Tag Archives | Evolutionary Psychology

Building An Empathetic Global Civilization

In this RSA Animate, Jeremy Rifkin examines our innate capacity for empathy, one of the defining traits of the human race (though we share it with a few other species). Rifkin argues that throughout history humans have progressively expanded their "spheres of empathy", and that our survival as a species depends on expanding empathy further, rather than retreating into tribalism. Will our empathic impulses become more globalized, along with everything else? Or do the conditions of today breed a narrow self-interest which could destroy us?
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I Love My Children — I Hate My Life

Photo: Jessica Todd Harper

Photo: Jessica Todd Harper

Jennifer Senior writes in New York magazine:

There was a day a few weeks ago when I found my 2½-year-old son sitting on our building doorstep, waiting for me to come home. He spotted me as I was rounding the corner, and the scene that followed was one of inexpressible loveliness, right out of the movie I’d played to myself before actually having a child, with him popping out of his babysitter’s arms and barreling down the street to greet me.

This happy moment, though, was about to be cut short, and in retrospect felt more like a tranquil lull in a slasher film. When I opened our apartment door, I discovered that my son had broken part of the wooden parking garage I’d spent about an hour assembling that morning.

This wouldn’t have been a problem per se, except that as I attempted to fix it, he grew impatient and began throwing its various parts at the walls, with one plank very narrowly missing my eye.

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Lying Children Will Grow Up To Be Successful Citizens

Did we all already know this … or is it a great leap forward in our understanding? Richard Alleyne writes in the Telegraph:
Bart Simpson Loves You

Researchers have found that the ability to tell fibs at the age of two is a sign of a fast developing brain and means they are more likely to have successful lives.

They found that the more plausible the lie, the more quick witted they will be in later years and the better their abiliy to think on their feet.

It also means that they have developed “executive function” — the ability to invent a convincing lie by keeping the truth at the back of their mind.

“Parents should not be alarmed if their child tells a fib,” said Dr Kang Lee, director of the Institute of Child Study at Toronto Universit who carried out the research.

“Almost all children lie. Those who have better cognitive development lie better because they can cover up their tracks.

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Female Toads Inflate to Avoid Sex

ToadSexBBC News reports:

When it comes to choosing a mate, female toads may have more control than previously thought, say scientists. A report in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters journal describes how a female cane toad inflates its body to prevent an amorous male from mating with it.

This makes it difficult for the male toad to “hold on”.

Male toads often wrestle with each other in an effort to grasp a mate. By inflating, a female can influence the outcome of such a competition.

It is assumed that frogs and toads evolved the ability to inflate their bodies with air as a defence against predators. The team of scientists, from Australia and the Netherlands, described in their report how this deters predators “by increasing the apparent size of the [frog or toad] and by rendering it too large to ingest”.

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Scientists Say Dolphins Should Be Considered ‘Persons’

Scientists say that dolphins as a species are significantly smarter than chimpanzees, so smart that they should be classified as "non-human persons" — making it deeply unethical to keep them in amusement parks or inadvertently kill them in fishing operations. Until recently, dolphins were placed third among animals in intelligence (behind humans and chimps). However, new behavioral studies suggests that dolphins are smarter than previously believed. How smart? From the U.K.'s Times:
Dolphins have distinct personalities, a strong sense of self and can think about the future. Dolphins can solve difficult problems, and those in the wild cooperate in ways that imply complex social structures and a high level of emotional sophistication. It has also become clear that they are “cultural” animals. Bottlenose dolphins [can] recognize themselves in a mirror and use it to inspect various parts of their bodies, an ability that had been thought limited to humans and great apes.
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Six Adorable Cat Behaviors With Shockingly Evil Explanations

This is why some people think that cats are snakes with fur. Perhaps your grandmother from the old country wasn't that crazy. Matthew Hayden writes on Cracked.com:
There seem to be two kinds of people in the world: those who don't understand cats, and those who think cats are kind of douchebags. Unfortunately for cat lovers, science has kind of come down on the side of that second group. Research has revealed that a lot of the quirky and even cute things your kitty does are actually signs that your cat is kind of a dick. CatOverlordRubbing Against You to Declare Ownership: By nature cats are hard to read. They're not like dogs, hopping around with joy when you walk in the door, or slinking away with shame when caught eating the garbage. No, cats have mastered an expression of almost disdainful indifference that they seem to wear regardless of their mood. However, as any spinster will tell you, a cat's affection is obvious when its purring and rubbing its face and body against your leg. It's like the animal is giving you a little kitty hug the only way it knows how! The problem with that, though, is when cats rub up against their owners, it has nothing to do with affection at all, but instead is kitty's way of claiming you as its property.
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The Unromantic Truth About Why We Kiss — To Spread Germs

Fiona Macrae writes in the Daily Mail:

It is an international symbol of love and romance. But the kiss may have evolved for reasons that are far more practical — and less alluring. British scientists believe it developed to spread germs.

They say that the uniquely human habit allows a bug that is dangerous in pregnancy to be passed from man to woman to give her time to build up immunity. Cytomegalovirus, which lurks in saliva, normally causes no problems. But it can be extremely dangerous if caught while pregnant and can kill unborn babies or cause birth defects. These can include problems ranging from deafness to cerebral palsy.

Writing in the journal Medical Hypotheses, researcher Dr Colin Hendrie from the University of Leeds said: ‘Female inoculation with a specific male’s cytomegalovirus is most efficiently achieved through mouth-to-mouth contact and saliva exchange.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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Depression’s Evolutionary Roots

Paul W. Andrews and J. Anderson Thomson, Jr. write in Scientific American (via Theoretick):

Depression seems to pose an evolutionary paradox. Research in the US and other countries estimates that between 30 to 50 percent of people have met current psychiatric diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder sometime in their lives. But the brain plays crucial roles in promoting survival and reproduction, so the pressures of evolution should have left our brains resistant to such high rates of malfunction. Mental disorders should generally be rare — why isn’t depression? […]

In an article recently published in Psychological Review, we argue that depression is in fact an adaptation, a state of mind which brings real costs, but also brings real benefits. […]

So what could be so useful about depression? Depressed people often think intensely about their problems. These thoughts are called ruminations; they are persistent and depressed people have difficulty thinking about anything else.

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