Evolutionary psychology, logic and chocolate!

Through Steven Gimbel, Ph.D., Gettysburg College

Evolutionary psychology explains a lot of things, from people’s love of chocolate, to their habit of gossiping, to their behavior in different circumstances. Many illogical human behaviors seem justifiable and understandable from the point of view of evolutionary psychology. Read on to find out what makes up the core of this branch of science.

People don’t need so much sugar and fat, yet they love chocolate because it is a craving inherited from human ancestors. (Image: ronstik / Shutterstock)

Most people love chocolate. Interestingly, many of them are well aware of how unhealthy sugar and fat are. Yet they love chocolate and eat it. Why? Why doesn’t evolution do anything about it when we can survive better without chocolate?

Cerebral cravings

There is an organic reason to love chocolate. Humans did not eat regularly and had to struggle to find food. When they needed to hunt for food, a rich source of energy and calories was welcome, and fat and sweet mean a lot of calories.

The man takes a plate of food from the refrigerator.
No matter what a person knows about the dangers of having too many sweets and chocolate, they still crave it. (Image: Lucky Company / Shutterstock)

Thus, the brain has been trained to crave sweet and fatty things. Eventually, people learned to find food more easily, to store it, and even to have food in abundance. However, the brain is still trained to look for and want sweet and fatty things. It takes a long time for evolution to change a complex and critical organ like the brain. What else did humans inherit from their ancestors?

Structures, functions and chemistry

Like taste preferences, other human behaviors can also have biological bases and evolutionary explanations. Psychology’s bold sociobiological perspective explains human actions in terms of neurological structure, function, and chemistry. The question is, why do humans have these structures, functions, and chemistry?

The brain was formed during a long evolutionary process. The complexity of behavior coupled with the complexity of the brain was essential to the survival of earlier humans. For example, in the case of chocolate, smarter human ancestors discovered that flowers and early versions of chocolate could be very good sources of energy. Perhaps some of the non-cognitive behaviors of humans are also explained by theory.

Evolutionary psychology emerged as a field of science built around the behavioral vestiges of the historical journey of man as a species. There are three basic facts in evolutionary psychology.

This is a transcript of the video series Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

Universal behaviors, desires and reactions

The first fact of evolutionary psychology is that there are universal behaviors, desires, and reactions regardless of culture and race. They are so prevalent in the world that they cannot have evolved from social contexts alone.

Gossip is one of those universally common behaviors. It is more than impossible that all cultures in the world have adopted the same social behavior, so it must be part of human nature and inherited from common ancestors.

Learn more about brain and self.

Context-specific elements in the brain

Another fact is that there are certain elements in the brain that are context specific and are designed to do very specific things. A person can perform a task perfectly in one context and terribly in another. A very famous example is that of the Wason cards.

In the late 1960s, British psychologist Peter Cathcart Wason developed a logic problem with maps to see how well people could solve it. Humans pride themselves on being intelligent, logically oriented creatures, and Wason wanted to know if the pride had a valid reason.

The problem was simple. Each participant had to take four cards with numbers on one side and letters on the other, place them on a table so that one of the cards indicates an even number, one of the cards indicates an odd number, a other indicates a vowel number, and one shows a consonant. Then they had to find out if the following sentence was true, by turning over a few cards:

“If a card has an even number, it has a vowel on the other side.”

Surprisingly, less than 25% of participants, and sometimes as few as 4%, understood what to do. They had to turn over two cards, that is, the even number and the consonant. It seemed humans weren’t primarily logical creatures.

Learn more about the birth of sociology.

Wason cards: a new context

Question mark on wooden desk background.  Concept of confusion, question or solution.
The right context makes the logic work great, while the same problem in a different context may seem impossible to solve. (Image: Natasa Adzic / Shutterstock)

Evolutionary psychologists Leda Cosmides and John Tooby put the test in a new context: finding a cheater. Their four cards were slightly different: one with a person over 21, one under 21, one with an alcoholic drink, and one with a non-alcoholic drink. Participants were asked to see if there was underage alcohol consumption.

This time around 65-80% of people did exactly what they had to do. The conclusion was that the brain is designed to perform certain types of tasks logically.

Learn more about genes and identity.

Mitochondrial Eve

The third fact in evolutionary psychology is that all humans have the same small group of ancestors whose brains have suddenly increased in size. Afaren Australopithecus was the first human ancestor to separate from the evolutionary lineages of other African great apes, around four million years ago.

It took a long time for the ancestors that until about 250,000 years ago, Homo sapiens, the first humans, emerged. The roots of humanity go back to a single great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother called Eve Mitochondriale.

Evolutionary psychology explains what we inherited from Mitochondrial Eve and why we have certain behaviors against today’s rules of survival.

Common questions about evolutionary psychology

Q: What can explain human actions?

Human actions can be explained in terms of neurological structure, function and chemistry. As evolutionary psychology Said, the human brain has acquired enough complexity during evolution to form these aspects.

Q: Is gossiping a cultural habit?

No. All over the world people are chatting. As evolutionary psychology explains, it couldn’t be so prevalent if it wasn’t for something built into human nature.

Q: Are people logical by nature?

No. A study in the field of evolutionary psychology who wanted to see how justified the pride of humans in being intellectuals is, found that the participants had failed a very simple logical task with maps.

Keep reading
Unboxing human behavior: the gene-environment correlation
Evolutionary Psychology and Basic Human Needs
How evolutionary psychology informs behavior

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