within the human brain, according to a study that has discovered the biological basis for the two most intense emotions.” . . . “Scientists studying the physical nature of hate have found that some of the nervous circuits in the brain responsible for it are the same as those that are used during the feeling of romantic love – although love and hate appear to be polar opposites.” Read more . . .

From ObserverThis is Your Brain on Politics

“U.S. presidential candidates have been stumping for nearly two years with their every move being analyzed and reported ad nauseum. Logically, voters should be able to tap into lots of information when they make their decisions come November.  But it turns out there’s a lot more going on when we step behind the curtain to cast our ballot.” Read more . . .

From ScienceNOW: “When the Right Look Trumps the Right Stuff

“Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin received a media lashing last week when word trickled out that her makeup artist snagged $22,800 in the first half of October. Pundits warned that such royal treatment might undermine her “down home” persona, but the makeover may have been a savvy move: New research adds more weight to the idea that voters value attractiveness more than competence in the faces of female politicians.” Read more . . .

From Scientific American: “The Science of Gossip: Why We Can’t Stop Ourselves

“When you cut away its many layers, our fixation on popular culture reflects an intense interest in the doings of other people; this preoccupation with the lives of others is a by-product of the psychology that evolved in prehistoric times to make our ancestors socially successful. Thus, it appears that we are hardwired to be fascinated by gossip.” Read more . . .

Posted in Abstracts, Emotions, Ideology, Life, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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