Many psychologists and philosophers believe that people and other animals naturally seek out pleasure and avoid pain. Evolutionary psychologists have long been particularly attracted to this position; we tend to follow the approach of George Romanes, who wrote, in 1884, that pleasure and pain can be understood as “the subjective accompaniment of processes which are respectively beneficial or injurious to the organism, and so evolved [so] that the organism should seek the one and shun the other.” But what about the exceptions, such as our appetites for spicy foods, hot baths, horror movies, sad songs, and BDSM? Chosen suffering shows up in pursuits such as art, ritual, sex, and sports, and in longer-term projects such as training for a marathon or signing up to go to war. Why do we so often seem to shun pleasure and seek out pain? Such puzzling choices are often seen as glitches in the system, costly signals, or unnatural cultural practices. This talk explores an alternative. Drawing on research from developmental psychology, social psychology, anthropology, and behavioral economics, I suggest that we have evolved to be driven by non-hedonistic goals; we revel in difficult practice, we aspire towards moral goodness, and we seek out meaningful lives.
A "Need for Chaos" and Motivations to Share Hostile Political Rumors
Why are some people motivated to share hostile political rumors, such as conspiracy theories and other derogative news stories? In this talk, I utilize evolutionary insights on the psychology of status-seeking to argue that extremely disruptive psychological motivations are at the root. Specifically, I developed the prediction that individuals who feel socially and politically marginalized are motivated to circulate hostile rumors because they wish to "burn down'' the entire established political order in the hope that they can gain status in the process. Together with colleagues, I conducted 8 studies in Denmark and the United States (N = 9558) to show that some individuals are predisposed to have a "Need for Chaos" when facing social isolation and discontent, and that this need is the strongest predictor of explicit motivations to share hostile political rumors, even when these rumors are not believed by the sharer. Panel and experimental data show that chaotic motivations reflect stable traits that are primed by the environment and, consistent with the rising inequality across advanced democracies, we find that these motivations are strikingly widespread. To stem the tide of hostile political rumors on social media, the present findings suggest that real-world policy solutions are needed that address the growing social and political frustrations of democratic populations.
We are frequently exposed to more information than reaches conscious awareness. As social creatures, this often includes fleeting non-verbal cues with emotional information, such as facial expressions that emerge during our interactions with others. Given the adaptive value of responding to those cues, it is unsurprising they are easily processed, and can engender neural, peripheral-physiological, and behavioral responses regardless of our being subjectively aware of them. But then what, if any, is the function of conscious awareness in emotion? In this talk, I will present data from visual awareness manipulation studies suggesting that conscious awareness facilitates the regulation of unwarranted “spillover” (misattribution) of emotional responses to unrelated social stimuli. Neurally, this regulatory benefit of conscious awareness is associated with enhanced function of the last region to develop (ontogenetically and phylogenetically) in the frontal lobe, the mid-lateral prefrontal cortex (mid-LPFC). Causal manipulations of mid-LPFC function suggest a key role for this region in both promoting certain kinds of metacognitive awareness, and in preventing the spillover of affect to unrelated stimuli. In closing, I will discuss current challenges and promising avenues for future work on the intersection of emotion and consciousness.
Balancing alliances and fairness: The delicate ballet
Fairness concerns often guide the way both children and adults think others should share; people like when others are rewarded equally for doing equal work. In my talk I will explore why people might be concerned with fairness. I begin by attempting to rule out that fairness is merely a byproduct of envy and generosity. Specifically, I demonstrate that children (and also adults) care about fairness concerns even when envy is unlikely to be a motivator and when being fair conflicts with generosity: I show that children and adults will waste resources to uphold fairness. I then explore some reasons why children and adults might be fair, and present experiments that suggest part of the motivation behind children’s fair behavior is a desire to socially signal they are fair. Next, I present work suggesting that the desire to appear fair is specifically about avoiding the appearance of partiality: child and adult distributors will gladly pay others unequally for equal work as long as doing so does not require being or appearing partial. Based on this work, I argue that fairness concerns function to help agents avoid being judged for being partial. But of course, building alliances is important and so I close with work demonstrating the difficulty people sometimes experience in balancing fairness and alliances.
Human kin recognition: Recent findings and methodological advances
Kinship is central to biological theories of social behaviour. Across species, kinship affects both pro-social as well as sexual attitudes. Kin-biased behaviour requires mechanism to recognise kin, but relatively little is known on kin recognition in humans. I will present some recent work from our lab (1) showing that facial appearance, which can function as a cue to genetic similarity, affects third-party kin recognition via shape and colour cues; (2) developing data-driven models of facial resemblance among siblings to predict perceived and actual kinship based on face shape; (3) using data-driven models of family relatedness to create more ecologically valid stimuli that can be used in experimental studies on kinship.
with Vanessa Fasolt, Kieran O’Shea, Victor Shiramizu & Lisa DeBruine
What is universal about music across human societies, and what varies? We built a corpus of ethnographic text on musical behavior from a representative sample of the world’s societies and a discography of audio recordings of the music itself. The ethnographic corpus reveals that music appears in every society observed; that variation in musical behavior is well-characterized by three dimensions, which capture the formality, arousal, and religiosity of song events; that musical behavior varies more within societies than across societies on these dimensions; and that music is regularly associated with behavioral contexts such as infant care, healing, dance, and love. The discography, explored through four representations (machine summaries, listener ratings, expert annotations, expert transcriptions), revealed that identifiable acoustic features of songs predict their primary behavioral context worldwide; that musical forms vary along two dimensions, melodic and rhythmic complexity; that the frequency distributions of melodic and rhythmic bigrams follow power laws; and that tonality is widespread, perhaps universal across cultures. These analyses show how applying the tools of computational social science to rich bodies of humanistic data can reveal both universal features and patterns of variability in culture, addressing longstanding debates about each.
Dr. Steve Neuberg and Dr. Rebecca Neel will lead our break-out session (during lunch) on how to market yourself as an evolutionary social psychologist.
You might want to sit in if you're:
a graduate student or early-career evolutionary social psychologist
a mentor or advisor to students who take an evolutionary approach to cognition and/or behavior.
Arizona State University
University of Toronto
Location: Strand 2
8:00-8:30AM: Check-in and Continental Breakfast
8:30-8:40AM: Opening Remarks
8:40-9:20AM: Paul Bloom, Yale University
9:20-10:00AM: Regina Lapate, UC-Berkeley
10:00-10:10AM: Quick Morning Coffee Break
10:10-10:50AM: Iris Holzleitner, University of Glasgow
The Preconference is currently sold out (as of November 5th, 2019).
Some important registration information:
Registration is now open, and will close when full. Registration for the Evolutionary Psychology Preconference is VERY LIMITED THIS YEAR and will fill quickly--register early!
Preconference registration includes breakfast, lunch, and coffee.
Registration for the Preconference is independent from registration for the main SPSP conference. Attendees who register for both the EP preconference and the convention will receive a $25 discount on their preconference registration
Thanks to the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, we are happy to announce that we will be able to offer a discount on registration ($20 for students and $10 for postdocs and faculty).
20EvoStu20 - $20 off for students
20EvoAll10 - $10 off for any registrants
Note: On the Shopping Card window, you should see an “Apply Promotion” box. If you do not see this box, try logging-in to the SPSP Registration webpage through a different Internet browser.