“Bias Is a Big Problem. But So Is ‘Noise.’” By Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony and Cass R. Sunstein [The New York Times]

“Bias Is a Big Problem. But So Is ‘Noise.’

May 15, 2021

By Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony and Cass R. Sunstein

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/15/opinion/noise-bias-kahneman.html

Daniel Kahneman is an emeritus professor of psychology at Princeton and a recipient of the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

Olivier Sibony is a professor of strategy at the HEC Paris business school.

Cass R. Sunstein is a law professor at Harvard. They are the authors of the forthcoming book “Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment,” on which this essay is based.

(…)

Society has devoted a lot of attention to the problem of bias — and rightly so. But when it comes to mistaken judgments and unfortunate decisions, there is another type of error that attracts far less attention: noise.

To see the difference between bias and noise, consider your bathroom scale. If on average the readings it gives are too high (or too low), the scale is biased. If it shows different readings when you step on it several times in quick succession, the scale is noisy. (Cheap scales are likely to be both biased and noisy.) While bias is the average of errors, noise is their variability.

Although it is often ignored, noise is a large source of malfunction in society. In a 1981 study, for example, 208 federal judges were asked to determine the appropriate sentences for the same 16 cases. The cases were described by the characteristics of the offense (robbery or fraud, violent or not) and of the defendant (young or old, repeat or first-time offender, accomplice or principal). You might have expected judges to agree closely about such vignettes, which were stripped of distracting details and contained only relevant information.

But the judges did not agree. The average difference between the sentences that two randomly chosen judges gave for the same crime was more than 3.5 years. Considering that the mean sentence was seven years, that was a disconcerting amount of noise.

Noise in real courtrooms is surely only worse, as actual cases are more complex and difficult to judge than stylized vignettes. It is hard to escape the conclusion that sentencing is in part a lottery, because the punishment can vary by many years depending on which judge is assigned to the case and on the judge’s state of mind on that day. The judicial system is unacceptably noisy.

(…)

Where does noise come from? There is much evidence that irrelevant circumstances can affect judgments. In the case of criminal sentencing, for instance, a judge’s mood, fatigue and even the weather can all have modest but detectable effects on judicial decisions.

Another source of noise is that people can have different general tendencies. Judges often vary in the severity of the sentences they mete out: There are “hanging” judges and lenient ones.

A third source of noise is less intuitive, although it is usually the largest: People can have not only different general tendencies (say, whether they are harsh or lenient) but also different patterns of assessment (say, which types of cases they believe merit being harsh or lenient about). Underwriters differ in their views of what is risky, and doctors in their views of which ailments require treatment. We celebrate the uniqueness of individuals, but we tend to forget that, when we expect consistency, uniqueness becomes a liability.

(…)

No noise-reduction techniques will be deployed, however, if we do not first recognize the existence of noise. Noise is too often neglected. But it is a serious issue that results in frequent error and rampant injustice. Organizations and institutions, public and private, will make better decisions if they take noise seriously.”

“Why my theory that humans can only maintain 150 friendships has withstood 30 years of scrutiny” By Robin Dunbar [The Conversation/Phys.org]

“Why my theory that humans can only maintain 150 friendships has withstood 30 years of scrutiny

by Robin Dunbar, The Conversation

https://phys.org/news/2021-05-theory-humans-friendships-withstood-years.html

(…)

Despite the growing evidence, the same critiques reappear with suspiciously religious zeal. The most common claim is that human behavior is culturally determined and so cannot be subject to the same biological rules as primate behavior. Another variant on this claim is that networking platforms such as LinkedIn have made it possible for us to maintain more extensive social networks.

Most of these claims fail to recognize that Dunbar’s number applies to quality relationships, not to acquaintances—which account for the more casual outer layers of our social networks, beyond our 150 meaningful friendships.

However, a more recent challenge by researchers at Stockholm University claims to have finally debunked Dunbar’s number by showing that the social brain equation underpredicts human social group sizes. Alas, the study used flawed statistical methods and fails to account for the body of evidence we now have to support Dunbar’s number.

(…)

Evidence from neuroscience

We’ve also filled in many of the behavioral and neurocognitive details that underlie the social brain hypothesis. More than a dozen neuroimaging studies have shown that, in both humans and monkeys, the size of an individual’s social network correlates with the size of their default mode neural network—the large brain circuit that manages social relationships.

Similarly, the touch-based bonding mechanism that holds these groups together—a mechanism that exploits the brain’s endorphin system—is common to both humans and primates. This is why hugging and physical touch is so important in our relationships.”

“Extraverts and Conservatives are More Likely to Get COVID” By Glenn Geher [Darwin’s Subterranean World]

“Extraverts and Conservatives are More Likely to Get COVID

The pandemic is largely the result of our evolved social psychology.

Glenn Geher
Darwin’s Subterranean World

Posted May 15, 2021

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/darwins-subterranean-world/202105/extraverts-and-conservatives-are-more-likely-get-covid
 
***

Personality Correlates of COVID-19 Infection Proclivity: Extraversion Kills

Vania Rolona, Glenn Geherb, Jennifer Linkb, Alexander Mackielb

Personality and Individual Differences

Available online 14 May 2021

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2021.110994

***

“In light of the human behavioral element of COVID, my research team (a subset of The New Paltz Evolutionary Psychology Lab ) conducted a study to help us better understand the behavioral factors that underlie the spread of this virus—a virus that has turned all of our worlds upside down in so many ways.

Our study, recently published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences , explored various dispositional traits that might ultimately underlie whether people are prone toward getting the virus. The two main variables we focused on were extraversion and political conservatism.

(…)

An additional evolutionary perspective as to why and how extraversion might relate to COVID infection proclivity pertains the behavioral-system hijacking hypothesis (see Reiber et al., 2010). This idea, which is admittedly beyond the scope of our data, suggests that the coronavirus, which has known effects on the nervous system, may actually hijack behavior and temporarily make people relatively sociable so as to increase its spread across an increased number of human hosts.

(…)

Gollwitzer et al. (2020) found that people who live in relatively conservative areas (based on voting patterns) have been less likely to follow social-distancing guidelines relative to those living in areas where people are more likely to vote for liberal political candidates.

In light of this basic reasoning, we predicted that people who self-identify as conservative would be more likely to wind up becoming infected with the virus relative to those who self-identify as liberal.”

“Will science survive politics?” By Tom Chivers [UnHerd]

“Will science survive politics?

Whether something is politically convenient or not doesn’t affect whether it’s true

By Tom Chivers

May 11, 2021

https://unherd.com/2021/05/will-science-survive-politics/

(…)

No one really cares about creationists any more. Instead, the row is over whether Darwin – and his theory, or its implications – is racist, or sexist. And the people passionately defending him are often right-wingers, while his critics are on the Left.

The latest incarnation is a by-the-numbers fighting-the-culture-war piece in the Telegraph about a guide to “Applying a decolonial framework to teaching and research in ecology and evolution” published by some plant scientists in the University of Sheffield. In the guide, science lecturers are told to contextualise Darwin by making it clear how his worldview was shaped by colonialism and racism.

(…)

I also rather wish that the Sheffield academics had mentioned whether or not they think Darwin’s theory of natural selection is true or not. There’s an awful lot of talk about power imbalances, Eurocentric viewpoints, and the legacy of colonialism, and how science “cannot be objective and apolitical” – but regardless of whether or not Darwin was racist, was he right? Maybe that’s taken for granted.

(…)

The sad, forgotten creationists aside, most of us gladly accept that dragonflies’ wings and wombats’ toenails or whatever have evolved; that those ancestors which had versions of those organs more suited to their environment tended to have more offspring.

But when Darwin’s idea gets applied to behaviour, it becomes more controversial. The field of science that tries to do this is called sociobiology; it was controversial enough when it arose in the Seventies, pioneered by EO Wilson. It caused a furore – protesters poured water over Wilson’s head during a conference talk, chanting “Racist Wilson, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide.” Wilson’s work was mainly about ants.

When Darwinian ideas are applied to the human brain, and human behaviour, it is called evolutionary psychology, and that is more controversial still.

Which, on the face of it, is strange. Evolutionary psychology is, at its heart, the idea that the brain (and therefore the mind, and human behaviour and psychology in general) is the product of evolution, just like every other animal organ. As Richard Dawkins wrote in the 2005 foreword to The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, that is so obviously true as to be almost not worth saying: “The central claim [of evolutionary psychology] is not an extraordinary one,” he wrote. “It amounts to the exceedingly modest claim that minds are on the same footing as bodies where Darwinian natural selection is concerned. Given that feet, livers, ears, wings, shells, eyes, crests, ligaments, antennae, hearts and feathers are shaped by natural selection … why on earth should the same not be true of brains[?]”

(…)

The idea that the mind is evolved goes back to Darwin himself, but it was Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, a wife-and-husband team of academics, who really developed the field in The Adapted Mind, a book of essays they edited in 1992.

(…)

Charles Darwin, the historical figure, is interesting to study, and it’s worth remembering that he was a man of his time. But Darwinism, the great insight of evolution by natural selection, is separate. It is true (or false) regardless of Darwin’s own views, and so are the many insights which have followed it. We can go back and forth over whether he was a racist, but the more interesting question is: was he right?”

“When Men Behave Badly” by Rob Henderson | A Review of When Men Behave Badly by David M. Buss

“When Men Behave Badly—A Review

written by Rob Henderson

Published on April 30, 2021

A review of When Men Behave Badly: The Hidden Roots of Sexual Deception, Harassment, and Assault by David M. Buss, Little, Brown Spark, 336 pages (April 2021)

https://quillette.com/2021/04/30/when-men-behave-badly-a-review/

(…)

These differences in reproductive biology have given rise to differences in sexual psychology that are comparable to sex differences in height, weight, and upper-body muscle mass. However, Buss is careful to note, such differences always carry the qualifier “on average.” Some women are taller than some men—but on average men are taller. Likewise, some women prefer to have more sex partners than some men—but on average men prefer more. These evolved differences are a key source of conflict.

One goal of the book is to highlight situations in which sexual conflict is diminished or amplified to prevent victimization and reduce harm.

(…)

Because of the increased risk women carry, they tend to be choosier about their partners. In contrast, men are less discerning. Studies of online dating, for example, find that most men find most women to be at least somewhat attractive. In contrast, women, on average, view 80 percent of men as below average in attractiveness. Another study found that on the dating app Tinder, men “liked” more than 60 percent of the female profiles they viewed, while women “liked” only 4.5 percent of male profiles.

(…)

Deception is often prevalent in the mating market. And deception involves an understanding of what the opposite sex desires. For instance, on dating websites, men exaggerate their income by roughly 20 percent on average and round up their height by about two inches. Similarly, women on dating websites round their weight down by about 15 pounds.

(…)

… as Buss stresses throughout the book, “adaptive” does not mean “morally good.” Often, cultures create moral norms to suppress certain behaviors that might be beneficial for the individual but bad for the community (e.g., stealing).

(…)

Throughout the book, Buss is careful to note that just because a behavior is adaptive or “natural” does not mean it is morally good or desirable. Diseases are “natural,” yet modern science has developed vaccines and medical procedures to eliminate these ailments. Likewise, people can implement personal, social, and legal instruments to curtail the darker facets of male psychology.

(…)

What kind of men? As mentioned above, Dark Triad traits predict sexual aggression. Perhaps more surprisingly, research indicates that high-status men are particularly likely to commit sexual assault. Buss writes, “men with money, status, popularity, and power are more likely to be sexual predators.” These results parallel the disconcerting finding that men who use sexual coercion have more partners than men who do not. A popular idea is that men who are desperate or deprived of chances for sex will be more likely to use coercion. This is known as the “mate deprivation hypothesis.” However, studies suggest the opposite is the case. Men who have more partners report higher levels of sexual aggression compared to men with fewer partners. Furthermore, men who predict that their future earnings will be high also report greater levels of sexual aggression relative to men who predict that their future earnings will be low.”

“Can the brain resist the group opinion?” [Medical Xpress]

“Can the brain resist the group opinion?

by National Research University Higher School of Economics

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-02-brain-resist-group-opinion.html

Scientists at HSE University have learned that disagreeing with the opinion of other people leaves a ‘trace’ in brain activity, which allows the brain to later adjust its opinion in favor of the majority-held point of view. The article was published in Scientific Reports.

We often change our beliefs under the influence of others. This social behavior is called conformity and explains various components of our behavior, from voting at elections to fashion trends among teenagers.

Brain research has recently been well informed about short-term effects of social influence on decision making. If our choice coincides with the point of view of the people who are important to us, this decision is reinforced in the brain’s pleasure centers involved in the larger dopaminergic system responsible for learning, motor activity and many other functions. Conversely, in instances of disagreement with others, the brain signals that a ‘mistake’ has been made and triggers conformity.

(…)

Thus, the opinions of others not only influence our behavior, but also cause long-term changes in the way our brains work. Apparently, the brain not only quickly adjusts to the opinions of others, but also begins to perceive information through the eyes of the majority in order to avoid social conflicts in the future.

“Our study shows the dramatic influence of others’s opinion on how we perceive information,” says HSE University Professor Vasily Klucharev, one of the authors of the study. “We live in social groups and automatically adjust our opinions to that of the majority, and the opinion of our peers can change the way our brain processes information for a relatively long time.”

“It was very interesting to use modern methods of neuro-mapping and to see traces of past conflicts with the opinion of the group in the brain’s activity,” adds Aleksei Gorin, a Ph.D. student at HSE University. “The brain absorbs the opinion of others like a sponge and adjusts its functions to the opinion of its social group.”

***

MEG signatures of long-term effects of agreement and disagreement with the majority

A. Gorin, V. Klucharev, A. Ossadtchi, I. Zubarev, V. Moiseeva & A. Shestakova

Scientific Reports volume 11, Article number: 3297 (2021)

Published: 08 February 2021

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-82670-x

Abstract

People often change their beliefs by succumbing to an opinion of others. Such changes are often referred to as effects of social influence. While some previous studies have focused on the reinforcement learning mechanisms of social influence or on its internalization, others have reported evidence of changes in sensory processing evoked by social influence of peer groups. In this study, we used magnetoencephalographic (MEG) source imaging to further investigate the long-term effects of agreement and disagreement with the peer group. The study was composed of two sessions. During the first session, participants rated the trustworthiness of faces and subsequently learned group rating of each face. In the first session, a neural marker of an immediate mismatch between individual and group opinions was found in the posterior cingulate cortex, an area involved in conflict-monitoring and reinforcement learning. To identify the neural correlates of the long-lasting effect of the group opinion, we analysed MEG activity while participants rated faces during the second session. We found MEG traces of past disagreement or agreement with the peers at the parietal cortices 230 ms after the face onset. The neural activity of the superior parietal lobule, intraparietal sulcus, and precuneus was significantly stronger when the participant’s rating had previously differed from the ratings of the peers. The early MEG correlates of disagreement with the majority were followed by activity in the orbitofrontal cortex 320 ms after the face onset. Altogether, the results reveal the temporal dynamics of the neural mechanism of long-term effects of disagreement with the peer group: early signatures of modified face processing were followed by later markers of long-term social influence on the valuation process at the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.”

“Learning from Evolution about Free Speech” By David Sloan Wilson [This View Of Life]

“Learning from Evolution about Free Speech

By David Sloan Wilson

January 11, 2021

https://thisviewoflife.com/learning-from-evolution-about-free-speech/

(…)

The world is in turmoil over the incendiary language of a US president, the invasion of the US Capitol Building incited by his speech, and the silencing of the president by giant tech firms. Commentators fall back on the US Constitution, especially the First Amendment, to make sense of it all—as if the wisdom of the founders could somehow anticipate the Internet Age. To truly make sense of it all, we need to go back—way back—to the genetic evolution of our species at the scale of small groups.  

Humans are masters of social regulation at the scale of small groups. Alexis d’Toqueville, the acute observer of American democracy in the 1830’s, got it right when he wrote that “the village or township is the only association which is so perfectly natural that wherever a number of men are collected it seems to constitute itself.”

Toqueville’s use of the word “natural” was more apropos than he could have known, writing decades before Darwin’s theory of evolution. Today we know that our ability to cooperate in small groups is a product of genetic evolution. Even though we share 99% of our genes with chimpanzees, there is a night-and-day difference in our cooperativeness. According to Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham in his book The Goodness Paradox (1), naked aggression is over 100 times more frequent in a chimpanzee community than a small-scale human community. Even cooperation in chimpanzees typically takes the form of small alliances competing against other alliances within a given community. The main form of community-wide cooperation is aggression toward other communities.

(…)

Likewise, small-scale human societies are not just communitarian but also stubbornly individualistic. Since the great danger is to be pushed around, all members assert their right as a moral equal so that decision-making becomes a collective enterprise. These seemingly contradictory strands, compulsory and voluntary, collective and individualistic, are woven together to form a strong braid.

(…)

So much for the big evolutionary picture that was beyond Tocqueville’s imagination. How does it bear upon the urgent questions of our day, such as the incendiary speech of a US president and the decision of major tech companies to deny him a forum? Let’s shrink these problems down to see what they look like at the scale of a small group. As we have seen, there is a necessity for everyone to have a say in matters of collective importance. This is the necessity that is recognized by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. There is also the necessity to suppress bullying and other behaviors that can disrupt the common good. It all depends on the context. In small and well-regulated human groups, it is relatively easy to recognize the context and apply the appropriate rules.

Not only was this true for small groups in the distant past and the small-scale societies of today, but examples abound in modern WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, and Democratic) societies (6). Consider the norms of scholarship and science, where adhering to the facts of the matter is a cardinal virtue. The formation and testing of alternative hypotheses is a form of unrestricted free speech, failure to cite or misrepresenting relevant material is rigorously policed, and willfully falsifying data results in immediate exclusion. These norms are as strong as those of the strongest religions. Similar examples could be cited for other modern contexts where truth-telling is important, such as responsible journalism and judicial procedures. When witnesses at a trial swear to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth…” they legally bind themselves to that commitment.

(…)

The second major factor is that evolutionary theory, which was beyond the imagination of Tocqueville, is still a new perspective in discussions of social theory, economics and law. The title of my book This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution, signifies that the conceptual unification that has taken place in the biological sciences (and of course continues), is only now taking place in the human-related sciences. In my long career, I have observed that the “evolutionizing” of human-related disciplines such as psychology, anthropology, religion, economics, business, and law takes place at different rates based on idiosyncratic factors.

Economics and business are late bloomers and law even more so. One of the few legal scholars who thinks about free speech and the Internet from an evolutionary perspective is Julie Seaman, Associate Professor at Emory University’s School of Law. An open-access article that we coauthored titled #FreeSpeech makes a start at evolutionizing the concept of free speech, in general, and in the Internet Age. This conversation needs to expand and be put into action rapidly, to keep pace with the rate of cultural evolution in the Internet Age. Otherwise, only social dysfunction can result.”

***

#FreeSpeech

Arizona State Law Journal, Vol. 48, No. 4, 2017

Emory Legal Studies Research Paper No. 17-439

30 Pages

Posted: 14 Apr 2017

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2951909

Julie Seaman
Emory University School of Law

David Wilson
Binghamton University

Date Written: April 12, 2017

Abstract

It has become commonplace to note that courts have struggled with the challenge of applying analog legal concepts to digital spaces, and nowhere is this truer than in the context of the First Amendment. Here, we focus on a very specific aspect of the Internet and social media revolution – the impact on human behavior of this distinct medium of communication – to consider whether the online context of a communication can be expected to affect the behavior either of the speaker or the audience in ways that might be relevant to First Amendment theory and doctrine.

With the emergence of the field of cyberpsychology over the past decade, the complex universe of the online social brain has begun to reveal itself. While much of this space is thus far only roughly mapped and much else is yet to be discovered, there are a number of preliminary findings that have implications for thinking about freedom of speech on the Internet. The nature and effects of disinhibition online, the effect of online social communication on memory and belief about facts and events in the physical world, and the drivers of antisocial behaviors such as flaming, shaming, and trolling – to name just a few – are all fertile ground for analysis and further research as they relate to First Amendment theory, doctrine, and values.

This initial foray into the treacherous terrain at the crossroads of the First Amendment, social media, and human behavior also draws on the evolutionary science of group dynamics and cooperation, which has much to say about how individuals behave within groups, how groups behave with respect to other groups, and the features that can make some groups successful, constructive, egalitarian, and prosocial while others are destructive, hierarchical, violent, and antisocial. It explores the implications of these ideas as they relate to groups that operate in cyberspace.

Keywords: First Amendment, Cyberspeech, Cyberpsychology, Internet Speech”

Joseph Henrich and Michael Muthukrishna – “The Origins and Psychology of Human Cooperation”. Annual Review of Psychology, 2021

“The Origins and Psychology of Human Cooperation

Annual Review of Psychology

Vol. 72:207-240 (Volume publication date January 2021)

First published as a Review in Advance on October 2, 2020

https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-081920-042106

Joseph Henrich (1) and Michael Muthukrishna (2)

(1) Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA; email: henrich@fas.harvard.edu

(2) Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science, London School of Economics and Political Science, London WC2A 2AE, United Kingdom; email: m.muthukrishna@lse.ac.uk

PDF:

https://henrich.fas.harvard.edu/files/henrich/files/henrich_and_muthukrishna_the_origins_and_psychology_of_human_cooperation_final.pdf

Abstract

Humans are an ultrasocial species. This sociality, however, cannot be fully explained by the canonical approaches found in evolutionary biology, psychology, or economics. Understanding our unique social psychology requires accounting not only for the breadth and intensity of human cooperation but also for the variation found across societies, over history, and among behavioral domains. Here, we introduce an expanded evolutionary approach that considers how genetic and cultural evolution, and their interaction, may have shaped both the reliably developing features of our minds and the well-documented differences in cultural psychologies around the globe. We review the major evolutionary mechanisms that have been proposed to explain human cooperation, including kinship, reciprocity, reputation, signaling, and punishment; we discuss key culture–gene coevolutionary hypotheses, such as those surrounding self-domestication and norm psychology; and we consider the role of religions and marriage systems. Empirically, we synthesize experimental and observational evidence from studies of children and adults from diverse societies with research among nonhuman primates.

Keywords
cooperation, ultrasociality, evolutionary psychology, cultural evolution, culture-gene coevolution, social behavior”

“Como a ‘mente ocidental’ foi moldada pela Igreja Católica medieval” – Joseph Henrich [BBC Future]

“Como a ‘mente ocidental’ foi moldada pela Igreja Católica medieval

Joseph Henrich*

* Joseph Henrich é professor de Biologia Evolutiva Humana na Universidade de Harvard e autor de The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous (“As pessoas mais ‘Weird’ do Mundo: Como o Ocidente se Tornou Psicologicamente Pecial e Particularmente Próspera”, em tradução livre).

BBC Future

https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/vert-fut-55566154

(…)

Em primeiro lugar, apesar de entrar nos livros didáticos como as “pessoas” pensam, quase todos os estudos que examinaram esse efeito foram conduzidos entre estudantes americanos. No entanto, os comentaristas sociais, voltando pelo menos a Alexis De Tocqueville, notaram que os americanos são particularmente individualistas e independentes.

(…)

Isso destaca o fato de que chamar alguém de “conformista” é um elogio em muitos lugares, mas não nos Estados Unidos.

Conformidade, entretanto, não é um caso idiossincrático de diferença cultural, mas representa a ponta de um iceberg psicológico.

O banco de dados que domina nossa compreensão da psicologia humana deriva principalmente — 95% dela, na verdade — de populações que são “Ocidentais, Educadas, Industrializadas, Ricas e Democráticas (esse grupo de pessoas é conhecido pela sigla em inglês “Weird”, que significa “esquisito” em português).

Ao contrário de grande parte do mundo hoje — e da maioria das pessoas que já viveram —, essa categoria de pessoas é altamente individualista, obcecada por si mesma, cheia de culpa e analítica em seu estilo de pensamento.

Os chamados “Weird” se concentram em si mesmos — seus atributos, realizações e aspirações. Ao raciocinar, as pessoas tendem a procurar categorias abstratas com as quais organizar o mundo, simplificam fenômenos complexos quebrando-os em elementos discretos e atribuindo propriedades — seja imaginando tipos de partículas, patógenos ou personalidades.

Apesar de sua aparente auto-obsessão, elas tendem a seguir regras imparciais e podem ser bastante confiáveis, justas e cooperativas com estranhos.

Emocionalmente, as pessoas da categoria “Weird” são relativamente desavergonhadas, menos constrangidas quando se deparam com outros, mas frequentemente atormentadas pela culpa por não cumprirem seus próprios padrões autoimpostos.

(…)

Até recentemente, a maioria das sociedades foi sustentada por instituições baseadas intensivamente em parentescos, construídas em torno de grandes famílias estendidas: clãs, casamento de primos, poligamia e muitas outras normas de parentesco que regulam e restringem a vida social. Essas instituições persistem em muitas partes do mundo hoje, especialmente nas áreas rurais.

(…)

Começando no final da Antiguidade, o ramo do cristianismo que evoluiu para a Igreja Católica Romana começou a promulgar gradualmente um conjunto de proibições e prescrições relacionadas ao casamento e à família. A Igreja, por exemplo, proibiu o casamento entre primos, casamento arranjado e casamento polígamo.

Ao contrário de outras denominações cristãs, a Igreja Católica expandiu lentamente o círculo de relacionamentos “incestuosos” para primos no século 11.

Apesar de frequentemente enfrentar forte resistência, esse empreendimento dissolveu lentamente as complexas instituições baseadas em parentesco da Europa tribal, deixando famílias nucleares independentes como um ideal cultural e um padrão comum.

(…)

A maioria de nós pode achar que somos pensadores racionais e independentes. Mas a forma como pensamos, sentimos e raciocinamos — incluindo nossas inclinações para a conformidade e preferências por explicações analíticas — foi moldada por eventos históricos, heranças culturais e tabus de incesto que remontam a séculos ou mesmo milênios.

Compreender como a história moldou nossas mentes faz parte de explorar e abraçar nossa diversidade.”

“Evolutionary Psychology: Predictively Powerful or Riddled with Just-So Stories?” By Laith Al-Shawaf [Areo Magazine]

“Evolutionary Psychology: Predictively Powerful or Riddled with Just-So Stories?

20/10/2020

Laith Al-Shawaf
Laith Al-Shawaf, Ph.D. is a researcher and Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Colorado. He has taught and conducted research internationally, been a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin, and is an academic adviser at Ideas Beyond Borders. His research (with collaborators) has been featured in outlets such as the BBC, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Psychology Today, Slate, World Economic Forum, and Time, and his essays for general audiences have appeared in Areo and PopMatters.  In 2019, the Association for Psychological Science (APS) named him a Rising Star.

https://areomagazine.com/2020/10/20/evolutionary-psychology-predictively-powerful-or-riddled-with-just-so-stories/

This essay is part of a series on the value of evolutionary approaches to psychology.

Part 1 clears away seven key misconceptions.

Part 2 shows why evolution is necessary for a complete science of the mind.

Part 3 (this essay) illustrates how evolutionary thinking leads to new discoveries.

They do not need to be read in order.

Acommon refrain in the social sciences is that evolutionary psychological hypotheses are “just-so stories.” Amazingly, no evidence is typically adduced for the claim—the assertion is usually just made tout court. The crux of the just-so charge is that evolutionary hypotheses are convenient narratives that researchers spin after the fact to accord with existing observations. Is this true?

Do Evolutionary Approaches Lead to New Predictions? What About New Discoveries?

In reality, the evidence suggests that evolutionary approaches generate large numbers of new predictions and new discoveries about the human mind. To substantiate this claim, the findings in this essay were predicted a priori by evolutionary reasoning—in other words, the predictions were made before the studies took place. They therefore cannot be post-hoc stories concocted to fit already-existing data.

(…)

Consider the following evolutionary predictions about disgust, all of which were made a priori: 1) people’s disgust will be more strongly triggered by objects that pose a greater risk of infection, 2) women will be more disgusted during the first trimester of pregnancy compared to the second and third trimesters, 3) people who grow up in regions of the world with higher levels of infectious disease will be less extraverted, less open to new experiences, and less interested in short-term mating than their counterparts who grow up relatively pathogen-free, 4) cross-cultural differences in pathogen prevalence will predict cross-cultural differences in individualism-collectivism, 5) those with a stronger proclivity for short-term mating will be less easily disgusted, 6) experimentally triggering disgust will reduce interest in short-term mating, 7) people will feel less disgust toward their own offspring and their offspring’s bodily waste compared to the offspring of others, and 8) presenting people with the threat of disease will cause a host of psychological and physiological changes that reduce the likelihood of infection, including a) releasing pro-inflammatory cytokines, b) behaviorally withdrawing, c) temporarily becoming less open to new experiences, and d) reducing one’s desire to affiliate with people. All of these predictions were generated before the fact on the basis of evolutionary reasoning, and all were subsequently supported by the data.

Note that some of these findings could probably have been predicted without evolutionary reasoning. For others, it would have been harder. And for others still, it would have been nearly impossible.

(…)

A final example of the predictive power of evolutionary thinking comes from Error Management Theory, a theory about the evolution of cognitive biases. Error Management Theory suggests that in decision-making scenarios, you can make two possible kinds of error: a Type I error (a false positive) or a Type II error (a false negative). If one error is more costly than the other, and this cost asymmetry recurs over evolutionary time, then the species in question will evolve neurocognitive mechanisms that are adaptively biased toward the safer error. In other words, animal brains operate according to a similar logic as humanly engineered smoke alarms: they are built to be biased toward the less costly error because this minimizes the likelihood of the more catastrophic error.

This simple evolutionary theory leads to new discoveries in areas such as social cognition, visual and auditory perception, and immune function. For example, the theory predicts that when people look down at the ground from a high vantage point such as a steep hill, they will systematically overperceive their distance to the ground, because this is safer than underperceiving the distance to the ground, which could lead to a lack of caution and a lethal fall. This prediction is verified by the data—as is the supplementary prediction that this height estimation bias will be attenuated when people are looking up to a precipice from below (because it is not as dangerous when you are at the bottom), as well as the remarkably precise a priori prediction that the height overestimation bias will apply to environmental verticality, but not retinal verticality (because only environmental verticality is related to falling risk). We owe our knowledge of these fascinating discoveries to the evolutionary reasoning that led to these predictions—predictions that didn’t exist before researchers thought to approach the problem from an explicitly evolutionary perspective.

The logic of Error Management Theory also predicts that heterosexual women will exhibit an on-average “commitment skepticism bias.” The idea is that, on average, overestimating a suitor’s commitment intent was more costly for our hominin female ancestors than underestimating it—so the theory predicts that modern women will exhibit an on-average bias toward erring on the side of underestimating potential mates’ commitment intent. This a priori prediction is confirmed by the data—as is the supplementary prediction that postmenopausal women will not exhibit the bias. More data are needed to test this prediction in different cultures and to figure out which contexts upregulate and downregulate the bias (or annul or reverse it), but initial findings seem promising so far.

Next, Error Management logic predicts that we will exhibit an auditory looming bias. Specifically, the theory suggests that we will perceive approaching sounds to be closer than they actually are, and to be arriving more quickly than they actually are. This is because the safer error is to be prepared for an oncoming danger too early rather than too late. Indeed, studies show that humans do exhibit this auditory looming bias—as do monkeys.

Studies also confirm that, as predicted, we perceive approaching sounds as both starting and stopping closer than equidistant receding sounds.

(…)

Finally, less physically fit individuals need longer to escape an oncoming threat, so they have a more pronounced auditory looming bias than fitter individuals—exactly as predicted by the theory.

By now the reader has doubtless noticed that many of these findings are counterintuitive, and not the kind of result you could predict using common sense. Some, maybe even most, would have remained undiscovered were it not for the evolutionary reasoning that generated the hypotheses in the first place. And even if somehow that statement is incorrect, what is completely unambiguous is this: these hypotheses were generated a priori and then led to new discoveries about how the mind works. They decidedly did not involve working backward from existing data to convenient stories.

(…)

For example, we could have discussed how evolutionary thinking leads to new predictions about pride, shame, hunger, gratitude, jealousy, political preferences in leaders, universality in mate preferences, cultural differences in mating strategies, reputation, punitive sentiment toward criminals, volunteering for charity, support for economic redistribution, moralizing people who opt out of public goods, the “erasure” of race, our ability to solve mathematical problems that are framed in terms of frequency versus probability, what kinds of conditions improve our statistical inferences, our ability to detect violators of social contracts, whom newborn babies are said to resemble, what psychological features might accompany illness, and theoretically predicted cultural variation in the extent to which people value physical attractiveness—to name a few.

(…)

We might reasonably want to ask why evolutionary approaches to psychology are so successful with respect to predictive power. A brief and incomplete accounting suggests that it is partly because evolutionary thinking reduces the search space by insisting on consilience with biology, thereby ruling out hypotheses that violate the basic principles of evolutionary theory; partly because evolutionary theory has been worked out in sufficient detail that deriving predictions from the theory is easier than it is from less well-specified theories; and partly because evolutionary approaches offer researchers useful conceptual-methodological tools such as “task analysis”, which is well suited for generating novel predictions about human psychology and behavior.

“Mad behaviour: the psychologist Joseph Henrich on what makes us weird” By Sophie McBain [New Statesman]

“Mad behaviour: the psychologist Joseph Henrich on what makes us weird

The Harvard professor on how most claims about human nature are based on people from “Western, educated, industrialised, rich, democratic societies”.

Sophie McBain

New Statesman

https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/observations/2020/10/mad-behaviour-psychologist-joseph-henrich-what-makes-us-weird

(…)

In 2010 Henrich co-authored a landmark paper titled, “The weirdest people in the world?” It observed that almost every claim made about human psychology or behaviour is based on studying people who are “Weird”; that is, from Western, educated, industrialised, rich, democratic societies. These people are also weird – statistical outliers.  

Henrich’s research suggests our cultural environment, the norms and institutions we inherit, alters our psychology – and even our biology – in profound ways. Take learning to read. Becoming literate thickens your corpus callosum, which connects the brain’s right and left hemispheres and alters the parts of the brain responsible for processing speech and thinking about other minds. Literate people tend to be worse than others at recognising faces and are more likely to think analytically – breaking problems or scenes into component parts – rather than holistically.

Henrich contends that, compared with much of the world’s populations, “Weird” people are more individualistic and self-obsessed, and more likely to defer gratification, to stick to impartial rules and to trust strangers. They are less likely to extend special favours to friends or family. They’re more likely to feel guilt (a sense of having failed to meet one’s own self-imposed standards) than shame (a sense of having let down one’s community).

(…)

Henrich’s book poses a challenge to psychology, a field grappling with the so-called “replication crisis” – the realisation that when psychologists repeat an experiment, they often get different results. Henrich believes the discipline suffers from a “theoretical crisis”. “There’s no overarching theory that tells you what kind of effects you should expect. And that causes psychologists to try a bunch of stuff, which breeds a lot of false positives.”

The Weirdest People in the World is a provocative book. Human rights activists, for example, might bristle at its suggestion that in certain countries, individual rights aren’t a good psychological “fit”. But Henrich wants to avoid normative conclusions. “Like any science, [the book] can be useful to achieve your goals, but people might have different goals. I can see it being used by people who want to figure out how to spread human rights. I could see it being used by those who don’t.”

“The Science of America’s Dueling Political Narratives” By Laura Akers [Scientific American]

“The Science of America’s Dueling Political Narratives

Elections aren’t won on the basis of policies; they’re won on the basis of the stories each side tells about itself and its values

By Laura Akers
Laura Akers, Ph.D. is a research psychologist at the Oregon Research Institute. Follow her work at http://meta-narrator.com or on Twitter @meta_narrator.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-science-of-americas-dueling-political-narratives/

(…)

The science of metanarratives and how we respond to them is still in its infancy. Our research team, headed by psychologist Gerard Saucier, has uncovered the metanarratives typical of terrorists and genocidal leaders worldwide. More broadly, my own work seeks to understand how the structure and features of metanarratives can elicit emotional responses, and how social factors influence public reactions.

Emotions arise when we make comparisons relevant to our own needs and desires. We contrast our present circumstances with the future, the past and alternative versions of today. Improvements make us happy and inspire us; losses sadden or frustrate us. If we can blame someone else for our loss, we may become angry with them. And if we’re faced with threats, our fear can motivate action. As with fiction, we can categorize metanarratives by their emotional “genres,” such as progress (pride, optimism) or looming catastrophe (fear).

(…)

As cognitive scientists George Lakoff and Drew Westen remind us, it’s emotion that wins elections.

(…)

The public doesn’t accept every metanarrative it’s offered. We tend to be loyal to the cultural beliefs favored by our social circles and encouraged by our leaders. Even then, some voters stay open to alternatives, if there’s enough dissonance between the party line and their own experiences.”

“What is Human Behavior and Evolution Society (HBES) Doing About the WEIRD Problem?” By Chris von Rueden & Coren Apicella

What is HBES Doing About the WEIRD Problem?

October 3, 2020/in Newsletter

By HBES Executive Council Members, Chris von Rueden & Coren Apicella

What is HBES Doing About the WEIRD Problem?

Evolution and Human Behavior (EHB) just released its September issue, which is devoted to highlighting ongoing research in the evolutionary social sciences that expands beyond WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) populations. This special issue, titled “Beyond WEIRD, a decade later: Population diversity in the evolutionary study of human behavior,” was edited by Coren Apicella, Ara Norenzayan, and Joseph Henrich and features articles on topics including evolutionary medicine, cooperation, leadership, morality, and developmental psychology.

(…)

Now, authors who submit to the journal are required to fully describe their samples. For instance, authors are now asked to specify the geographic location from which their sample was drawn, how their data was collected (online or in-person), and any theoretically-relevant characteristics pertinent to the research study, such as religion affiliation, race/ethnicity, and gender identity (inclusive of non-binary options). And importantly, authors must also specify the source of the sample in their Abstract. Manuscripts that do not adequately describe samples will be returned to authors for revision prior to consideration.

(…)

The September EHB issue, “Beyond WEIRD, A Decade Later: Population Diversity in the Evolutionary Study of Human Behavior,” offers some criticisms, but its contributors are also optimistic about the future of evolutionary social science. We agree that the methods and theory will only get better, and that is in part because of the disciplinary diversity of our community. In particular, the dialogue between anthropologists and psychologists has been, and we hope will continue to be, an engine at the heart of the creativity and productivity of HBES.

“You’re most likely WEIRD … and don’t even know it” By Douglas Todd

“You’re most likely WEIRD … and don’t even know it

Opinion: WEIRD is a high-impact acronym invented by psychology professors at UBC, referring to people who are ‘Western,’ ‘Educated,’ ‘Industrialized,’ ‘Rich’ and ‘Democratic’

Douglas Todd

https://www.wallaceburgcourierpress.com/opinion/columnists/douglas-todd-youre-most-likely-weird-and-you-dont-even-know-it/wcm/1780da03-603d-4841-9196-5bf82a92c85c

(…)

Everybody talks about diversity now. But when these profs examined contemporary social-science research they uncovered a huge blind spot to cultural differences, which has led to misleading conclusions about human psychology and, for that matter, human nature.

The colleagues published a ground-breaking paper in 2010 that showed more than 96 per cent of experiments in social psychology were based on subjects who are WEIRD. Compared to the vast majority of people on the planet, WEIRD people tend to be highly individualistic, control-oriented, nonconformist, analytical and trusting of strangers.

We are not the global norm. As Henrich says, “Textbooks that purport to be about ‘Psychology’ or “Social Psychology’ need to be retitled something like ‘The Cultural Psychology of Late 20th-Century Americans.’ ”

(…)

Henrich explains all this and much more in his new magnum opus, titled The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous. Despite its 680 pages, it’s quite readable.

Henrich’s book takes the UBC crew’s understanding of WEIRD traits to new levels of significance. Gleaning from history, philosophy, religion and anthropology it attempts to explain why there are differences between cultures, including why some are more prosperous. It’s reminiscent of the trans-disciplinary project Jared Diamond took on with Guns, Germs and Steel, which maintained geography shaped Eurasian power.

(…)

“WEIRD people are bad friends,” Henrich writes in one catchy subtitle.

WEIRD people aren’t really willing to lie for a friend, he explains. In a cross-cultural experiment in disparate nations, participants were asked to imagine what they would do if they were a passenger in a car with a close friend who, while driving above the speed limit, hit a pedestrian.

More than 90 per cent of people in WEIRD countries such as Canada, Switzerland the U.S. would not testify their friend was driving slower than he was. “By contrast, in Nepal, Venezuela, and South Korea most people said they’d willingly lie under oath to help a close friend.” Communal bonds matter more in places that are not WEIRD.

(…)

While clearly disposed to “celebrate diversity” he avoids the cliché that, because of our common humanity, “deep down everyone’s the same.” It’s only true to a small extent: If we’re cut with a sharp object, for instance, we all bleed.

But because of our collective histories and cultures humans can actually turn out starkly different. So much so that Henrich makes it clear that ethnic and religious conventions can rewire the structure of our brains, even our genes.

It’s a real-world position: Humans become the peculiar and often amazingly different people they are due to myriad unrecognized cultural forces.”

“The Dark Side of Smart” By Diana Fleischman [Nautilus]

“The Dark Side of Smart

Diana Fleischman
Diana Fleischman is an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Portsmouth, writing and living while on sabbatical in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Follow her on Twitter @sentientist.

http://nautil.us//blog/the-dark-side-of-smart

Manipulative communication surrounds us. With misinformation and disinformation about the pandemic, “cheap” and “deep” fakes of elected officials, and targeted ads and emotionally exploitative social media algorithms, it can begin to feel like all communication is manipulation.

Well, as it turns out, this is the thesis of an influential paper by evolutionary biologists Richard Dawkins and John Krebs. The cynicism behind this statement can make many people uncomfortable. When we think about communicating, we tend to think about our own thoughts and feelings rather than how we might be influencing others. One major reason an evolutionary perspective on our own behavior can be so confronting is that it doesn’t take our word for why we do things. It looks at how what we do influences the two core currencies of life on earth, survival and reproduction.

(…)

When minds start to figure out other minds, a lot of cognitive power gets built up that can be used for other things. Consider one of the groundbreaking insights in evolution in the last few decades, the idea of the “extended phenotype.” Evolution isn’t just acting on an individual’s characteristics but the way it interacts with the environment—including other minds. Evolution is selecting not just on the teeth and tail and claws of a beaver, but also on how well its dam keeps out water. Not just the bees’ wings and bodies but also the structure of their hive.

(…)

Hold on a minute you might be saying to yourself—you evolutionary people are so cynical—didn’t we also get smart to cooperate? Perhaps, to some degree. But research suggests intelligence has been a lot more important, especially for theory of mind for competition, than for cooperation. Evolutionary models, for example, have shown that competition promotes the ability to think about other minds more strongly than cooperation. And studies have shown that areas of the brain related to thinking about other minds are activated more by competition than cooperation.

(…)

Human intelligence is incredibly useful but it doesn’t safeguard you against having false beliefs, because that’s not what intelligence is for. Intelligence is associated with coming up with more convincing bullshit and with being a better liar, but not associated with a better ability to recognize one’s own bias. Unfortunately, intelligence has very little influence on your ability to rationally evaluate your own beliefs, or undermine what’s called “myside bias.”

The dark side of smart is that whenever we do good works, and cooperate, we draw from our manipulative past. The even darker side of smart is that competition doesn’t just select an ability to manipulate but also an adaptive ability to be unpredictable. And one of the best ways to be unpredictable is to not know yourself. So we have evolution to thank for shielding us from complete self-knowledge. As a result, most of our own minds are shrouded in darkness. Perhaps that’s for the best. We might not like what we’d see.”

Why Are We in the West So Weird? A Theory By Daniel C. Dennett [On The WEIRDest People in the World By Joseph Henrich (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020)]

“Why Are We in the West So Weird? A Theory

According to Joseph Henrich’s book, it was the advent of Protestantism, aided by the invention of the printing press, that brought along the spread of literacy and altered the workings of our brains.

By Daniel C. Dennett

Sept. 12, 2020

THE WEIRDEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD
How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous
By Joseph Henrich

(…)

The world today has billions of inhabitants who have minds strikingly different from ours. Roughly, we weirdos are individualistic, think analytically, believe in free will, take personal responsibility, feel guilt when we misbehave and think nepotism is to be vigorously discouraged, if not outlawed. Right? They (the non-WEIRD majority) identify more strongly with family, tribe, clan and ethnic group, think more “holistically,” take responsibility for what their group does (and publicly punish those who besmirch the group’s honor), feel shame — not guilt — when they misbehave and think nepotism is a natural duty.

(…)

WEIRD folk are the more recent development, growing out of the innovation of agriculture about 10,000 years ago, the birth of states and organized religions about 3,000 years ago, then becoming “proto-WEIRD” over the last 1,500 years (thanks to the prohibition on marrying one’s cousin), culminating in the biologically sudden arrival of science, industry and the “modern” world during the last 500 years or so. WEIRD minds evolved by natural selection, but not by genetic selection; they evolved by the natural selection of cultural practices and other culturally transmitted items.

Henrich is an anthropologist at Harvard. He and his colleagues first described the WEIRD mind in a critique of all the work in human psychology (and the social sciences more generally) built on experimental subjects almost exclusively composed of undergraduates — or the children of academics and others who live near universities. The results obtained drawing on this conveniently available set of “normal” people were assumed by almost all researchers to be universal features of human nature, the human brain, the human emotional system. But when attempts were made to replicate the experiments with people in other countries, not just illiterate hunter-gatherers and subsistence farmers but the elites in Asian countries, for instance, it was shown in many cases that the subject pool of the original work had been hugely biased from the outset.

One of the first lessons that must be learned from this important book is that the WEIRD mind is real; all future investigation of “human nature” must be complicated by casting a wider net for subjects, and we must stop assuming that our ways are “universal.” Offhand, I cannot think of many researchers who haven’t tacitly adopted some dubious universalist assumptions. I certainly have. We will all have to change our perspective.

(…)

This is an extraordinarily ambitious book, along the lines of Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel,” which gets a brief and respectful mention, but going much farther, and bolstering the argument at every point with evidence gathered by Henrich’s “lab,” with dozens of collaborators, and wielding data points from world history, anthropology, economics, game theory, psychology and biology, all knit together with “statistical razzle-dazzle” when everyday statistics is unable to distinguish signal from noise. The endnotes and bibliography take up over 150 pages and include a fascinating range of discussions.

(…)

This book calls out for respectful but ruthless vetting on all counts, and what it doesn’t need, and shouldn’t provoke, is ideological condemnations or quotations of brilliant passages by revered authorities. Are historians, economists and anthropologists up to the task? It will be fascinating to see.”

“Social status helped and hindered by the same behaviors and traits worldwide” [University of Texas at Austin/Medical Xpress]

“Social status helped and hindered by the same behaviors and traits worldwide

by University of Texas at Austin

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-06-social-status-hindered-behaviors-traits.html

(…)

“Humans live in a social world in which relative rank matters for nearly everything—your access to resources, your ability to attract mates, and even how long you live,” said UT Austin evolutionary psychologist David Buss, one of the study’s lead authors. “From an evolutionary perspective, reproductively relevant resources flow to those high in status and trickle slowly, if at all, to those lower on the social totem pole.”

The researchers compared people’s impressions of 240 factors—including acts, characteristics and events—to determine what increased and impaired a person’s esteem in the eyes of others. They found that certain qualities such as being honest, hard-working, kind, intelligent, having a wide range of knowledge, making sacrifices for others, and having a good sense of humor increased a person’s social value.

“From the Gypsies in Romania to the native islanders of Guam, people displaying intelligence, bravery and leadership rise in rank in the eyes of their peers,” said UT Austin psychology graduate student Patrick Durkee, who led the study with Buss. “But possessing qualities that inflict costs on others will cause your status to plummet, whether you live in Russia or Eritrea.”

Being known as a thief, as dirty or unclean, as mean or nasty, acquiring a sexually transmitted disease, and bringing shame on one’s family decreased a person’s social status or value. These status-harming actions can also lead to a person being ostracized from the group—”an action that would have meant near-certain death in ancestral environments,” the researchers said.

“Although this study was conducted prior to the current pandemic, it’s interesting that being a disease vector is universally detrimental to a person’s status,” Buss said. “Socially transmitted diseases are evolutionarily ancient challenges to human survival, so humans have psychological adaptations to avoid them. Lowering a person’s social status is an evolutionarily ancient method of social distancing from disease vectors.”

***

David M. Buss et al, Human status criteria: Sex differences and similarities across 14 nations., Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2020).  

DOI: 10.1037/pspa0000206

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

https://doi.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fpspa0000206

“Pandemics and the great evolutionary mismatch” by Guillaume Dezecache, Chris D. Frith and Ophelia Deroy [Current Biology]

“Pandemics and the great evolutionary mismatch

Guillaume Dezecache, Chris D. Frith and Ophelia Deroy

Current Biology Magazine 30, R1–R3, May 18, 2020

https://www.cell.com/pb-assets/products/coronavirus/CURBIO_16385.pdf

(…)

What increases in times of anxiety and threat is not a drive to help the self at all costs, but an intuitive drive to help others. The unfortunate consequence is that, in response to the current threat of infection, we desire social contact, particularly with the loved and the vulnerable.

Pandemics and the ‘breakdown of social order’ narrative

When describing the behaviour of people living in countries affected by the spread of covid-19, the media has rapidly adopted a ‘Hobbesian’ view of human nature [4]. This is the expectation that exposure to threat makes people abandon social niceties and, being naturally rivals, fall back into ‘brutishness and misery’. Major newspapers report panic, with people running to shops to collect masks, hand sanitizers and food. Those behaviours are routinely qualified as irrational: why rush to buy food when we are told that there will be no shortages? We do not doubt that humans can be irrational (we misevaluate large magnitudes; underestimate risks and value shortterm gain [7]). At the individual level, however, it is rational to hoard food and toilet paper when we are told that we will have to stay at home for an indefinite amount of time. It’s not that we do not trust politicians, but we are right to be uncertain about the resilience of institutions, and the social contract in general, in the face of an unprecedented, unknown, and growing threat. Similarly, it is perfectly rational, at the individual level, to run for the exits when the building is on fire. However, these self-oriented rational decisions are the ones on which we have to consciously reflect [8]. Our initial, intuitive responses are, on the contrary, to be cooperative [9].

(…)

The coming of covid-19 is being met with inertia and placidity, rather than mass panic. The French population was (and is still being) criticized by their own authorities for their laxity and nonchalance. Some weeks ago, the French continued to gather in bar terraces and break the obvious rules of social distancing. The German state of Bavaria took stricter confinement measures on March 21st, after finding that many individuals, despite the explicit instruction to stay away from others, were still gathering in groups as if nothing had changed. Similar violations of official advice are occurring everywhere.

An alternative to the accusation that people are irrational and irresponsible is the suggestion that people are ignorant of the threat. We are not suggesting that these effects are not in play (more below), but we want to suggest that knowing the threat is perfectly compatible with seeking company of friends and loved ones. Being with others and getting but also providing social support is how we cope with stress [10]. Increasing threat is only likely to reinforce this social inclination.

(…)

Contactseeking may be a ‘natural’ drive which is embedded in our physiology. Social touch contributes to the physiological regulation of the body’s responses to acute stressors and other short-term challenges. Close social support is not an extra for getting additional rewards. It constitutes our baseline [15]. Our brains do not respond positively to its presence, but negatively to its loss. People can crave for social cues just like they crave for food [16]. The policy implications of decades of research in social neuroscience are clear, but widely ignored: asking people to renounce social contact is not just asking them to abstain from pleasurable activities; it is asking them to diverge from a point of equilibrium, toward which they normally all gravitate.

(…)

One major issue is that diseases are largely invisible, particularly diseases (like covid-19) which remain asymptomatic in a large part of the population. This imperceptibility means that it is not even detected, let alone recognized as a collective threat. Hence, the defensive avoidance mechanisms associated with fear and disgust will not operate. Similarly, our social tendencies simply continue as, in the absence of symptoms, we don’t perceive that we may carry the infection. Even if we believe that the threat is widespread within our own group, the implications for oneself are challenging. Recognizing that one is likely to become a deadly threat to others is incongruent with our self-image, leading to dissonance and denial of the danger.

There is, however, a second issue: a threat stemming from infection, in societies with optimally functioning health systems, may be detected and yet recognized to be severe only for a small fraction of the population. Unless we feel we belong to that fraction, the threat may not be construed as collective: it is them, not us. A threat that remains invisible, and is thought to apply only to some individuals, is unlike other threats (such as predators, enemies or hurricanes) which are clearly menacing everyone in a given location. More than physical proximity and covulnerability is needed for a threat to be recognised as collective. Some actual or potential understanding of aspects of the threat as shared by us all, in a collective ‘we’ [2,19], is also required.

(…)

In all likelihood, the mismatch between our misperception of the severity of the threat and its consequences is likely to become even more destructive in dense urban areas in which social isolation is a costly good.

(…)

So why don’t we avoid each other in times of infections? It is because our infection-avoidance mechanisms are overwhelmed by a much stronger drive to affiliate and seek close contact.”

“Political attitudes vary with detection of androstenone” [Politics and the Life Sciences]

“Political attitudes vary with detection of androstenone

Amanda Friesen, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis
Mike Gruszczynski , Indiana University Bloomington
Kevin B. Smith, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
John R. Alford, Rice University

Politics and the Life Sciences

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/politics-and-the-life-sciences/article/political-attitudes-vary-with-detection-of-androstenone/AE5D552DAD0EAB987CA711FE5DB190AE

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/pls.2019.18

Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 January 2020

ABSTRACT.

Building on a growing body of research suggesting that political attitudes are part of broader individual and biological orientations, we test whether the detection of the hormone androstenone is predictive of political attitudes. The particular social chemical analyzed in this study is androstenone, a nonandrogenic steroid found in the sweat and saliva of many mammals, including humans. A primary reason for scholarly interest in odor detection is that it varies so dramatically from person to person. Using participants’self-reported perceptions of androstenone intensity, together with a battery of survey items testing social and political preferences and orientations, this research supports the idea that perceptions of androstenone intensity relate to political orientations—most notably, preferences for social order—lending further support to theories positing the influence of underlying biological traits on sociopolitical attitudes and behaviors.

Our understanding of the origins of public opinion has expanded from elite messaging, socialization, and group membership to include the possibility that attitudes toward group life may have some basis in our biology. That is, the social signals humans have generated and interpreted throughout the history of our species may continue to influence complex social behaviors like politics.

(…)

The odor of politics? Given the central role that olfaction plays in disgust detection and disgust’s link to politics (Aarøe, Petersen, & Arceneaux, 2017; Balzer & Jacobs, 2011; Inbar et al., 2009; Smith et al., 2011a), we have borrowed its theoretical organizational scheme to think about how olfaction may also connect to political opinions. Recent research has identified three primary functions of disgust: pathogen avoidance, mate choice, and social interaction— sometimes labeled microbes, mating, and morality (Neuberg et al., 2011; Tybur et al., 2009; Tybur et al., 2010). As mentioned, the precursor to olfaction originated as a mechanism for identifying substances that singlecelled organisms should approach or avoid.

(…)

Results

We first investigate androstenone detection and political orientations using the aforementioned personality, psychological, and political batteries. In addition to the three measures of political ideology, the survey also tapped cognitive and personality patterns, including the Big Five personality inventory (conscientiousness, emotional stability, openness, agreeableness, and extroversion), the BIS/BAS (behavioral inhibition and activation, respectively) scales, preference for literalism, and tendencies to be both disgust and threat sensitive. We have no strong expectations for the nature of the relationship between androstenone detection and these concepts, but we do expect positive relationships for all three of our political batteries and particularly for the “preferences for social order” battery, a finding that would indicate that those with politically conservative and “authority-attuned” positions tend to be more sensitive to androstenone.

(…)

Discussion

In our sample, variations in androstenone detection appear to be relevant to variations in political orientations—specifically, preferences for order—but not psychological orientations. Economic and sexual morality issues appear to be unconnected to sensitivity to androstenone. As we noted earlier, the absence of a relationship with sex items is particularly interesting given that other research has demonstrated that sensitivity to pathogen-relevant disgust is indeed related to issue stances on sexual matters. Sensitivity to the human odorant androstenone appears to manifest itself politically in quite a different fashion than sensitivity to pathogen-indicating odors (e.g., human excrement, vomit, or spoiled food). Certain individuals are sensitive to the odor of androstenone, and they also tend to be the people who are attuuned to and eager to squelch threats to the social order

(…)

Psychologists, biologists, and geneticists have demonstrated human variation in every sensory system just as social scientists have been examining differences in social and political orientations and attitudes. Our work seeks to bridge these worlds in the hope of contributing to the understanding of the nature and origins of human political behavior and, broadly, public opinion. Few, if any, disciplines treat biological and behavioral variation as completely unrelated, yet much of the political science research does just that. This is a matter of empiricism. Just as parents, schools, peers, culture, and time periods may influence sociopolitical attitudes and behavior, we posit that the manner in which individuals process these environmental inputs may be just as important as the inputs themselves (Gonzalez et al., 2015). Combined with the growing body of work connecting politics to behavioral genetics and physiology, we demonstrate olfaction should not be ignored in the examination of political attitudes and orientations.”

“Explaining the Emergence of Coronavirus Rituals” By Dimitris Xygalatas [Sapiens]

“Explaining the Emergence of Coronavirus Rituals

An anthropologist illuminates how both old and new rituals can provide a sense of comfort during times of uncertainty.

Dimitris Xygalatas is an anthropologist at the University of Connecticut.

https://www.sapiens.org/culture/coronavirus-rituals/

Responding to the coronavirus pandemic, most American universities have suspended all campus activities. Like millions of people all around the world, the lives of students all over the U.S. has changed overnight.

When I met my students for what was going to be our last in-class meeting of the academic year, I explained the situation and asked whether there were any questions. The first thing my students wanted to know was, “Will we be able to have a graduation ceremony?”

The fact that the answer was no was the most disappointing news for them.

As an anthropologist who studies ritual, hearing that question from so many students did not come as a surprise. The most important moments of our lives—from birthdays and weddings to college graduations and holiday traditions are marked by ceremony.

Rituals provide meaning and make those experiences memorable.

RITUAL AS A RESPONSE TO ANXIETY

Anthropologists have long observed that people across cultures tend to perform more rituals in times of uncertainty. Stressful events such as warfare, environmental threat, and material insecurity are often linked with spikes in ritual activity.

In a laboratory study in 2015, my colleagues and I found that under conditions of stress people’s behavior tends to become more rigid and repetitive—in other words, more ritualized.

The reason behind this propensity lies in our cognitive makeup. Our brain is wired to make predictions about the state of the world. It uses past knowledge to make sense of current situations. But when everything around us is changing, the ability to make predictions is limited. This causes many of us to experience anxiety.

That is where ritual comes in.

Rituals are highly structured. They require rigidity and must always be performed the “right” way. And they involve repetitition: The same actions are done again and again. In other words, they are predictable.

So even if they have no direct influence over the physical world, rituals provide a sense of control by imposing order on the chaos of everyday life.

It is of little importance whether this sense of control is illusory. What matters is that it is an efficient way of relieving anxiety.

(…)

By aligning behavior and creating shared experiences, rituals forge a sense of belonging and common identity that transforms individuals into cohesive communities. As field experiments show, participating in collective rituals increases generosity and even makes people’s heart rates synchronize.

TOOLS FOR RESILIENCE

It is not surprising, then, that people around the world are responding to the novel coronavirus crisis by creating new rituals.

Some of those rituals are meant to provide a sense of structure and reclaim the sense of control. For example, comedian Jimmy Kimmel and his wife encouraged those in quarantine to hold formal Fridays, dressing up for dinner even if they were alone.

(…)

People are coming up with a host of rituals to maintain a broader sense of human connection. In various European cities, people have started to go to their balconies at the same time every day to applaud health care workers for their tireless service.”