Category Archives: evolution

The Evolution of Altruism And Its Relationship to Personality

Altruism, put simply, is helping others or cooperating with others, even if it is costly to self. Of course, something like that cannot evolve, unless there are benefits too, associated with such acts of apparent selflessness.

Evolutionary theory mandates that there be some genetic payoffs in terms of either inclusive fitness or future benefits to self (reciprocity) for any kind of altruism/ cooperation to evolve.

I recommend reading Wikipedia articles on reciprocity, kin selection, and evolution of cooperation if they are not familiar to you or you need a refresher.

Cooperation, to start with, can evolve based on three forms of reciprocity: direct, indirect and network. All are based on the fact that there re repeated interactions between group of people- dyads, triads or many more. Reciprocity can typically be measured in the lab using the repeated Dictator/ Trust game.

Direct reciprocity was proposed by Robert Trivers as a mechanism for the evolution of cooperation. If there are repeated encounters between the same two players in an evolutionary game in which each of them can choose either to “cooperate” or “defect”, then a strategy of mutual cooperation may be favoured even if it pays each player, in the short term, to defect when the other cooperates.

Here, in direct reciprocity A trusts/helps B and hopes that when time comes B will reciprocate/help A. The top-of-the-mind factor is whether or not to trust somebody and whether or not to reciprocate someone’s trust. Trust and exploitation may be relevant issues here. In the Dictator/ Trust game this trust/exploitation manifests as the amount that is split and given to the other person vs kept with oneself.

In the standard framework of indirect reciprocity, there are randomly chosen pairwise encounters between members of a population; the same two individuals need not meet again. One individual acts as donor, the other as recipient. The donor can decide whether or not to cooperate. The interaction is observed by a subset of the population who might inform others. Reputation allows evolution of cooperation by indirect reciprocity.

This is partially correct that reputation for being trustworthy helps in indirect reciprocity; however that is only true for the downstream version; for the upstream version feelings of gratitude/happiness/awe/elevation in persons receiving the help/ witnessing the act also lead to more pro-social behavior by those receiving help/ witnessing. Thus feelings of gratitude/ awe/elevation mediate this kind of upstream indirect reciprocity. See below for upstream and downstream variants.

Individual acts of indirect reciprocity may be classified as “upstream” or “downstream”:

  • Upstream reciprocity occurs when an act of altruism causes the recipient to perform a later act of altruism in the benefit of a third party. In other words: A helps B, which then motivates B to help C.

  • Downstream reciprocity occurs when the performer of an act of altruism is more likely to be the recipient of a later act of altruism. In other words: A helps B, making it more likely that C will later help A.

Before touching upon network reciprocity, I will take a quick detour about kin selection. I believe kin selection or inclusive fitness is also a type of reciprocity (that between related individuals sharing genes) and may be rechristened genetic reciprocity. After all if A is likely to help B because they share x % of genes, the reverse is equally true and applicable. And of course this is mediated by emotional attachment to the kid/kin.

As per one definition of kin selection:

A biological theory stating that a gene that causes an organism to exhibit behavior detrimental to its survival will increase in frequency in a population if that behavior benefits the organism’s relatives, which will pass the gene on to subsequent generations.

If I slightly change words form above definition, I can now define a neighbor selection process as a cultural theory stating that a meme that causes an organism to exhibit behavior detrimental to its survival will increase in frequency in a population if that behavior benefits the organism’s neighbors, which will pass the meme on to subsequent neighbors.

We are now ready to look at network reciprocity:

Real populations are not well mixed, but have spatial structures or social networks which imply that some individuals interact more often than others. One approach of capturing this effect is evolutionary graph theory, in which individuals occupy the vertices of a graph. The edges determine who interacts with whom. If a cooperator pays a cost, c, for each neighbor to receive a benefit, b, and defectors have no costs, and their neighbors receive no benefits, network reciprocity can favor cooperation.

Basically, what I understand from the above is that if you help your neighbors sometimes such that the cost is not too high but benefits to neighbors are high and if  cost to benefit compares favorably with average number of neighbors/ neighborly interactions you have, then in the long run you will benefit and this form of cooperation can evolve.  To me the effects are mediated by the number of neighbors or sociability of a person.

Of course, even if you have all these mechanisms in place, cooperation may not evolve, as you may have free-riders. One important mechanism that has evolved to keep the free-riders in check is that of punishment. And once punishment is part of the picture you don’t even need repeated interactions, one-off games may be sufficient. I call this phenomenon Direct Punishment. One way it has been measured is with the Ultimatum game.

In the Ultimatum game, the second player can inflict costly punishment on first player by refusing to accept the division; this costly punishment is dyadic in nature and the aggression/hostility/vengefulness of the second player ensures that cooperation in even one-off encounters happens.

Basically instead of trusting and helping B, A starts by exploiting B and B retaliates by punishing A at cost to oneself.

Of course one can then surmise that there can be a phenomena of indirect punishment. This again may happen in two ways:

  1. Indirect punishment upstream: A is exploitative in nature; A exploits B; B punishes A, who then feels guilt/ gets reformed and stops exploiting C or even starts helping C.
  2. Indirect punishment downstream: A is exploitative in nature: A exploits B, B punishes A; B gets a reputation for being tough/competent and stops getting exploited by others say C or C may now even help B.

The Indirect reciprocity effects can be seen in Public goods/ trust game.

I will now take a detour and introduce the HEXACO model of personality which set me thinking about this in the first place.

HEXACO is an alternate personality model that is based on the same principles as the Big Five/FFM; i.e. it uses factor analysis of lexical terms in various languages to arrive at major personality traits.

The six factors are generally named Honesty-Humility (H), Emotionality (E), Extraversion (X), Agreeableness (A), Conscientiousness (C), and Openness to Experience (O). The personality-descriptive adjectives that typically belong to these six groups are as follows:

  • Honesty-Humility (H): sincere, honest, faithful, loyal, modest/unassuming versus sly, deceitful, greedy, pretentious, hypocritical, boastful, pompous

  • Emotionality (E): emotional, oversensitive, sentimental, fearful, anxious, vulnerable versus brave, tough, independent, self-assured, stable

  • Extraversion (X): outgoing, lively, extraverted, sociable, talkative, cheerful, active versus shy, passive, withdrawn, introverted, quiet, reserved

  • Agreeableness (A): patient, tolerant, peaceful, mild, agreeable, lenient, gentle versus ill-tempered, quarrelsome, stubborn, choleric

  • Conscientiousness (C): organized, disciplined, diligent, careful, thorough, precise versus sloppy, negligent, reckless, lazy, irresponsible, absent-minded

  • Openness to Experience (O): intellectual, creative, unconventional, innovative, ironic versus shallow, unimaginative, conventional

The factor H is a new factor not present in Big Five/FFM. The E though looking similar to N of big Five, is conceptually different; it no longer contains anger/hostility which are instead present in HEXACO A. similalrly there are important differences between HEXACO A and Big Five A. the other 3, C, O and X (extarversion) are similarly conceptualized and defined in both systems and have same loadings when tested together.

Ashton and Lee, the proponents of the HEXACO model, have themselves related evolution of altruism to these traits [pdf] and I am building on their work.

Basically as per them,

To begin, we have proposed that the Honesty- Humility and Agreeableness factors represent two complementary aspects of the construct of reciprocal altruism (Trivers, 1971). Honesty-Humility represents the tendency to be fair and genuine in dealing with others, in the sense of cooperating with others even when one might exploit them without suffering retaliation. Agreeableness represents the tendency to be forgiving and tolerant of others, in the sense of cooperating with others even when one might be suffering exploitation by them. (For a discussion of two broadly similar, although not identical, constructs, see Perugini, Gallucci, Presaghi, & Ercolani, 2003.) Presumably, high levels of Honesty- Humility are associated with decreased opportunities for personal gains from the exploitation of others but also with decreased risks of losses from withdrawal of cooperation by others. In a similar manner, high levels of Agreeableness are associated with increased opportunities for personal gains from long-run reciprocal cooperation with others, as well as with increased risks of losses from exploitation by others. (Note that we use the term altruism in terms of a dimension of altruistic versus antagonistic tendency, which involves both a willingness to help or provide benefits to others and an unwillingness to harm or impose costs on others.)
In addition, we have proposed that Emotionality represents tendencies relevant to the construct of kin altruism (Hamilton, 1964), including not only empathic concern and emotional attachment toward close others (who tend to be one’s kin) but also the harm-avoidant and help-seeking behaviors that are associated with investment in kin (see also Lee & Ashton, 2004). Presumably, high levels of Emotionality are associated with increased likelihood of personal and kin survival, as well as with decreased opportunities for gains that are often associated with risks to personal and kin survival.
To me, this looks like equating direct reciprocity with H and direct punishment with A.  With this in mind I now list the personality trait (HEXACO)/ evolution of altruism linkages.
1. Kin Selection/ Genetic Reciprocity : mediated by emotional attachments etc and related to Emotioanlity.
2. Neighbor Selection / Network Reciprocity: mediated by sociability and related to sociability aspects of Extrarversion.
3. Direct Reciprocity : mediated by trusting others and being honest and related to Honesty-humility.
4. Direct Punishment:  mediated by punishing others and being aggressive/ hostile when needed and related to Agreeablness.
5. Indirect Reciprocity upstream:  mediated by feelings of gratitude/ awe/ elevation and possibly related to Openness to Experience
6. Indirect Punishment upstream: mediated by feelings of guilt/responsibility and related to Conscientiousness.
 7. Indirect Reciprocity downstream: mediated by signaling and being trustworthy; need a new personality dimension for this.
8. Indirect Punishment downstream: mediated by signaling and being competent/ tough and possibly related to Surgency dimension of Extarversion.
I am more and more convinced, looking at the above model that we evolved to be cooperative/ altruistic rather than otherwise.

The four mechanisms of evolution

Darwin's finches or Galapagos finches. Darwin,...

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Regular readers of the blog will know of my enthusiasm for evolutionary and developmental theories especially the eight stage evo-devo theory.

I have also advocated the four primary problems faced by all creatures undergoing evolution, as delineated by Theodore Millon– the problems of Existence; Adaptation; Replication and Abstraction which lead to polarities of pain/pleasure;  active/passive; self/other and broad/narrow at each of the stages/domains/ solutions.

However, when we pause to look at what the mechanism of evolution actually is, we clearly note that there are a few prerequisites for evolution to take place and unless all the four mechanisms/ preconditions are present it is unlikely that the creatures will evolve.   I have been having this in the back of my mind for quite some time especially as I  have been ruminating on the BVSR (blind variation and selective retention)  theory of Donald Campbell as applied to creativity.

I was recently reading ‘Driven’ and in that book too a lot of emphasis is placed on the V-S-R (Variation, Selection, Retention) mechanism of evolution. I think this popular portrayal of evolution misses another important ingredient required for evolution that of Struggle due to limited resources and excess fecundity. If the problem of limited resources and excess fecundity was not there, probably there would be no pressure to evolve.


Thus I would like to frame the four evolutionary prerequisites/ mechanisms as Struggle-Retention- Variation-Selection or S_R_V_S.  To elaborate:

1. Struggle: This is driven by the fact of limited resources and overproduction due to excess fecundity. Here two strategies, leading to 2 polarities,  work; one can either compete for resources or one can cooperate and exist symbiotically.  Also, one can either have a r-strategy (low investment in many) of reproduction or A K-strategy (high investment in few). In the eight stage model, the organisms at first 2 levels would be primarily constrained by this evolutionary mechanisms.

2. Retention:  There must exist some mechanism by which the traits that confer survival/reproductive or selection advantage can be retained over time in the same individual and over generations in the same species. Again the mechanism of stable trait over time as well as  over generations may be in conflict with each other and may lead to a polarity. Creatures at stage 3 and 4 of 8 stage evo-devo theory would likely face issues regarding stability and retention of traits; retaining in individual the same trait is an active process; while retaining in generations is more passively driven.

3. Variation. There must exist some  mechanism that causes minor changes in the stable traits such that variation may lead to deleterious or beneficial effect over the individual having that variation. This is classically implemented using mutations and sexual-recombinations. While mutations confer (dis)advantages at an individual level; recombinations take that to the next level by affecting offsprings variability. The creatures at stages 5 and 6 of evo-devo stages are grappling with these problems of adequate variation in self and other.

4. Selection: There must exist some selection criteria based on which the struggling creatures having stable but slightly varying traits can be selected for or against.  While Natural selection (stage 7) employs the three methods of directional, stabilizing and disruptive selection; the stage 8 deploys a qualitatively different method of sexual selection where the criteria for selection may be  arbitrarily driven by choices of the other gender conspesifics.  While the Natural selection criteria is broad, the sexual selection criteria can be said to be narrow. Another way to look at this is that the selection crteria is either to survive (natural selction) or to reproduce (sexual slection) and those who are sucessful can very well move from one level/species to another (speciation due to sexual selection).

To me this is further  corrobrating evidence of the eight stage evo-devo theory and ABCD model being on the right track.


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universal human mate preference: four dimensions or eight factors?

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In  my last post I had mentioned how Seligman and Peterson have tried to correlate their structure of human virtues/character strengths with work of other researchers like the universal dimensions of human mate preferences discovered by Buss et al.  Today I wish to discuss in detail the universal dimensions of human mate preferences discovered by Buss  et al.

Buss et al looked at data , using an 18 item preference ratings archival database, of about ten thousand people, from various cultures across the globe, and used the analysis strategy outlined by Bond to take care of different sample size from different cultures. they then applied the Principal component analysis to the refined data so obtained to determine the underlying structure of the mate preferences.

Their PCA analysis led to discovery of four dimensions all of which could be quantified as bipolar dimensions with one pole representing a different construct and another representing a sort-of-but-not-really opposed construct. For eg.,the first factor included loadings from ‘‘good financial prospects’’ (-0.65), ‘‘favorable social status or ratings’’ (-0.62), and ‘‘ambition and industriousness’’ (-0.41), each of which loaded negatively. The component also included ‘‘mutual attraction—love’’ (0.49), which loaded positively. They thus labeled this component ‘‘Love vs. Status/Resources.’

Similarly the 3 other components were labeled “Dependable/Stable vs. Good Looks/Health”; “Education/Intelligence vs. Desire for Home/Children”; and “Sociability vs. Similar Religion”.

To my naive mind all of these bipolar dimensions seem to be separate constructs in themselves and I cannot fathom why dependable/stable should be taken as opposed to good looks/health. to me they seem sort of independent constructs. I would rather view the findings as eight separate poles than 4 bipolar dimensions with each dimension conflating two constructs/factors.

The paper immediately drew to my mind this paper, by Haslam et al, that while finding the underlying structure of positive characteristics, found three consistent bipolar dimensions using multi dimensional scaling. However, when the same data was subjected to cluster analysis, 6 factors were or clusters were apparent , each cluster being the pole of a single bipolar dimension. These 6 factors were “self-control,” “love,” “wisdom,” “drive,” “vivacity,” and “collaboration” which to my mind seems to map onto the virtues of self-restraint/temperance strengths, interpersonal or humanity strengths, intellectual or wisdom strengths, courage or emotional strengths , activity or vitality strengths and justice or civic strengths. Of course I think their MDS missed a fourth dimension which would have led to 8 clusters , the 2 remaining being religious and transcendence strengths.

Returning back to our current paper on universal mate preferences, I would like to break up the 4 dimensions into 8 factors and present them in a staged developmental order. It would be worthwhile to note that the two opposed dimensions are usually two adjacent stages following each other and may indeed reflect some conflict in mind of people as to which stage of mate preference to prefer based on their evolved natures . Here goes:

  1. first stage: Physical/biological : good looks/health
  2. second stage: will, restraint and control: dependable/stable.
  3. third stage: dominance/hierarchy, friends and foes: status/ resources.
  4. fourth stage: interpersonal: Love
  5. fifth stage: cognitive: education/ intelligence
  6. sixth stage: intimacy: desire for home/children.
  7. seventh stage: communicative/ generative:  sociability
  8. eights stage: integrity, ingroup/outgroup: similar vs dissimilar religion.

Of course this is not the first time I have tried to put Buss’s findings in a 8 stage model; earlier I had tried to put his views on personality in a  eight fold structure- whereby the last three stages of reproduction/evolution may be now characterized as biological, linguistic and cultural evolution. Anyway getting back to universal mate preferences, I can see that eight fold structure is found in the mate preferences too depending on which stage of preferences you have evolved/developed.

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SHACKELFORD, T., SCHMITT, D., & BUSS, D. (2005). Universal dimensions of human mate preferences Personality and Individual Differences, 39 (2), 447-458 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2005.01.023
Haslam, N., Bain, P., & Neal, D. (2004). The Implicit Structure of Positive Characteristics Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30 (4), 529-541 DOI: 10.1177/0146167203261893

Major conscious and unconcoscious processes in the brain

Today I plan to touch upon the topic of consciousness (from which many bloggers shy) and more broadly try to delineate what I believe are the important different conscious and unconscious processes in the brain. I will be heavily using my evolutionary stages model for this.

To clarify myself at the very start , I do not believe in a purely reactive nature of organisms; I believe that apart from reacting to stimuli/world; they also act , on their own, and are thus agents. To elaborate, I believe that neuronal groups and circuits may fire on their own and thus lead to behavior/ action. I do not claim that this firing is under voluntary/ volitional control- it may be random- the important point to note is that there is spontaneous motion.

  1. Sensory system: So to start with I propose that the first function/process the brain needs to develop is to sense its surroundings. This is to avoid predators/ harm in general. this sensory function of brain/sense organs may be unconscious and need not become conscious- as long as an animal can sense danger, even though it may not be aware of the danger, it can take appropriate action – a simple ‘action’ being changing its color to merge with background. 
  2. Motor system:The second function/ process that the brain needs to develop is to have a system that enables motion/movement. This is primarily to explore its environment for food /nutrients. Preys are not going to walk in to your mouth; you have to move around and locate them. Again , this movement need not be volitional/conscious – as long as the animal moves randomly and sporadically to explore new environments, it can ‘see’ new things and eat a few. Again this ‘seeing’ may be as simple as sensing the chemical gradient in a new environmental.
  3. Learning system: The third function/process that the brain needs to develop is to have a system that enables learning. It is not enough to sense the environmental here-and-now. One needs to learn the contingencies in the world and remember that both in space and time. I am inclined to believe that this is primarily pavlovaion conditioning and associative learning, though I don’t rule out operant learning. Again this learning need not be conscious- one need not explicitly refer to a memory to utilize it- unconscious learning and memory of events can suffice and can drive interactions. I also believe that need for this function is primarily driven by the fact that one interacts with similar environments/con specifics/ predators/ preys and it helps to remember which environmental conditions/operant actions lead to what outcomes. This learning could be as simple as stimuli A predict stimuli B and/or that action C predicts reward D .
  4. Affective/ Action tendencies system .The fourth function I propose that the brain needs to develop is a system to control its motor system/ behavior by making it more in sync with its internal state. This I propose is done by a group of neurons monitoring the activity of other neurons/visceral organs and thus becoming aware (in a non-conscious sense)of the global state of the organism and of the probability that a particular neuronal group will fire in future and by thus becoming aware of the global state of the organism , by their outputs they may be able to enable one group to fire while inhibiting other groups from firing. To clarify by way of example, some neuronal groups may be responsible for movement. Another neuronal group may be receiving inputs from these as well as say input from gut that says that no movement has happened for a time and that the organism has also not eaten for a time and thus is in a ‘hungry’ state. This may prompt these neurons to fire in such a way that they send excitatory outputs to the movement related neurons and thus biasing them towards firing and thus increasing the probability that a motion will take place and perhaps the organism by indulging in exploratory behavior may be able to satisfy hunger. Of course they will inhibit other neuronal groups from firing and will themselves stop firing when appropriate motion takes place/ a prey is eaten. Again nothing of this has to be conscious- the state of the organism (like hunger) can be discerned unconsciously and the action-tendencies biasing foraging behavior also activated unconsciously- as long as the organism prefers certain behaviors over others depending on its internal state , everything works perfectly. I propose that (unconscious) affective (emotional) state and systems have emerged to fulfill exactly this need of being able to differentially activate different action-tendencies suited to the needs of the organism. I also stick my neck out and claim that the activation of a particular emotion/affective system biases our sensing also. If the organism is hungry, the food tastes (is unconsciously more vivid) better and vice versa. thus affects not only are action-tendencies , but are also, to an extent, sensing-tendencies.
  5. Decisional/evaluative system: the last function (for now- remember I adhere to eight stage theories- and we have just seen five brain processes in increasing hierarchy) that the brain needs to have is a system to decide / evaluate. Learning lets us predict our world as well as the consequences of our actions. Affective systems provide us some control over our behavior and over our environment- but are automatically activated by the state we are in. Something needs to make these come together such that the competition between actions triggered due to the state we are in (affective action-tendencies) and the actions that may be beneficial given the learning associated with the current stimuli/ state of the world are resolved satisfactorily. One has to balance the action and reaction ratio and the subjective versus objective interpretation/ sensation of environment. The decisional/evaluative system , I propose, does this by associating values with different external event outcomes and different internal state outcomes and by resolving the trade off between the two. This again need not be conscious- given a stimuli predicting a predator in vicinity, and the internal state of the organism as hungry, the organism may have attached more value to ‘avoid being eaten’ than to ‘finding prey’ and thus may not move, but camouflage. On the other hand , if the organisms value system is such that it prefers a hero’s death on battlefield , rather than starvation, it may move (in search of food) – again this could exist in the simplest of unicellular organisms.

Of course all of these brain processes could (and in humans indeed do) have their conscious counterparts like Perception, Volition,episodic Memory, Feelings and Deliberation/thought. That is a different story for a new blog post!

And of course one can also conceive the above in pure reductionist form as a chain below:

sense–>recognize & learn–>evaluate options and decide–>emote and activate action tendencies->execute and move.

and then one can also say that movement leads to new sensation and the above is not a chain , but a part of cycle; all that is valid, but I would sincerely request my readers to consider the possibility of spontaneous and self-driven behavior as separate from reactive motor behavior. 

On Reading Darwin

12 th of February was Darwin day, and I decided to study an original text of Darwin to honor the occasion. I chose the ‘Expression of emotions in Man and animals’ as my first text as I am familiar with the work of Paul Ekman and have had a deep fascination with the subject and wanted to find out how much Darwin had anticipated and got right in his times.I have only read the introduction and the first chapter till now, but am surprised at the level of modernity visible in Darwin’s analysis.

Of course Darwin takes an evolutionary view on the subject and is also cognizant of the subtleness of the entire field.

He who admits on general grounds that the structure and habits of all animals have been gradually evolved, will look at the whole subject of Expression in a new and interesting light.

The study of Expression is difficult, owing to the movements being often extremely slight, and of a fleeting nature. A difference may be clearly perceived, and yet it may be impossible, at least I have found it so, to state in what the difference consists. When we witness any deep emotion, our sympathy is so strongly excited, that close observation is forgotten or rendered almost impossible; of which fact I have had many curious proofs. Our imagination is another and still more serious source of error; for if from the nature of the circumstances we expect to see any expression, we readily imagine its presence. Notwithstanding Dr. Duchenne’s great experience, he for a long time fancied, as he states, that several muscles contracted under certain emotions, whereas he ultimately convinced himself that the movement was confined to a single muscle.

He then lists the various ways he plans to get to universal features of emotional expressions. These involve using questionnaires given to various anthropologists to discover if the emotions are expressed in a similar fashion all over the world ;and the study of infants and insane as they may have unadulterated / extreme emotional expressions respectively. He also briefly touches upon the usefulness of studying emotional expressions as depicted by Masters in painting in sculpture but finds the method wanting. Lats , but not the least, he studied emotional expression in other animals and treated emotional expression as a continuum.

Sixthly, and lastly, I have attended. as closely as I could, to the expression of the several passions in some of the commoner animals; and this I believe to be of paramount importance, not of course for deciding how far in man certain expressions are characteristic of certain states of mind, but as affording the safest basis for generalisation on the causes, or origin, of the various movements of Expression. In observing animals, we are not so likely to be biassed by our imagination; and we may feel safe that their expressions are not conventional.

He then lists the three basic principles of emotional expressions. I list them verbatim.

I. _The principle of serviceable associated Habits_.–Certain complex actions are of direct or indirect service under certain states of the mind, in order to relieve or gratify certain sensations, desires, &c.; and whenever the same state of mind is induced, however feebly, there is a tendency through the force of habit and association for the same movements to be performed, though they may not then be of the least use. Some actions ordinarily associated through habit with certain states of the mind may be partially repressed through the will, and in such cases the muscles which are least under the separate control of the will are the most liable still to act, causing movements which we recognize as expressive. In certain other cases the checking of one habitual movement requires other slight movements; and these are likewise expressive.

II. _The principle of Antithesis_.–Certain states of the mind lead to certain habitual actions, which are of service, as under our first principle. Now when a directly opposite state of mind is induced, there is a strong and involuntary tendency to the performance of movements of a directly opposite nature, though these are of no use; and such movements are in some cases highly expressive.

III. _The principle of actions due to the constitution of the Nervous System, independently from the first of the Will, and independently to a certain extent of Habit_.— When the sensorium is strongly excited, nerve-force is generated in excess, and is transmitted in certain definite directions, depending on the connection of the nerve-cells, and partly on habit: or the supply of nerve-force may, as it appears, be interrupted. Effects are thus produced which we recognize as expressive. This third principle may, for the sake of brevity, be called that of the direct action of the nervous system


The first principal is easy to understand. It basically states that facial expression etc are associated with mental emotional states and do so by way of habit formation or association. Now, this should not exclude instinctual emotional expressions like smiling as they become fixed by the action of evolution.

The second principle has had only some relatively moderate success. I remember a recent study claiming that Fear and Disgust had opposite effects on facial muscle movements such that Fear led to movements (like broadening of eyes/ dilation of pupils)that allowed more information/material to be ingested; while disgust led to constriction of nose, eye, mouth etc. although Fear and disgust are not antithetical, one may discern similar patterns in other movements.

The third again, I believe has mixed success. It can be ralete to Jams-lange theory of emtoions, where nervous arousal happens first, and emotional feeling or expressions accompanying them follow next.

I am only thus far in my reading of Darwin, but surely will keep doing follow up posts.

The Varieties of Altruistic Experiences

Altruism is a very heavily loaded word  in evolutionary psychology/ biology and I would not add to the confusion by defining the term myself. Suffice it to say , that I will use it in all of its various intuitive and theoretical usages.

The evolution of biological Altruism is generally considered as a challenge to Darwinian evolution and there are thought to be two main theories of how Altruism is possible or has evolved. These are Hamilton’s Kin-selection and inclusive fitness theory and Trivers’ Reciprocal Altruism theory, though some prominent people disagree that there are indeed two separate phenomenon at work and try to argue that they are one and the same phenomenon

I would argue instead that there are more varieties of Altruism than the above two- and that it may also be beneficial to decompose the phenomenon of kin selection and reciprocal altruism into their sub components and to to derive/ elucidate the proximate mechanisms that are involved in these phenomenon as opposed to a single-minded focus on the ultimate explanations of why and how such models can give rise to altruism.

To that effect I would like to separate the parental-investment and parent-child ‘kid-selection’ effects from other genetic relatives or ‘kin-selection’ effects. The reason I believe they are separate is because having a child or Kid involves bringing in a new relative with 0.5 relatedness in this world , so the cost to bring in to the parent can be very high as post facto (childbirth) the inclusive fitness becomes 1.5 +0.5b-c (cost) while earlier it was only 1.  Thus, the act can be undertaken if 0.5 +0.5b>c.  In the kin selection case however the inclusive fitness is 1-c +0.5+ 0.5*b after the altruistic act vis-a-vis 1.5 before the act ; so  the act can only be undertaken if 0.5b>c . the addition of a constant 0.5 to the first equation changes the dynamics to a large extent and thus my idea to keep the two phenomenon separate.

Also, reciprocal altruism can itself be broken into some differing phenomenons. The first phenomenon is generalized reciprocity (which is even found in rats , see also this) and others are direct, indirect and strong reciprocity. To summarize form an earlier post:

As per what is know about the evolution of Altruism, it is surmised that co-operation in groups emerges based on four types of reciprocity- direct, indirect, strong and generalized.

In direct reciprocity, one helps another person/animal because the other animal has helped oneself in the past. This requires cognitive capacities to recognize different individuals and require social memory as to which member of the group had helped and which had defected or free loafed. While some animals like the Elephant have good social memories and the ability to remember and recognize different individuals, most animals fall short on these traits.

In indirect reciprocity, one helps another because one has observed the other guy to have helped someone else. This again requires cognitive capacities to recognize and also to remember This is more so based on a reputation system, wherein you start trusting someone more if you observe him doing good deeds. In return you are likely to help the do-gooder , when he is in time of need.

In strong reciprocity, people punish the defectors or free-loafers or non-cooperators. This requires sophisticated cognitive abilities to recognize the defectors and a willingness to undergo cost to oneself while punishing the defector. This too, along with the above two, has rarely been observed in animals apart from humans.

Finally, generalized reciprocity happens when one indulges in good deeds towards a stranger just based on the fact that one has in the near future received such help from other strangers/ con specifics. There are variations on this theme, whereby if people have been put in a good mood (which is a substitute for having received a good deed) they are more likely to indulge in altruistic acts like picking up books dropped by a confederate. This type of reciprocity does not make very strong cognitive demands as one just has to remember the summary of whether the environment is cooperative or not, to produce the right kind of behavior.

So based on above I would like to differentiate between two clusters of reciprocity: Generalized reciprocity not requiring sophisticated cognitive mechanisms, but requiring global assumptions about the social environment; and strong, direct and indirect reciprocity – all involving sophisticated cognitive mechanisms but not dependent on assumptions about the global social environment.

With this I would now like to move to my main thesis. I argue that altruism is a social and group phenomenon and to understand all the proximal mechanisms that are involved in altruistic acts we have to appreciate the mechanisms and drives that lead to group formation, group cohesion and expansion and finally group thriving or differential success from other similar groups based on selection of members belonging to the group such that their is non-zero sum benefits of being in the group.

I would argue that all of the above can be understood in the eight stage framework, with the first three stages related to group formation; the next two related to investment in group (expanding or making it cohesive) and the last three related to populating the group with better individuals/ creating a suitable group that has maximum payoffs for all.

To start with , let us revisit the eight basic adaptive problems as elaborated here and here.

  1. The first problem to be solved ‘foe’ is also the first primary driver for the evolution of groups. Groups or herd evolve per se, because a solitary creature is more vulnerable to predation than as part of a group. This is how herding evolved. The proximate mechanism working at this level is that of merging with a group. 
  2. The second problem to be solved ‘food’ is the secondary driver for evolution of groups. It is envisaged that hunting/ gathering as part of a group leads to better  and bigger catches than are individually possible. this provides the incentive to work with other group members to hunt/ forage. This introduces the problem of who would eat the catch when one of them kills, but others are part of the raid party. The solution to the above problem is achieved using the mechanisms of sharing of the spoils. Thus, the proximate mechanism working at this level is a tendency to share the food / resources when begged for by those who are of the same band/ herd/ raiding party.  
  3. The third problem to be solved is ‘friends’ or con-specifics themselves. As all the group members  are competitors in the same niche, they have to learn to form alliances and co-operate in non-zero sum games with other partners when such co-operation does not entail a price and leads to mutual benefit.the example here would be that of grooming. A bird cannot remove lice from the top of its own head , but can do so easily if another friend removes the lice for her. This is a nonzero sum game. by co-operating both gain and nobody loses. The grooming can happen simultaneously so there is no reciprocity or memory involved. The proximate mechanism here is that of grooming or befriending (spending time with other just to make the alliance better).
  4. The fourth problem to be solved is that of ‘kids‘ and how to help those vulnerable, but related individuals. The kid-selection and parental investment concerns dominate here and lead to emergence of altruism directed towards ones offspring. Now the proximate mechanism devised to help in kid selection is that of care or empathy and this extends to all those who are sick,  vulnerable, infirm or unable to fend for themselves. The care ethic is born and is most visible in contexts where the mother-child or provider-infirm relationship can be activated. Help in rearing infants by related aunts etc is an example of this mechanisms.
  5. The fifth problem to be solved is that of ‘kin’ or all the other related individuals in the group. Kin selection comes into picture, but for it to work one has to properly identify ‘like’ people, who are likely to share genes. It is presumed that selection favored those who can judge likeness of phenotype from likeness of genotype and a a simplistic scenario could be that all the group members are considered as like and one tries to identify with them. This is as opposed to trying to differentiate from them and treating them as not-like. Thus, the proximate mechanism involved could be that of loyalty to the group and identification with the group as opposed to rebelliousness/ unconventionality/ differentiation from the group. The drive to find ‘like’ and ‘related’ individuals could easily lead to the ethic of community/ loyalty towards the self identified group. Also, forgiveness instinct towards those considered part of group and hence pertaining to valuable relationships that should be maintained despite small annoyances.
  6. The sixth problem to be solved is that of ‘selecting’ a partner/ partners with which one could indulge in altruistic games. Here the payoff to another would be at a cost to oneself and hence it is not a simple case of co-operation or mutualism in which both parties would benefit. Ideally, when partners have not been determined a priori and one has to discover the characteristics of the majority of the partners (or the population)  and at the same time not harm oneself by unconditional altruistic costs, the viable strategy would be to play with many diverse individuals and play using a generalized reciprocity scheme. At the end of many iterations, one can look at ones strategy and depending on how much altruistic or selfish it is, determine the characteristics of the population. This requires minimal cognitive demands as in not requiring the ability to remember individual interactions. In simple words this can be dubbed as Trust. You trust other people as you do not really know them, except in so far as they are part of the group and hence likely to have a majority group characteristic.  thus, a typical example would be ultimatum game. though the person with which you may playing may be stranger, you know a few things from your generalized reciprocity interactions with other individuals to know that majority of them are fair (make offers at 50 %) and also punish small splits. Thus, based on how you yourself have been given endowments in the past (and how others have rejected endowments given by you) you can reasonably play an ultimatum game with a stranger with same population wide results. Thus, the proximate mechanism here is that of Trusting others to be like the general population stereotype. thus, in humans, most of us are ‘altruistic’/ ‘good’ and hence we trust well rather than be suspicious.             
  7. The seventh task is that of seducing or attracting the right kind of partners so that the payoff the group, and hence yours, increases. Three separate mechanisms are at work here. Direct reciprocity harnesses our ability to remember individuals to pay them back in the future. Gratitude is the proximal mechanism that ensures that we do indeed pay back when time comes. Strong reciprocity ensures that we pay back, in another sense of the term, to the free-riders / defectors. By having punishment in the system one can ensure that the group is not overtaken by free-riders and defectors. The proximal mechanism active here is that of vengeance and not letting the culprits go off scot free. Indirect reciprocity on the other hand works on third party interactions and is based on respect , that is a generalized reputation of an agent to be ‘good’/’bad’ and acting towards them based on their reputations rather than their immediate behaviors. The proximate mechanism active here is respect/ authority. 
  8. The eighth task is to secure the group or keep the group well-knit and isolate form other ‘corrosive’ groups. One problem that poses a hurdle to group securing is unexpected payoffs (like war loot) and how they are handled by the group. They may be distributed to everyone equally, distributed as per a hierarchy or consumed by a few dominant individuals.Here the ethics of fairness and equality is the proximate mechanism that is used to settle matters. Another important factor here is not to let other group members infiltrate the successful group and subvert it from within. This gives rise to the ethic of purity and sanctity : the group is considered pure and sanctimonious and only other pure individual are allowed to join the group. The perverts within the group may be destroyed/ redeemed/ salvaged.                     

Thus, in my view, altruism involves all these proximal mechanisms: merging, sharing, grooming and befriending, caring, loyalty (identifying and forgiving), trusting; justice as in gratitude (positive justice),vengeance (negative justice) and respect (generalized justice); and finally the ethics of fairness/equality and purity /sanctity. Some of these can be easily mapped to Haidt’s five basic moral foundations.

In a follow-up post I will try to show how these eight altruistic proximate mechanism are reflected in personality traits especially with reference to HEXACO personality model to which one of my readers pointed me to.

Perosnality traits: some more evolutionary perspectives

My last post  was about the David Buss chapter in The Handbook of Personality Psychology book by Hogan et al; this post is about the Arnold Buss chapter in the same book.

In this chapter, Buss considers Humans as a primate and lists down 7 personality traits that are found in most primates especially the great apes. These are:

The seven traits listed below have already been mentioned in previous sections. They may be divided into two groups.

The first involves activation, which is defined as involving various kinds of arousal (here defined broadly):

1. Activity, the total energy output as observed in rate of movements and their vigor

2. Fearfulness, wariness, running away, cowering, and the concomitant physiological arousal

3. Impulsivity, acting suddenly and on the spur of the moment; the opposite is the tendency to inhibit behavior

The second set of personality traits are all social:

4. Sociability, preferring being with others (though primates are a highly social group, there are still individual differences in sociability within each species)

5. Nurturance, helping others, especially those who need help, even at a cost to the helper (altruism)

6. Aggressiveness, attacking or threatening others

7. Dominance, seeking and maintaining superior status over others versus the opposite pole, submissiveness

I would like to group them slightly differently ( and in accordance with my eight stage theories) and also introduce another trait that of suspiciousness when we consider humans as other primates have a rudimentary ToM ability.

  1. Fearfulness mapped to Neurtoticsm.
  2. Impulsivity mapped to Conscnetiousness
  3. Sociability mapped to Extraversion
  4. Nurturance mapped to Agreeableness
  5. Dominance mapped to Rebelliousness/ Conformity
  6. Suspiciousness mapped to Trust/Defensiveness
  7. Activity mapped to Activity
  8. Agressivenss mapped to Masculinity/Feminity
He also lays down the framework for how such traits may become evident ; he works within attachment theory paradigm and highlights research on primate attachment studies to lay down the foundation for why such traits may develop in an individual.

The period of attachment in primates has been divided into three phases (H. F. Harlow, Harlow, & Hansen, 1963). At first the mother is solicitous and completely accepting of the infant, and she is a haven of safety and nurturance.

The infant’s feeling of security depends in large part on the mother. If she is sufficiently protective and available, the infant will be secure enough to venture out in the wider environment. Primate infants appear to be motivated by two opposing tendencies: the need to seek novelty and stimulation versus the need for security and protection (Mason, 1970). An insecure infant remains close to the mother, too scared to explore the environment. A secure infant tends to be low in fear and can venture away from the mother so long as she is in sight.

In the second phase of attachment, the mother withdraws affection, diminishing attention to the infant, and starts to punish the infant. The latter may react with withdrawal, anger, resistance, or negativism. These first signs of independence are typically met by even more irritabihty and punishment by the mother.

In the third phase, the mother is often occupied with the birth of the next offspring and therefore is even more rejecting of her older child. The presence of this new infant is likely to elicit jealously and temper tantrums by the displaced sibling. If the mother can spare some attention and affection for her older sibling, the latter’s jealousy and annoyance should gradually wane.

The events of the attachment period may be expected to affect personality traits. The mother’s behavior should be regarded as only one determinant, albeit an important one, of her youngster’s personality. If she is not sufficiently protective and a haven of security, her infant may become fearful and inhibited. If she fails to provide enough attention and social stimulation, her infant may become withdrawn and less sociable. And if she cannot share at least some affect with her older offspring after the birth of a new one, the older one may become intensely jealous. In brief, the events of attachment are assumed to affect the personality traits of fearfulness, impulsivity (the opposite of inhibition), sociability, and the anger component of aggressiveness (jealousy).

To me this seems to be valid developmental trajectory of the traits: A non-protecting mother leading to Fearfulness (N); not providing a safe haven leading to lack Impulsivity or Inhibition (C); not providing enough attention leading to less sociability (E); not providing social stimulation and care leading to lack of Nurturnace in child (A) (which Buss doesn’t touch upon) and finally not sharing affect leading to Jealousy/ Dominance problems within siblings(Rebelliousness/Conformity).

Before we accept this attachment theory in its entirety it is apt to pause and remeber that many times the behaviour of mother is driven by infant behaviour and that mother and chil may share the sam temperamental quality due to genes and not due to nurturing and this however reflects in a pattern of traits in child and parenting practice in parent.

Finally Buss goes on to show how some of the traits in other primates are not well developed as compared to humans and are at the level of human infants and thus cannot lead to much insight about human personality. One exapmle is that of self-awareness; though primates and human infants may have a mirror-test self-awareness, it is limited.

Adult humans are capable of mirror-image recognition, which is absent in infants and develops slowly during the second year of life as part of more general trends in cognitive development. By the age of 2 years most infants possess this capacity (Amsterdam, 1972; Schulman & Kaplowitz, 1977). Does this mean that children of 2 years have a self-concept and the same kind of self-awareness as older children and adults? There are five cognitive attributes present in older children that are absent in 2-year-olds, which suggests that the answer is no.

The first is self-esteem. The basis for later self-esteem may be laid down in 2- year-olds, but children of this age do not show behavior that allows us to infer the general self-evaluation called self-esteem. This diffuse feeling of self-worth develops gradually and can be measured perhaps by the age of 4 years. Nor are infants clearly aware of the difference between their private feelings and public behavior.

It is still too early for the sense of covertness and an awareness that private thoughts and feelings cannot be observed. Infants and primates lack the sense of covertness that can be inferred in children of 4 years. Infants are still egocentric and do not know that others view the world from different perspectives. Even children of several years of age are Umited in social perspective-taking. In one study children were asked to select gifts for their parents, teacher, brother, sister, and self (Flavell, 1968). Most 3-year-olds selected the same gifts for others as for themselves. Some 4-year-olds selected gifts appropriate for others, half the 5-year-olds did, and all the 6-year-olds did. Social perspective-taking evidently emerges during the fifth year of life. Linked to perspective-taking is the abihty to view oneself as a social object. Such public self-awareness, as seen in the reaction of embarrassment, does not occur until the fifth year of life (Buss, Iscoe, & Buss, 1979).

The last facet of the advanced self to develop is identity. It may be a personal identity, the sense of being different from everyone else in appearance, behavior, character, or personal history, or it may be social identity, knowing oneself to be a member of a nation, religion, race, vocation, or any other group that offers a sense of belonging to something larger than oneself. And most of us have a sense of continuity, identifying ourselves as the same person across decades of time or across diverse social roles.

Thus five aspects of the self are absent in 2-year-old human children: selfesteem, a sense of covertness, perspective-taking, public self-awareness, and identity. These may be regarded as evidence for an advanced or cognitive self, which is conspicuously absent in human infants and the great apes. They do appear to have a primitive, sensory self—an awareness of where the body ends and not-me begins, and mirror-image recognition (Buss, 1980). But they lack the advanced cognitive self that is implicit in constructs such as self-concept, self-esteem, selfconsciousness, and identity, constructs easily applied to older human children and adults.

To me this beautifullay sums-up what we can and cannot derive from studies of primates and other mammals about human personality.

References: Buss, H. Arnold. (1997). Evolutionary perspectives on personality traits. In R. Hogan, J. A. Johnson, & S. R. Briggs (Eds.), Handbook of Personality Psychology (pp. 345-366). New York: Academic Press..

Personality traits: evolutionary perspectives

I have been reading and enjoying The Handbook of  Personality Psychology by Hogan et al, and found the chapter written by David Buss particularly useful.

Here I would like to expand on the idea and while buss explicitly does not want to indulge in a discussion of a few psychological tendencies and associated behavioral class acts; I would like to walk exactly that particular path.

First to recap,

Humans, like other organisms, can be viewed as organized structures that exist in their present form because of a long history of natural selection, operating over millions of years. Each one of us owes our existence to a long and unbroken line of ancestors who successfully solved problems posed by survival and reproduction in our evolutionary past. Therefore, human structures, as well as human psychological mechanisms, at some fundamental level of description, can be analyzed in terms of the problems they solve.

But “survival” and “reproduction” are broad categories, each subsuming a large and complex array of subproblems. To the extent that the evolutionary psychologist can identify the nature of the specific problems that humans have evolved to solve, she or he has some advantage over the nonevolutionary psychologist in discovering the nature of human nature.

Buss then goes on and breaks the survival and reproduction into many component and also adds genetic investment to the mix. I parse the same data in my own way and generate the hypothesis that the most important concern of any living organism, and especially humans are survival, genetic investment and reproduction.

Survival behavioral tendency can be further split in three parts: one pure survival as in escape from predators or death; I’ll refer to this as Foes! the second concerns growth or acquiring resources necessary for thriving and I;ll call this Food. The third maintaining one’d edge in avoiding foes and finding Food by building alliances with con specifics. I’ll call this Friends. Thus survival is characterized by the three F’s of Foes, Food and Friends!

Genetic investment can be split into two K’s that of Kids and Kins. The first tendency that of Kids is concerned with issues of parental investment and care of offsprings.the second that of Kin is concerned with how to help other genetic related individuals at minimal cost to self such that maximum fitness ensues.

Reproduction can be split into three parts that of mate selection, that of mate attraction and that of mate retention. I’ll call these the three S’s of reproduction(Sex is *NOT* one of them!). The first task is to Select the right mate; the second task is , that once you have zeroed in on a suitable mating partner, you have to court and attract the partner, I call this function Seduce; the final task, especially in long-term pair bonded species like Humans is to guard or retain the mate, I call this Securing the mate.

What I propose is that given these Eight tasks ( 3 survival, 2 investment and 3 reproductive tasks ) that each species has to solve, each specie would evolve some mechanism to solve these problems that are species-typical; however there would be individual variation to the extent that the extent to which an individual organism is driven by that particular conscious motivation/ behavioral tendency and gets into environments and situations that trigger that particular task would determine the psychological mechanism that drives that individual.

To make things more clear , what I am proposing is that there are bound to be individual differences in the relative importance of these psychological mechanisms for an individual- thus a human may be primarily driven by mate selection concerns at a particular age- while another may be forever primarily concerned with safety, security etc- and this would be the first factor that would lead to individual variation in personality. Moreover, I am proposing something radical, that depending on the environment, there may be two extreme types of responding to each of these tasks- and the second most important variation that we get from person to person – is in whether one habitually and instinctively (genetically determined) responds in one way or the other as one faces the task and whether or not one factors the environment and context in which the task demand is made or whether ones behavioural tendency is fixed and inflexible.

To take by way of an example, lets us focus on the Kids part of genetic investment. It has been well documented that their are two types of parental strategies r-type and K-type; now a species may have predominantly K-type investment strategy, but within the species individual organisms would differ in their reproductive strategy around the mean in K-type and r-type directions. thus, Humans exhibit predominantly K-strategy, but Africans show more r-type and Asians more K-type. It is equally well documented that these r-type and K-type strategies are actually responses to the external environment (food abundant, predictable , stable environment etc) and thus, though a species has a set point, there is enough individual variation such that in changing environemnetal conditions at least one sub type is able to thrive and survive and reproduce and invest!

To take another example from Buss, Absence of father leads to short term mating strategy in daughters (amongst other things like premature puberty etc) and this environmental facyor may be the most important environment variable as related to Securing task of retaining the mate; if one sees the father as absent from home, one may think its wise to go for a short term mating strategy as the culture is one that encourages low stability of pair bonds; this might be a justifiably welcome strategy; on the other hand it might be genetically the case that someones set point is set towards short-term relationships.

I will now claim that the eight personality traits I had outlined earlier are directly related to these eight evolutionary task (see here for another slightly different list of the eight tasks ) that one faces- and more so are mapped one-on-one with the same ordered mapping!


  1. Foes (survival 1) : A behavioral tendency to be on the lookout for foes / troubles leading to Neuroticism trait. The extremes of courage/calmness and fear/anxiety  are driven by what type of environment one lives in – whether it is full of dangerous objects or not so! One prediction is that those high in N should have more Phobias and vice versa. 
  2. Food (survival 2):A behavioral tendency to acquire resources leading to Conscentiousness. The extremes of ambition/ covetousness and laziness/ easy-going are driven by whether the environment is abundant in resources or lacking thereof! One prediction is that those high in C should be more readily diagnosed with OCD and vice versa.
  3. Friends (survival 3):A behavioral tendency to form alliances leading to Extraversion. The extremes of sociability and seclusion dependent on some environmental factor (like how important is community interference in day to day activity) . Might be related to mean group size (150 in humans)
  4. Kids (investment 1)   A behavioral tendency to invest in ones offsprings leading to Agreeablness. the extremes of care/ empathy vis-a-vis apathy/ psychopathy may be driven by the same concerns that decides whether to go for r-strategy or K-strategy.
  5. Kins (investment 2) : A behavioral tendency to help one kins leading to Conformity / Rebelliousness: Here it is instructive to note that older siblings are generally conformists while younger siblings are rebellious – thus age-order and environmental variable may decide whether one would be conformist or rebellious and this somehow affects your behavior towards sibling and his/her reproductive fitness. Also, irrespective of your birth order in the family (kin) , due to variation, some may be genetically predisposed to be conformists and other rebellious!
  6. Selecting (reproduction 1) : A behavioral tendency to judge others intentions etc accurately and thus determine who is a suitable candidate for mating/trusting  leading to Trust/Defensiveness. The extremes of trust and suspicion may be adaptive in environments differing with respect to levels of promiscuity; in a highly promiscuous and cheating/ cuckolding environment it may pay to be suspicious.     
  7.   Seducing (reproduction 2): This behavioral tendency of intra sexual competition can be broken into three components: i) Testing against own sex con specifics(building better muscles for men) ii) Embodying preferences of opposite sex (Chauvinism in case of Males) and the third I havent been able to figure yet!! The extremes of too much effort/activity  in seducing as against the extreme of being dull/boring and uninterested in other sex leads to the dimension of Activity
  8. Securing (reproduction 3) : A behavioral tendency towards sociosexuality;At one end of this dimension are individuals who are “restricted” in sociosexuality—they require more time, attachment, and commitment prior to entering a sexual relationship. At the other end are those who are “unrestricted” in sociosexuality—they require less time, attachment, and commitment prior to sexual intercourse. These extremes may lead to the trait of Masculinity- Feminity in how one guards and forms a pair bond.

I would thus end my argument; to me the eight stage process is compelling- I am sure with each passing day there are more converts to that developmental and evolutionary eight stage theory.

References: Buss, D. M. (1997). Evolutionary foundations of personality. In R. Hogan, J. A. Johnson, & S. R. Briggs (Eds.), Handbook of Personality Psychology (pp. 317-344). New York: Academic Press..

26/11 and ‘Beyond revenge’

26/11 has happened and I still write about  Science and Psychology.

It has been a week of introspection in which I have been questioning myself and whether by doing science blogging I am doing my bit as a responsible human being. Perhaps I will move on. But while I’m at science blogging let me discuss the topic about which the science blogosphere has been relatively silent.

Today, I have started reading Michal McCullough’s “Beyond Revenge” and I want to discuss ideas from it. The decision to read the book at this juncture stems from the immense feelings of outrage that have been seething within and paradoxically without any overt war-mongering desires or ill-will towards the state that continue to let its soil be used for terrorist activities. Of course forgiving the citizens of that state was never an issue for the ordinary citizens do not foment violence and wars- it is the state or the alleged ‘non-state’ actors that are the real culprits; but I strangely feel a desire to forgive even them and give them a  second chance. But I cannot just forgive and forget. at least not this time. This time the world has to change to create the conditions whereby forgiveness is the norm and revenge an exception.

But let me not digress. Let me go straight to reviewing “Byond Revenge” . I have just read the introduction and the first chapter so let me share with you Mculloughs main thesis.

As per him there are three angle or truths to the revenge story:

  • Truth #1: The Desire for Revenge Is a Built-In Feature of Human Nature
  • Truth #2: The Capacity for Forgiveness Is a Built-In Feature of Human Nature
  • Truth #3: To Make the World a More Forgiving, Less Vengeful Place, Don’t Try to Change Human Nature: Change the World!

I’ve decided to the last, viz change the world, but perhaps not in exactly the same way that Michale may have intended. Let me elaborate what Michael means by the three truths:

The desire for revenge isn ’ t a disease to which certain unfortunate people fall prey. Instead, it’s a universal trait of human nature, crafted by natural selection, that exists today because it was adaptive in the ancestral environment in which the human species evolved .

I believe it is important to pause here and think over whether the perpetrators of 26/11 were themselves pathological or just normal ordinary people subjected to un-normal propaganda and state help to turn into monsters.

Its also important to acknowledge our own feelings of anger and outrage as vengeful feelings towards those who indulge in such heinous crimes; but it is heartening to note that Indians have largely turned their anger into constructive channels – towards lapses in security and towards insensitivity and callousness of politicians. It is heartening to note that the anger and revenge has not been mistakenly directed towards the citizens of a state or towards a community. I salute my fellow Indians for what they have done with their feeilngs of outrage and revenge.

Next truth Micahel elaborates as follows:

The capacity for forgiveness, like the desire for revenge, is also an intrinsic feature of human nature — crafted by natural selection — that exists today because it was adaptive in the ancestral environment in which the human species developed .

Forgiveness as per him is normally activated with friends and family; but India has always thought ‘vasyudhev kutumbkam’ or the ‘whole world is my family’. India perhaps has been an epitome of forgiveness and perhaps will rightly remain so. I’m not just talking about India as a nation-state, I am talking about India as a civilization which has a unique honor of never committing aggression or getting involved in a war unprovoked. India has absorbed all erstwhile aggressors in its fold and today everyone lives as one community- one nation- one family. No heinous acts of aggression and terror make Indians turn towards each other. The need for that forgiveness instinct to continue is perhaps the greatest today. And believe me when I say that the common Indian citizen, still has no hard feelings towards the state who’s soil is being used to foment terror on its territory.

The next truth he talks about is:

To forgive a stranger or a sworn enemy, we have to activate the same mental mechanisms that natural selection developed within the human mind to help us forgive our loved ones, friends, and close associates. To encourage more forgiveness in our communities, and on the world stage, we must create the social conditions that will activate those mechanisms .

This is what he means by changing the world. Creating conditions such that even enemies/ strangers seem like friends. Its heartening to note that partly as a result of state initiative, but largely due to initiative of non-state actors in India, like the media, we have been successful in creating a ‘world’ in which the ordinary citizen of Pakistan is not seen as an enemy. TV programs like ‘the great Indian laughter challenge’ on Star One have been able to make the ordinary Indian realize that there is much more in common that he shares with the Pakistan citizen than just a sub-continent. These non-state actors of my country, be it the film and music industry or NGOs have been working to foster stronger ties and the results are for all to see. For the first time, I do not hear war cries towards Pakistan , just a desire to eliminate the terror camps operating on foreign soil perhaps by very targeted and specific strikes. Is that asking too much? Is ensuring one’s safety and taking preventive measure condemnable and will still be viewed as punitive and vindictive action by western and Pakistani media. Only time will tell whether the non-state actors in west and Pakistan have been creating their ‘world’ as per what template.

Primate Evoloution: stage I: prosimians and predation

In my last post  I hinted at how primate evolution may be an example of eight stage evolutionary process in action and today I’ll try to support my first prediction that the prosimian stage evolution was dominated by predatory concerns.

Prosimian evolution and branching within the primate order took place 55 million years ago or a bit earlier, near the beginning of the Eocene Epoch. These first primates , it is safe to assume were nocturnal just like today’s prosimians like lemurs, bushbabies, tarsiers etc are. Why they were nocturnal remains a question to be answered. Species turn nocturnal usually to avoid predation by day predators. Crypsis  is the mechanism that even today is used by prosimians to avoid predation.

It is instructive to note here that though predation in primates has not been considered a big force, in pro-simians it is important. A whole book Primate anti-predator strategies  has been written which focuses more on pro-simian anti-predator strategies than on other primates. It is testament to the fact that predation was/ remains important for prosimian evolution. Here I quote from the preface of the book:

The impact of predation on the morphology, behavior, and ecology of animals has long been recognized by the primatologist community (Altmann, 1956; Burtt, 1981; Curio, 1976; Hamilton, 1971; Kruuk, 1972). Recent thorough reviews of adaptations of birds and mammals to predation have emphasized the complex role that predation threat has played in modifying proximate behaviors such as habitat choice to avoid predator detection, degree and type of vigilance, and group size and defense, as well as ultimate factors including the evolution of warning systems, coloration, and locomotor patterns (Thompson et al., 1980; Sih, 1987; Lima & Dill, 1990; Curio, 1993; Caro, 2005).

We have conducted research on nocturnal primates for more than ten years. Immersed as we have been in the literature of nocturnal primatology we recognize a spectrum of diversity amongst the nocturnal primates in their social organization, cognitive behavior, and ecology (Charles-Dominique, 1978; Bearder, 1999; M¨uller and Thalmann, 2000). Our studies on tarsiers and lorises showed that these species were highly social and that resource distribution was not sufficient to explain why they defied the supposed “stricture” of being solitary (Gursky, 2005a; Nekaris, 2006). Furthermore, our animals defied another supposed “rule” — namely, that all nocturnal primates should avoid predators by crypsis (Charles-Dominique, 1977). Even recent reviews of primate social organization and predation theory included one-sentence write-offs, excluding nocturnal primates from discussions of primate social evolution on the basis that crypsis is their only mechanism of predator avoidance (Kappeler, 1997; Stanford, 2002).

An analysis of the mammalian literature shows this type of generalization to be crude at best. Small mammals are known to have extraordinarily high rates of predation, and a plethora of studies of rodents, insectivores, and lagomorphs, among others, have shown that predation is a viable and powerful ecological force (Lima & Dill, 1990; Caro, 2005). Furthermore, although researchers have long considered it critical to include prosimian studies in a general theoretical framework concerning the evolution of the order Primates (Charles-Dominique & Martin, 1970; Cartmill, 1972; Oxnard et al., 1990), a pervading view contends that prosimians are too far removed from humans for the former’s behavior to shed any light on the patterns of behavior seen in anthropoids (Kappeler & van Schaik, 2002; Stanford, 2002).

However, an excellent review by Goodman et al. demonstrates the dramatic effect predation can have on lemurs, and it remains the most highly quoted resource on lemur predation, despite that it was published in 1993. Studies of referential signaling aid in dispelling the view that prosimians are primitive and not worthy of comparison with monkeys and apes (Oda, 1998; Fichtel & Kappeler, 2002). A handful of studies further reveal that prosimians are not always cryptic and may engage in social displays toward predators (Sauther, 1989; Sch¨ulke, 2001; Bearder et al., 2002; Gursky, 2005b).

Leaving for the time-being the fact that prosimains too engage in social behavior as a defense against predation, and sticking to the traditional view that crypsis best defines their defense mechanism, the thing to be noted is the relative abundance of predatory strategies on prosimian evolution. A whole book has been written keeping that in mind!!

So my thesis is that for the very first stage of evolution when a leap was made, prosimains got left behind, still struggling with predation; while the common ancestor of new world and old world primates somehow solved/ reduced the problem of predation and became diurnal and maybe started living in large social groups and thus exhibiting social defenses against predators. This evolutionary successful completion of the first developmental/ evolutionary task of avoiding predators, then enabled these ancient primates to focus their energies on finding food and thus from insectivores become fruit-eating and move towards a rich diet and focus on acquisition of resources. but that takes us to stage II marked by focus on food and the new world monkeys. More on that later!