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Posts matching tags 'evolutionary psychology'


Satoshi Kanazawa, evolutionary psychology researcher at the London School of Economics, has published a list of ten controversial assertions about human nature; they vary from well-trodden ones (men being naturally sexually promiscuous/drawn to younger partners and such; there are several points drawn from the asymmetry of sexual selection) to more contentious ones; Kanazawa contends that most suicide bombers are Muslims because polygyny, and the sexual frustration of a society where powerful men monopolise the pool of women, serves as powerful motivation, which sounds a bit reductionistic, and would suggest that suicide bombers would predominantly be of low status or prospects, which has not been the case. Meanwhile, liberals are more intelligent than conservatives (as measured by IQ scores) because conservatism is a no-brainer:

"The ability to think and reason endowed our ancestors with advantages in solving evolutionarily novel problems for which they did not have innate solutions. As a result, more intelligent people are more likely to recognise and understand such novel entities and situations than less intelligent people, and some of these entities and situations are preferences, values, and lifestyles," Dr Kanazawa said.
Humans are evolutionarily designed to be conservative, caring mostly about their family and friends. Being liberal and caring about an indefinite number of genetically unrelated strangers is evolutionarily novel. So more intelligent children may be more likely to grow up to be liberals.
Also, both creativity and criminality have a common basis in costly peacock-tail behaviour:
The tendency to commit crimes peaks in adolescence and then rapidly declines. But this curve is not limited to crime – it is also evident in every quantifiable human behaviour that is seen by potential mates and costly (not affordable by all sexual competitors). In the competition for mates men may act violently or they may express their competitiveness through their creative activities.

contrarianism evolutionary psychology human nature psychology 0


A new theory claims that human monogamy is a direct result of the development of beer; or more precisely, firstly, that monogamy was the result of social changes that arose from the shift from a nomadic to an agricultural (and thus hierarchical and patriarchial) lifestyle, and secondly, that the main impetus to move to agriculture wasn't so much a desire to build cities or empires but to brew beer.

beer evolutionary psychology history psychology sex 4


The Rap Guide To Human Nature is a hip-hop album about evolutionary psychology by a Canadian "rap troubador" named Baba Brinkman. It's not a joke: the beats are sharp, and Brinkman rhymes with the speed and dexterity of an accomplished rapper, deftly laying out the theories and controversies of evolutionary psychology, from kin selection to the biological roots of religious and political belief, twin studies to alternative models of human nature, and of course to areas such as sexual competition and social status where hip-hop culture and evolutionary psychology intersect. Note that, as expected from rap, the lyrics are probably not suitable for children.

(via Mind Hacks) awesome biology culture evolutionary psychology hip-hop psychology religion science sex 1


Evolutionary psychologist Daniel Nettle claims that a lot of the social problems associated with socioeconomic deprivation are actually evolutionarily adaptive strategies for maximising opportunities when faced with uncertain prospects. To wit: risk-taking behaviour such as gambling and crime make sense when, ordinarily, individuals' prospects look bleak, unhealthy diets make sense when there isn't much of a future to plan for (junk food, after all, is a far more economical source of energy in the short term than eating healthily), and, as for teenage pregnancy, that's what's known as a fast reproductive strategy (i.e., have as many offspring as quickly as possible and hope that some do OK rather than putting all your proverbial eggs in one basket):

At a meeting last year, Sarah Johns at the University of Kent in Canterbury, UK, reported that in her study of young women from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds in Gloucestershire, UK, those who perceived their environment as risky or dangerous, and those that thought they might die at a relatively young age, were more likely to become mothers while they were in their teens. "If your dad died of a heart attack at 45, your 40-year-old mum has got chronic diabetes and you've had one boyfriend who has been stabbed, you know you've got to get on with it," she says.
Fathers in deprived neighbourhoods are more likely to be absent, which could be because they are following "fast" strategies of their own. These include risky activities designed to increase their wealth, prestige and dominance, allowing them to compete more successfully with other men for sexual opportunities. These needn't necessarily be antisocial, but often they are. "I'm thinking about crime here, I'm thinking about gambling," says Nettle, and other risky or violent behaviours that we know are typical of men in rough environments. A fast strategy also means a father is less likely to stick with one woman for the long term, reducing his involvement with his children.
Once you are in a situation where the expected healthy lifetime is short whatever you do, then there is less incentive to look after yourself. Investing a lot in your health in a bad environment is like spending a fortune on maintaining a car in a place where most cars get stolen anyway, says Nettle. It makes more sense to live in the moment and put your energies into reproduction now.
These fast strategies, unfortunately, form a feedback loop: children brought up with minimal investment by fast-strategy parents are more likely to perceive their prospects as bleak and engage in similar strategies (studies have shown daughters of absentee fathers being more likely to become pregnant in their teens, for example). Meanwhile, junk-food diets stunt cognitive development, further sabotaging attempts to break the cycle.

The upshot of all this is that, if Nettle's theory holds, campaigns against unhealthy or antisocial behaviours are merely treating the symptoms, and real improvements can only come from addressing the underlying causes of such insecurity, i.e., poverty and uncertainty. Of course, actually doing so is a lot more expensive and could prove electorally unpopular, especially when opportunistic politicians are willing to promise cheaper solutions and voters are eager to believe that they will work.

biology crime evolutionary psychology inequality junk food poverty society 2


A team of evolutionary psychologists have revised Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. The original hierarchy is a pyramid of needs, with basic ones (food, shelter and, because it was invented in the 1960s, sex) at the bottom, and subsequent layers adding more advanced ones, like love, esteem and, at the apex, self-actualisation. Douglas Kenrick's team, however, does away with all that fluffy human-potential thinking and replaces it with the brute certainties of evolutionary psychology: at the top is not self-actualisation but parenting; i.e., doing what your genes built you to do and passing them on. The levels below have to do with acquiring and retaining a genetically fit mate, and building up the necessary social status to compete for the prize.

I am generally a fan of evolutionary psychology as an explanatory tool, though this doesn't sit well with me; it strikes me as a bit too reductionistic, and a bit too basic a model. Is the ultimate goal really to breed? Can we say that someone who has settled down in anonymous suburbia with a stable if dull job and started pumping out the children is more fulfilled than one who has found self-actualisation (through social, creative or otherwise constructive pursuits) but is childless? Are those who choose the latter path deluding themselves? It seems to say so.

(via MeFi) evolutionary psychology maslow's hierarchy of needs psychology 3


The Graun has turned what was meant to be a review of the latest Hollywood romantic comedy into a critique of this culture's emphasis on romantic love:

Romcoms don't merely provide an evening's harmless escapism. They help underpin one of the most potent doctrines of our culture: the sanctity of romantic love. It's a doctrine in which many find relief from the materialism, apathy and banality of a society no longer hallowed by religious transcendence. Yet it comes at a price.
The involuntary cognitive state that Jennifer Aniston finds herself depicting so frequently is real enough, but not particularly mystical. Brain scans show it to be generated by the frisky interaction of chemicals like norepinephrine and dopamine. If this hubbub's triggered by recognition of genetic quality, as now seems to be assumed, that would explain why Aniston and her ilk have to be so annoyingly good-looking.
What we call love induces some of the worst behaviour that we're likely to encounter. Yet when this occurs, it usually invites no censure, let alone punishment. Romantic love is a get-out-of-jail-free card that legitimises actions which would otherwise be thought contemptible. Home-wreckers steal something cherished far more deeply than money or possessions. Nonetheless, they go on to build their happiness on the misery of others without having to endure the slightest disapproval. After all, they had no choice but to do what they did: they were in love.
In other cultures, romantic love enjoys no comparable status. Our own ancestors might find our veneration of it as puzzling as we find their worship of pagan gods. In our otherwise disrespectful age, the persistence of its dominion is rather remarkable. Would it have proved so enduring without the big screen's relentless promotion of its supposedly limitless benefits?
I have been wondering whether the emphasis on romantic love in popular culture (a significant proportion of mainstream pop songs seem to be about the transitions into and out of the state of being in love, for example) and the sexualisation of the media are not two sides of the same coin, namely a focus on relations between people as being a marketplace of potential partners, rather than less glamorous and less dynamic forms of relations. Could this be a sort of social Reaganism/Thatcherism, the ideological assertion that "everything is a market" translated into the realm of interpersonal relations?

culture evolutionary psychology film hollywood love psychology society 2


One of the most striking differences between European and Asian societies is the question of individualism versus collectivism. This arguably goes beyond the question of individual rights and social obligations, and into the way people think about entities versus systems:

There is no better way to shatter someone's "we are all the same" illusion than to show pictures of a monkey, a panda and a banana to someone from Japan and someone from Britain. Ask them which two images go together. Chances are, the Japanese will pick the monkey and the banana, because they have a functional relationship: the former eats the latter. The Brit will select the panda and the monkey, because they are both mammals. As Richard Nisbett of the University of Michigan described in his 2003 book, "The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently … and Why," Westerners typically see classifications where Asians see relationships. He means "see" literally. When students in one study looked at tanks holding a large fish, a bunch of small fry and the usual aquarium plants and rocks, the Japanese later said they'd seen lots of background elements; the Americans saw the big fish.
Now a new hypothesis from evolutionary psychology suggests that these cognitive traits could have been the result of natural selection driven by disease-causing microbes, i.e., in pathogen-rich environments, tendencies towards collectivism were adaptive (i.e., you were more likely to survive), whereas where there were fewer pathogens, populations had the luxury of evolving more ruggedly individualistic tendencies:
A reluctance to interact with strangers can protect against pathogens because strangers are more likely to carry strange microbes that the group lacks immunity to, says Mark Schaller of the University of British Columbia; xenophobia keeps away strangers and their strange bugs. Respect for traditions also works: ways of preparing food (using hot pepper, say, which kills microbes), rules about hygiene and laws about marriage (wed only in-group members, whose microbes you're probably immune to) likely arose to keep pathogens at bay. "Conformity helps maintain these buffers against disease," says Corey Fincher of the University of New Mexico; mavericks are dangerous. In places with a high prevalence of pathogens, such cultural traits—which happen to be the hallmarks of societies that value the group over the individual—would be adaptive. Put another way, societies that arose in pathogen-rife regions and did not have such traits would be wiped out by disease. Societies that did have them would survive.
When the scientists examined how closely collectivism tracked the prevalence of pathogens, they found a strong correlation, they will report in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. In general, tropical regions have more pathogens, and societies there tend to be more group-oriented than those at higher latitudes. Ecuador, Panama, Pakistan, India, China and Japan are the world's most group-first societies—and historically have had the highest prevalence of natural pathogens due to their climate and topography. The most individualistic are in Northern Europe and the United States, where there have historically been fewer native pathogens. For years scientists have scratched their heads over why collectivism declines with distance from the equator, and why living in colder regions should promote individualism (you'd think polar people would want to huddle together more). The answer seems to be that equatorial regions breed more pathogens.
The research acknowledges that nurture and culture play a significant role (i.e., Asian immigrants in America soon become as individualistic as other members of their adoptive society), so any genetic bias may be a subtle one. Though when a number of individuals form a civilisation, it may only take a slight cognitive bias to change the basic cultural assumptions that evolve.

On the other hand, given that the research is of American and Canadian (i.e., Western) origin, perhaps it rests on a western, individualist cultural bias. Which doesn't necessarily invalidate it, though it makes one wonder how a Japanese or Chinese evolutionary psychologist would theorise the origins of the differences between individualist and collectivist societies.

(via MeFi) collectivism culture evolution evolutionary psychology individualism science society 2


Evolutionary biologist Carl Zimmer looks at evidence suggesting that romantic love is a biological adaptation, and is not unique to humans; a far cry from the blank-slater hypothesis that romantic love is a cultural construct invented by mediæval troubadors and/or Mills & Boon, and before that everything was unromantically practical arranged marriages and dynastic property transactions:

There are reasons to conclude that romance as well was shaped by the unsentimental hand of evolution. We humans don't have a monopoly on oxytocin and other molecules linked to feeling in love. Love may switch on reward pathways in our brains, but other animals have similar--if simpler--reward pathways too.
In her experiments, Haselton finds evidence for love as an adaptation. She and her colleagues have people think about how much they love someone and then try to suppress thoughts of other attractive people. They then have the same people think about how much they sexually desire those same partners and then try again to suppress thoughts about others. It turns out that love does a much better job of pushing out those rivals than sex does. Haselton argues that this effect is exactly what you'd expect if sex was a drive to reproduce and love was a drive to form a long-term commitment.

(via Mind Hacks) evolution evolutionary psychology human nature love nature vs. nurture 6


The New York Times has an excellent piece by Steven Pinker on the human instinct for moral reasoning:

At the same time, many behaviors have been amoralized, switched from moral failings to lifestyle choices. They include divorce, illegitimacy, being a working mother, marijuana use and homosexuality. Many afflictions have been reassigned from payback for bad choices to unlucky misfortunes. There used to be people called “bums” and “tramps”; today they are “homeless.” Drug addiction is a “disease”; syphilis was rebranded from the price of wanton behavior to a “sexually transmitted disease” and more recently a “sexually transmitted infection.”
This wave of amoralization has led the cultural right to lament that morality itself is under assault, as we see in the group that anointed itself the Moral Majority. In fact there seems to be a Law of Conservation of Moralization, so that as old behaviors are taken out of the moralized column, new ones are added to it. Dozens of things that past generations treated as practical matters are now ethical battlegrounds, including disposable diapers, I.Q. tests, poultry farms, Barbie dolls and research on breast cancer. Food alone has become a minefield, with critics sermonizing about the size of sodas, the chemistry of fat, the freedom of chickens, the price of coffee beans, the species of fish and now the distance the food has traveled from farm to plate.
While what is considered a moral issue differs between cultures and societies (and, to an extent, periods of time), there appear to be five categories for moral judgment hardwired into the human psychology: harm, fairness, community (or group loyalty), authority and purity.
The five spheres are good candidates for a periodic table of the moral sense not only because they are ubiquitous but also because they appear to have deep evolutionary roots. The impulse to avoid harm, which gives trolley ponderers the willies when they consider throwing a man off a bridge, can also be found in rhesus monkeys, who go hungry rather than pull a chain that delivers food to them and a shock to another monkey. Respect for authority is clearly related to the pecking orders of dominance and appeasement that are widespread in the animal kingdom. The purity-defilement contrast taps the emotion of disgust that is triggered by potential disease vectors like bodily effluvia, decaying flesh and unconventional forms of meat, and by risky sexual practices like incest.
The ranking and placement of moral spheres also divides the cultures of liberals and conservatives in the United States. Many bones of contention, like homosexuality, atheism and one-parent families from the right, or racial imbalances, sweatshops and executive pay from the left, reflect different weightings of the spheres. In a large Web survey, Haidt found that liberals put a lopsided moral weight on harm and fairness while playing down group loyalty, authority and purity. Conservatives instead place a moderately high weight on all five. It’s not surprising that each side thinks it is driven by lofty ethical values and that the other side is base and unprincipled.
And, further down:
Though wise people have long reflected on how we can be blinded by our own sanctimony, our public discourse still fails to discount it appropriately. In the worst cases, the thoughtlessness of our brute intuitions can be celebrated as a virtue. In his influential essay “The Wisdom of Repugnance,” Leon Kass, former chair of the President’s Council on Bioethics, argued that we should disregard reason when it comes to cloning and other biomedical technologies and go with our gut: “We are repelled by the prospect of cloning human beings . . . because we intuit and feel, immediately and without argument, the violation of things that we rightfully hold dear. . . . In this age in which everything is held to be permissible so long as it is freely done . . . repugnance may be the only voice left that speaks up to defend the central core of our humanity. Shallow are the souls that have forgotten how to shudder.”
There are, of course, good reasons to regulate human cloning, but the shudder test is not one of them. People have shuddered at all kinds of morally irrelevant violations of purity in their culture: touching an untouchable, drinking from the same water fountain as a Negro, allowing Jewish blood to mix with Aryan blood, tolerating sodomy between consenting men. And if our ancestors’ repugnance had carried the day, we never would have had autopsies, vaccinations, blood transfusions, artificial insemination, organ transplants and in vitro fertilization, all of which were denounced as immoral when they were new.

(via alecm) culture war evolutionary psychology morality politics science secularism society steven pinker values 0


An argument that the abundance of images of attractive people causes widespread unhappiness:

Psychologists Sara Gutierres, Ph.D., and Douglas Kenrick, Ph.D., both of Arizona State University, demonstrated that the contrast effect operates powerfully in the sphere of person-to-person attraction as well. In a series of studies over the past two decades, they have shown that, more than any of us might suspect, judgments of attractiveness (of ourselves and of others) depend on the situation in which we find ourselves. For example, a woman of average attractiveness seems a lot less attractive than she actually is if a viewer has first seen a highly attractive woman. If a man is talking to a beautiful female at a cocktail party and is then joined by a less attractive one, the second woman will seem relatively unattractive.
Psychologists Sara Gutierres, Ph.D., and Douglas Kenrick, Ph.D., both of Arizona State University, demonstrated that the contrast effect operates powerfully in the sphere of person-to-person attraction as well. In a series of studies over the past two decades, they have shown that, more than any of us might suspect, judgments of attractiveness (of ourselves and of others) depend on the situation in which we find ourselves. For example, a woman of average attractiveness seems a lot less attractive than she actually is if a viewer has first seen a highly attractive woman. If a man is talking to a beautiful female at a cocktail party and is then joined by a less attractive one, the second woman will seem relatively unattractive.
The strange thing is, being bombarded with visions of beautiful women (or for women, socially powerful men) doesn't make us think our partners are less physically attractive. It doesn't change our perception of our partner. Instead, by some sleight of mind, it distorts our idea of the pool of possibilities.
Our minds have not caught up. They haven't evolved to correct for MTV. "Our research suggests that our brains don't discount the women on the cover of Cosmo even when subjects know these women are models. Subjects judge an average attractive woman as less desirable as a date after just having seen models," Kenrick says.
So the women men count as possibilities are not real possibilities for most of them. That leads to a lot of guys sitting at home alone with their fantasies of unobtainable supermodels, stuck in a secret, sorry state that makes them unable to access real love for real women. Or, as Kenrick finds, a lot of guys on college campuses whining, "There are no attractive women to date."
This effect apparently manifests itself in higher rates of divorce or persistent singleness due to people exposed to quantities of images of attractiveness their brains are not evolutionarily adapted to, and thus developing dissatisfaction with actual potential partners.

Mind you, this article is rather male-centric (it's partly a survey of studies, and partly a lament from the head of a Los Angeles PR agency, kvetching bitterly about all the unfeasibly gorgeous women he is surrounded by and how their presence is making his life a hell), and doesn't cover the female perspective; i.e., whether women are bombarded with images of unfeasibly attractive potential male partners, and whether this causes them to feel dissatisfied with actual partners (or potential partners) to the same extent.

(via Mind Hacks) beauty evolutionary psychology media psychology sex 0


The Fermi Paradox is the observation that it is highly probable that, somewhere else in the universe, intelligent life would have arisen and made its presence known by now, and yet Earth seems to be alone in the universe. Since the paradox was first posed in the 1940s, a number of solutions have been proposed, many of them not cheering, and many reflected the Cold War era they originated in: perhaps any species that reaches a certain technical level inevitably develops the means to destroy itself, and does so. Perhaps in a universe of aliens competing for resources and having little means of achieving agreement, any species that broadcasts its presence is doomed to be preemptively annihilated by others, lest it develop the means to do so. Which means that all those broadcasts of Malcolm In The Middle we're carelessly sending out to space could be responded to by a barrage of planet-killing projectiles travelling at close to light speed.

Now evolutionary psychology has suggested a new possible solution to Fermi's Paradox: perhaps it's not so much a case of sentient species wiping themselves out upon attaining the means to do so, as of turning inwards and devoting all their energy to video games and virtual reality, things much more immediately gratifying than doing battle with the real universe:

Basically, I think the aliens don't blow themselves up; they just get addicted to computer games. They forget to send radio signals or colonize space because they're too busy with runaway consumerism and virtual-reality narcissism. They don't need Sentinels to enslave them in a Matrix; they do it to themselves, just as we are doing today. Once they turn inwards to chase their shiny pennies of pleasure, they lose the cosmic plot. They become like a self-stimulating rat, pressing a bar to deliver electricity to its brain's ventral tegmental area, which stimulates its nucleus accumbens to release dopamine, which feels...ever so good.
The result is that we don't seek reproductive success directly; we seek tasty foods that have tended to promote survival, and luscious mates who have tended to produce bright, healthy babies. The modern result? Fast food and pornography. Technology is fairly good at controlling external reality to promote real biological fitness, but it's even better at delivering fake fitness--subjective cues of survival and reproduction without the real-world effects. Having real friends is so much more effort than watching Friends. Actually colonizing the galaxy would be so much harder than pretending to have done it when filming Star Wars or Serenity. The business of humanity has become entertainment, and entertainment is the business of feeding fake fitness cues to our brains.
This comes down to the reward mechanisms that served our ancient ancestors' genes well being far too slow to adapt to technological hacks that short-circuit these reward mechanisms:
Fitness-faking technology tends to evolve much faster than our psychological resistance to it. With the invention of the printing press, people read more and have fewer kids. (Only a few curmudgeons lament this.) With the invention of Xbox 360, people would rather play a high-resolution virtual ape in Peter Jackson's King Kong than be a perfect-resolution real human. Teens today must find their way through a carnival of addictively fitness-faking entertainment products: iPods, DVDs, TiVo, Sirius Satellite Radio, Motorola cellphones, the Spice channel, EverQuest, instant messaging, MDMA, BC bud. The traditional staples of physical, mental and social development--athletics, homework, dating--are neglected. The few young people with the self-control to pursue the meritocratic path often get distracted at the last minute. Take, for example, the MIT graduates who apply to do computer game design for Electronics Arts, rather than rocket science for NASA.
The author posits the idea that all intelligent species that develop the technology to create computer simulations of this sort go through the "Great Temptation", and subsequently die out, and that this is happening to humanity, with our only hope of survival as a species would be to develop a puritanical opposition to virtual reality, a sort of biological fundamentalism:
Some individuals and families may start with an "irrational" Luddite abhorrence of entertainment technology, and they may evolve ever more self-control, conscientiousness and pragmatism. They will evolve a horror of virtual entertainment, psychoactive drugs and contraception. They will stress the values of hard work, delayed gratifica tion, child-rearing and environmental stewardship. They will combine the family values of the religious right with the sustainability values of the Greenpeace left.
This, too, may be happening already. Christian and Muslim fundamentalists and anti-consumerism activists already understand exactly what the Great Temptation is, and how to avoid it. They insulate themselves from our creative-class dreamworlds and our EverQuest economics. They wait patiently for our fitness-faking narcissism to go extinct. Those practical-minded breeders will inherit the Earth as like-minded aliens may have inherited a few other planets. When they finally achieve contact, it will not be a meeting of novel-readers and game-players. It will be a meeting of dead-serious super-parents who congratulate each other on surviving not just the Bomb, but the Xbox.

(via WorldChanging) aliens civilisation consumerism evolution evolutionary psychology fermi paradox puritanism society solipsism tech videogames vr 5


Two scientists speculate on a genetic cause for why America is full of loud, energetic go-getters. Their hypothesis is that "American hypomania" results from the American gene pool containing many genes from immigrants, a group which, by its nature, would self-select for genes encouraging curiosity, risk-taking, neophilia and boldness:

Peter C. Whybrow of U.C.L.A. and John D. Gartner of Johns Hopkins University Medical School make their cases for an immigrant-specific genotype in their respective books, "American Mania" and "The Hypomanic Edge." Even when times are hard, Whybrow points out, most people don't leave their homelands. The 2 percent or so who do are a self-selecting group. What distinguishes them, he suggests, might be the genetic makeup of their dopamine-receptor system - the pathway in the brain that figures centrally in boldness and novelty seeking.
Why aren't Canada and Australia, where many immigrants and their descendants also live, as hypomanic as the United States? Whybrow answers that behavior is always a function of genetics and environment - nature with an overlay of nurture. "Here you have the genes and the completely unrestricted marketplace," he says - with the anything-goes rules of American capitalism also reflecting immigrant genetics. "That's what gives us our peculiar edge."
Of course, the fact that a lot of the descendents of Australians did not choose to emigrate could also have something to do with it.

By coincidence, I was thinking about American hypomania recently, in the context of American culture having a propensity for maximality in various areas (the biggest cars, the fastest roller-coasters, the most exciting movies, the loudest, most attention-grabbingly garish TV); it came up in the context of the ongoing popularity of the death penalty in America, and the recent execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams. Other than the ancient imperative for vengeance ("an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth", as it says in the Hammurabi codex the Bible), it is arguable that humanely euthanasing a convicted criminal is not a greater punishment than leaving them to contemplate their wrongdoing for some decades from within a cell with no hope of release. However, from an observer's point of view, the ritual of executing an evildoer is a grander statement of symbolic redressing of wrongs than the boringly administrative option of merely locking them up.

(via mindhacks) capital punishment culture evolutionary psychology genetics natural selection neophilia society usa 0


A paper recently published by the University of Utah makes several controversial statements: that Ashkenazi Jews have genetic mutations which enhance their cognitive abilities, making them more intelligent than average, that this originated from selection pressures in mediæval Europe (where Jews could only make a living in various cognitively-demanding niches, many of which Christians were barred from), and that the same mutations cause many of the degenerative diseases common among the Ashkenazi population, as well as high incidences of depression (could it be no coincidence that cities with high Jewish populations (such as New York and Buenos Aires) have the most psychiatrists?):

Greg has referred to this hypothesis as "overclocking". The analogy is to overclocking computer processors (computer processing units or CPUs). Some hobbyists turn up the clocks on their desktop PCs to them run faster than they were designed to run. This can cause system instability and other problems. In the case of the Ashkenazis in Europe the hypothesis proposes that selective pressures for higher Ashkenazi intelligence were so high that it caused the propagation of mutations that pushed their intelligence up so quickly (evolutonarily speaking) that the selective pressure overrode the reduction in reproductive fitness caused by the deleterious side effects on some of those who received those mutations. The problem with overclocking is that "Sometimes you get away with it, sometimes you don't."
More generally, if this is what I think it is, all these Ashkenazi neurological diseases are hints of ways in which one could supercharge intelligence. One, by increasing dendrite growth: two, by fooling with myelin: three, something else, whatever is happening in torsion dystonia. In some cases the difference is probably an aspect of development, not something you can turn on and off. In other cases, the effect might exist when the chemical influence is acting and disappear when the influence does. In either case, it seems likely that we could - if we wanted to - developed pharmaceutical agents that had similar effects. The first kind, those affecting development, would be something that might have to be administered early in life, maybe before birth. while the second kind would be 'smart pills' that one could pop as desired or as needed. Of course, we have to hope that we can find ways of improving safety. Would you take a pill that increased your IQ by 10 or 15 points that also had a 10% chance of putting you in a wheel chair?
The article goes on to suggest that mediæval laws on Christian and Jewish occupations were ultimately responsible for the founding of the state of Israel. Meanwhile, there's a New York Times piece on the paper here, which has a quote from evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker:
"It would be hard to overstate how politically incorrect this paper is," said Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard, noting that it argues for an inherited difference in intelligence between groups. Still, he said, "it's certainly a thorough and well-argued paper, not one that can easily be dismissed outright."
Anyway, back to selection pressures in medieval Europe; I imagine that the fact that the brightest Christians were put into monasteries and sworn to celibacy could also have had an effect on inherited intelligence among that group. Could it also be that Europeans of Christian descent are (inadvertently) bred for low cognitive ability?

(via /.) ashkenazi evolutionary psychology genetics jewish steven pinker 0


A new study has found that men with feminine faces are attractive to more women. Square-jawed he-men are preferred by women who consider themselves highly attractive (and, according to an earlier study, are healthier), though their more androgynous brethren are preferred by a greater number and variety of women.

"Those women who prefer masculine men are selecting genetic benefits for their children, despite the fact that high testosterone levels can also increase the likelihood that the male will have an affair.

Which makes sense; the women selecting he-men consider themselves to be highly attractive, which suggests a calculation that they could prevail in competition.

Meanwhile, another study by the same group has shown that women seen with a dominant male were considered more attractive by other men.

evolutionary psychology genetics sex 0


Evolutionary psychologists look at how music could possibly have come about:

Since music draws on so many of the brain's faculties, it vouches for the health of the organ as a whole. And since music in ancient cultures seems often to have been linked with dancing, a good fitness indicator for the rest of the body, anyone who could sing and dance well was advertising the general excellence of their mental and physical genes to a potential mate.

Note: this applies to music performance, not music composition. Jimi Hendrix got laid like, well, a rock star, and if you're in a band you may be in with a chance. Sitting at your computer composing techno tunes is not a sign of Darwinian fitness, and unlikely to pull 'em in. As for DJing, the jury's still out.

Group singing, or chorusing, may have been an intermediate step in this process, he suggests. He has preliminary evidence that singing in church produces endorphins, a class of brain hormone thought to be important in social bonding, he said.

(I've heard it claimed in NLP circles that singing together puts one into a receptive state by the fact that one is, by necessity, breathing in synchronisation with everybody else in the church (including the celebrant of the service) and thus is more receptive to their beliefs; hence, it works as a sort of hypnotic persuasion technique.)

evolutionary psychology music psychology 5


Sows dig jerks, it seems. Scientists in Australia and England have found that female pigs are most aroused by the nastiest boar in the pen, preferring aggressive, noisy, vicious and otherwise boorish male pigs to their more docile counterparts. The scientists have suggested parallels to human nature, where some women appear to be irresistibly drawn to "bad men".

"I suppose it's not that different from what you might see going on between men and woman housed in a hostel at a university. It's the same sort of thing," observed Mr. Thornton, who is from Bristol, England.

Perhaps it's a universal truth that, whatever one's species, those who make pigs of themselves are likely to to have good reasons to get away with it? (Or at least, would have had such reasons in the ancestral environment.)

ethology evolutionary psychology pigs sex 6


Are we hardwired for religion? An article on the evolutionary psychology of religion, speculating on how the human tendency to religious belief and supernatural explanation may have evolved. (via FmH)

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Is schizophrenia a byproduct of the evolution of human intelligence? A new theory suggests this. I wonder whether in some situations some forms of schizophrenia could have been adaptive to genetic fitness (i.e., making the afflicted a fitter chieftain/prophet/leader), with current forms being a throwback to this.

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Chicks Don't Dig Losers: Another study confirms that women prefer risk-prone men to risk-averse nice-guy shmucks, much as evolutionary psychology predicted, and that flaunting wealth, strength and/or bravery increases mens' sexual success. One of the authors of the paper, Robin Dunbar, was involved in the survey which showed that mobile phones were a lekking device, flaunted by single males in the presence of females and competing males. Mind you, mobile phones have lost some of their lekking power, having become more or less ubiquitous; however, a London jeweler is working around that, by encrusting mobile phones with diamonds. Each unit (based on an off-the-shelf phone) sells for US$20,000 to US$50,000, though some are predicting fake gem-studded mobiles to become popular with teenagers. In decades to come, the Noughties may be known as the decade of those tacky fake-jewelled mobile phones.

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Researchers at the Institute of Psychology have discovered that men are biologically programmed to fall in love at the age of 50, dumping long-term partners and taking younger trophy wives. This phenomenon, termed the "Michael Douglas Syndrome", was no doubt an evolutionarily advantageous mutation, allowing men with this trait another chance to pass their genes on with a fit, fertile partner.

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Various leftist sociologists have compiled a book of essays against evolutionary psychology. As one might expect, the essays offer no constructive suggestions other than outright condemnations of that whole branch of study, and, at best, say nothing new, and at worst, are full of self-righteous tub-thumping and egregious omissions. Or so the reviewer, a well-known evolutionary psychologist, says. Though personally, I'm inclined to believe him.

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The New York Times has an interesting piece on testosterone:

Studies have also shown that men in long-term marriages see their testosterone levels progressively fall and their sex drives subsequently decline. It is as if their wives successfully tame them, reducing their sexual energy to a level where it is more unlikely to seek extramarital outlets.
Men who are excessively testosteroned are not that attractive to most women. Although they have the genes that turn women on ... they can also be precisely the unstable, highly sexed creatures that childbearing, stability-seeking women want to avoid. There are two ways, evolutionary psychologists hazard, that women have successfully squared this particular circle. One is to marry the sweet class nerd and have an affair with the college quarterback: that way you get the good genes, the good sex and the stable home. The other is to find a man with variable T levels...
Those qualities associated with low testosterone -- patience, risk aversion, empathy -- can all lead to excellent governance. They are just lousy qualities in the crapshoot of electoral politics.
What if parents committed to gender equity opted to counteract the effect of testosterone on boys in the womb by complementing it with injections of artificial female hormones? That way, structural gender difference could be eradicated from the beginning. Such a policy would lead to "men and women with normal bodies but identical feminine brains," Matt Ridley posits. "War, rape, boxing, car racing, pornography and hamburgers and beer would soon be distant memories. A feminist paradise would have arrived."

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