Monday, January 02, 2006

On Evolutionary Psychology

Robert Kurzban at Penn is an evolutionary psychologist--he studies how behavior can be explained from an evolutionary context. This is different from 'Social Darwinism'--it is an experimental project without a presupposed racial or political ideology, though conclusions with societal implications may be drawn.

Here are some highlights from a post by TDAXP:

Men are more cooperative than women. Dr. Kurzban talked about "competitive cooperation" as the basis for social cohesion. If a group of people are playing a game against each other, they will be fractious regardless of their gender make-up. However, if the players learn there is another group, all-male groups quickly settle their internal differences and cooperate with each other, without being told that they will be competing against the other group.

Racism exists as long as it is cheap. People can fall into racial roles when a group is playing with itself. However, once the other group is learned about, racial roles go away. The drive to prepare for competition against the out-group with the in-group by cooperating within the group overwhelms pre-existing racial treatment.

Women scramble social hierarchies. As part of their rapid cooperation in the face of competition, all-male groups establish a clear and consensual social order. This does not happen in mixed-sex or all-female groups. The situation in integrated or all-female groups is closer to anarchy, with no clear order-of-dominance ever being established.

People love to punish wrongdoers, especially when others are watching. Dr. Kurzban described a trust game, where Player A could split $20 between himself and Player B, or give it to Player B and have it double. Player B could then keep almost all the $40 for himself, or split it evenly with Player A.

After Player A and Player B left, Player C was brought in as a "judge." In places were Player B kept most of the money for himself, ignoring the trusting Player A, Player C could use some of her money to punish Player C at a 3-to-1 ratio.

This was done under three different conditions. In all three Player C would have to write down his judgement on a sheet of paper.

Player C gave his answer through a complicated system that guaranteed no one would ever know if and how much he punished Player A. Player C's decision was completely anonymous.

Player C wrote down if and how much he would punish Player A, knowing a researcher would look over the answer "just to make sure the paper was filled out correctly."

Player C announced his decision in front of the other players

In all three cases Player C tended to punish Player A. Player C punished the least when it was secret, a lot when just one researcher knew, and a little bit more than that when everyone knew.

I leave it to the reader to speculate on any political implications of these findings.

Also, I would add that some believe that the inciting motive for inter-group ape violence is pre-emption. If the deepest human psychological motive for war is pre-emption as well, perhaps the most high-yield international convention possible would be to proscribe that particular justification for war as indefensible.


At 7:16 PM, Blogger Dan tdaxp said...

Preemption is definitely a factor. Dr. Kurzban mentioned that all-male groups cooperate when they know another group exists, even before they know if they will compete against the other group.

A problem with trying to build a norm against preemptive war is that if it is innate, it will be the harddest norm to enforce, and the easiest to break down. A very "brittle" defense.

He also mentioned that the only time male dolphins cooperate is in mass rapes.

For further reading, Dr. Hibbing gave a similar lecture.


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