The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'neophilia'
Researchers in the US have found a possible genetic cause for liberal political orientations. The DRD4 dopamine receptor gene has already found to be connected to neophilic tendencies (i.e., novelty seeking), and now it seems that those who have it are more likely to develop liberal political beliefs—though only if they have many friends during adolescence:
Lead researcher James H. Fowler of UC San Diego and his colleagues hypothesized that people with the novelty-seeking gene variant would be more interested in learning about their friends' points of view. As a consequence, people with this genetic predisposition who have a greater-than-average number of friends would be exposed to a wider variety of social norms and lifestyles, which might make them more liberal than average. They reported that "it is the crucial interaction of two factors – the genetic predisposition and the environmental condition of having many friends in adolescence – that is associated with being more liberal." The research team also showed that this held true independent of ethnicity, culture, sex or age.
Fowler concludes that the social and institutional environment cannot entirely explain a person's political attitudes and beliefs and that the role of genes must be taken into account. "These findings suggest that political affiliation is not based solely on the kind of social environment people experience," said Fowler, professor of political science and medical genetics at UC San Diego.Of course, whether the gene would manifest in, say, social-democratic liberalism or guns'n'dope libertarianism would probably be influenced by cultural context. I recall reading about twin studies which showed pairs of twins raised apart holding similar political beliefs, though. (Or similarly structured; perhaps one could imagine, say, an authoritarian rightwinger growing up to be an authoritarian Stalinist, or a radical Marxist to be a radical Thatcherite neoliberal, in a different context.)
More evidence of neoteny being a characteristic of evolutionary advancement: as coping the modern world requires more flexibility, immaturity levels in adults are rising. Which sounds alarming, until you consider that "maturity" (and the nebulous "wisdom" that comes with it) is a sclerotic set-in-one's-ways inflexibility and resistance to change, which no longer cuts it:
"The psychological neoteny effect of formal education is an accidental by-product -- the main role of education is to increase general, abstract intelligence and prepare for economic activity," he explained. "But formal education requires a child-like stance of receptivity to new learning, and cognitive flexibility."
"When formal education continues into the early twenties," he continued, "it probably, to an extent, counteracts the attainment of psychological maturity, which would otherwise occur at about this age.
While the human mind responds to new information over the course of any individuals lifetime, Charlton argues that past physical environments were more stable and allowed for a state of psychological maturity. In hunter-gatherer societies, that maturity was probably achieved during a persons late teens or early twenties, he said.
By contrast, many modern adults fail to attain this maturity, and such failure is common and indeed characteristic of highly educated and, on the whole, effective and socially valuable people," he said.Some of the symptoms of neoteny include novelty-seeking, which ties in with the possibility of a "neophilia gene" previously mentioned here. In fact, if there was a genetic mutation that caused neophilia, the abovementioned article suggests that, in today's environment, it would be strongly selected for.
Researchers in Japan have found an enzyme correlated with novelty-seeking tendencies.
it seems that genetic differences mean that people produce different variations of a mitochondrial enzyme called monoamine oxidase A. That's according to research from the Yamagata University School of Medicine in Japan, which was recently published in the scientific journal Psychiatric Genetics and mentioned in the New Scientist magazine.
The researchers found that one form of this enzyme was "significantly associated with higher scores of novelty seeking." In other words, people who produce that form of the enzyme are more likely to have novelty-seeking traits in their personality than others.This suggests that there may be a genetic cause for neophilic tendencies. Though some are skeptical about whether a neophilia gene could work:
Colin Campbell, a professor of sociology at the University of York in the UK, has studied the nature of consumerism, and he believes that the existence of novelty seeking is a relatively new phenomenon. So it can't by definition be genetic.
"Pre-modern societies tend to be suspicious of the novel. It is a feature of modernity that we are addicted to novelty," says Campbell. Campbell dates the emergence of novelty seeking to the beginnings of the industrial revolution in the mid 18th century. As he explains, "Modern fashion evolved then."I'm not sure about that. For one, a neophilia gene would cause a predisposition to novelty, which could be indulged or otherwise by the society, culture and economy the individual is in; unless it proved maladaptive (i.e., by making the carriers less likely to pass their genes on), it wouldn't be selected out. And while it may be true that individuals in pre-modern societies would find less to gratify their neophilic tendencies than the white-earphoned, designer-label-wearing channel-surfers and BlackBerry addicts of today, it could also be said that our hunter-gatherer ancestors, being unable to walk into a Krispy-Kreme outlet, had less to satisfy their taste for fatty and sugary foods than today, though it is widely accepted that such a taste evolved back then, when small, expensively-obtained amounts of such food were more likely to ward off malnutrition than cause obesity. It could well be that a "neophilia gene", if one exists, evolved in similar circumstances.
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.
David Brin on the five memes that shaped the planet on a deeper level: feudalism, machismo, paranoia, "the East" and neophilia (which Brin terms the Dogma of Otherness). (via the Horn)