In this episode, we will talk about the evolution of human nature and how we can explain many mysteries in human behavior if we understand the evolutionary cause that led to such behavior. We will give three examples of human’s unjustified fear, aggression, and overeating and we will try to explain them in the light of evolution.
Disclaimer: I am using an automatic transcript service as it is not possible for me to do it on my own and I cannot afford human transcription at the moment. The service claims to have about 95% accuracy, which means there will still be some mistakes, so my apologies for having a less than perfect transcript, but I hope I can afford human transcription soon and this problem will be solved. However, the service is pretty good and the transcript will prove to be almost perfect.
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[00:01:03] Continue. Welcome to this new episode from English plus podcast. In this episode, we will talk about us. And it is about understanding human in this series of understanding human. We will talk about many aspects to help us understand ourselves in a better way. We may go from psychology to physiology, to other aspects of human being things that will help us understand why we do do the things we do or why we think that way.
[00:01:39] We think based on some scientific evidence and research. Today, we’re going to talk about the evolution of human nature. And we will try to give some examples about why we do things that might not seem so logical, especially in our modern world. But if you think about it, these things, these things STEM back from the time when we wondered the Plains of Africa.
[00:02:06] So understanding the process of evolution is important for uncovering certain mysteries of human behavior, because in some cases, the answer to the puzzle has to do with how human nature evolved. Evolutionary psychologists have found consistencies in what most people strive for in their daily lives.
[00:02:28] And they have concluded that many psychological characteristics, such as fear, aggression, and overeating evolved in the same way that physical characteristics evolved, knowing that we’re working against millions of years of evolution. Helps us understand why human nature sometimes leads us to behave in ways that aren’t always in our best interests.
[00:02:54] Now let’s talk about personality and human nature. And in psychology personality refers to consistencies in a person’s behavior across various situations. And over time, the ways in which a person generally tends to respond. When we look at people’s emotions and behaviors, we find that some consistent patterns are shared by almost everybody, but other patterns of consistency differ across people to understand the puzzle of personality.
[00:03:28] We need to examine both consistencies that are shared by almost everybody and the human nature, as well as consistencies that are seen in some people, but not in others. And what psychologists call individual differences. When most people think of evolution, they usually think of how animals physical characteristics evolved through natural selection.
[00:03:53] Most people don’t think about the role that evolutionary processes played in the development of behavioral and psychological characteristics. Charles Darwin recognized that his theory of natural selection applied, nothing only do the evolution of physical characteristics, but also to behavioral and emotional reactions.
[00:04:15] Darwin also knew that many people had more difficulty accepting his ideas when he applied them to people than when he talked about other animals. So he mostly confined himself to explaining the behaviors of animals other than human beings. During the late 18 hundreds, many psychologists began to apply evolutionary thinking to understanding human behavior.
[00:04:40] But then they dropped the idea of evolution. Even wild was rebuilding itself around evolutionary. Yeah. The ideas. The main reason was that the main line scientific psychology became dominated by radical behaviorism, which was based on the idea that all behavior yours as well as all emotional responses are the result of learning.
[00:05:03] According to behaviorism people do what they do and feel what they feel because they have been conditioned to respond in certain ways. Behaviorism, dominated, scientific psychology during much of the 20th century. It wasn’t until the 1980s, that evolutionary ideas started creeping back into psychology.
[00:05:25] And by the 1990s and you sub specialty known as evolutionary psychology had emerged that focus specifically on the evolutionary underpinnings of human behavior. During the long span of human evolution, our prehistoric ancestors faced some recurring challenges and problems that had implications for their survival and reproduction, such as finding food, protecting themselves and managing social relationships.
[00:05:55] Some individuals have characteristics that help them meet these adaptive challenges more successfully than other individuals. The individuals who had these helpful characteristics were more successful in producing offspring and transmitting their genes to future generations than those who did not tend to respond as adaptively as a result, individuals who survived and reproduced successfully.
[00:06:23] Pass their genes along at a higher rate, including genes that were associated with those behaviors that help them meet those life challenges successfully individuals that did not survive or reproduce as successfully did not pass along their genes at the same rate. So genes that were associated with less adaptive patterns of behavior decreased in the species over time.
[00:06:49] Therefore we are the descendants of those individuals throughout evolutionary history who were most successful at surviving and reproducing. If all members the species share a particular characteristic, one explanation is that the characteristic was adaptive for generation after generation of our ancestors.
[00:07:12] Our primary place where evolution it seems to have played a role is in people’s motives and goals. Evolutionary psychologists have concluded that across cultures, humans are motivated by a need for social acceptance, a desire to belong to groups and eat, to influence other people attending and seed, to protect ourselves against people who might harm us and a strong inclination to establish intimate relationships.
[00:07:42] These five motives are central to human nature. And you might say that these are not the only reasons why people do what they do and you might be right, but more specific goals are often in the service of these five broader motives. We simply don’t find otherwise normal well adjusted. People who have the opposite motives, you don’t usually find people who are motivated to be rejected, or they have a desire to be alone away from groups all the time, or they don’t care if they have any influence on anybody or people who are indifferent to all the dangers around them.
[00:08:19] Or of course, people who don’t even care about finding intimate relationships. So human nature consistently emphasizes these basic motives because these are motives that would have promoted survival and reproduction during the evolutionary past individuals who weren’t motivated to do these things or worse, who wanted to do the opposite.
[00:08:44] Didn’t fair as well. Therefore, you are motivated to do much of what you do every day because evolution built those motives into human nature. And now let’s talk about some examples and our examples are going to be about fear, aggression, and overeating. We will start with fear. I, one of the topics to which Darwin applied evolutionary ideas was the topic of emotions, which also evolve because they provided an adaptive benefit for our ancestors.
[00:09:15] For example, fear alerts us to dangers and leads us to avoid things that might hurt us. Of course people can learn to be afraid of things that I don’t pose any real danger, but fear is fundamentally related to the human motive to protect ourselves fears that are largely universal. The things that human beings tend to be afraid of without much learning.
[00:09:39] Probably evolved. For example, our prehistoric ancestors who were afraid of snakes, which were a real threat or much more likely to survive and reproduce than those who weren’t afraid of snakes or even worse. The ones who played with snakes, because we descended from individuals who were afraid of snakes.
[00:09:59] Anxiety about snakes appears to be part of human nature today. People are afraid of snakes more than they are afraid of being in a car. Although, if you think about it, it’s very few people nowadays die around the world from snake bites. Then those who die from car accidents, actually the numbers are hugely different.
[00:10:20] A lot more people die from car accidents than from snake bites, but we are afraid of snakes because we inherited that from our ancestors, but we’re not afraid of cars because, because obviously cars haven’t been around for a long time. And our brains still haven’t evolved enough to be afraid of cars or afraid of being in a car.
[00:10:42] What old scientists agree on that evolution doesn’t happen overnight. It takes thousands, maybe millions of years to happen. So we were talking about snakes, but the same is true of how people react to spiders and snarling animals. Many people have negative reactions when they see even pictures or movies of snakes, spiders, or snarling animals.
[00:11:06] Because during evolutionary history, anytime you saw one of these creatures, it was really there. Your brain isn’t designed to distinguish automatically between real threats and picture threats. All animals, including human beings are far more likely to overreact to something that’s not actually threatening than they are to underreact or not react at all to a real threat.
[00:11:31] This overreaction to possible harm is also an evolved feature of the brain evolution and seems to operate on the idea that it’s better to experience unnecessary fear. And to react as if something is dangerous when it’s not then to fail, to react to a real threat animals with very sensitive threat detection system, we’re more likely to survive and reproduce.
[00:11:58] So that became a part of human nature, making us more reactive than we often need to be. So that was about fear. What about aggression? Human beings are a very aggressive species. Even for those of us who don’t actually harm other people. Most of us occasionally have aggressive urges that we suppress most aggressions seems pointless country, go to war over rather minor disputes and people kill each other over very minor slides.
[00:12:28] It often does not take much to unleash a violent episode. The tendency to aggress is built into the human psyche. According to evolutionary thinking. Many instances of modern day aggression are manifestations of stress strategies that facilitated survival and reduction during evolutionary history.
[00:12:49] Aggression helps animals protect their territory, defend themselves and their offspring and obtain and protect resources such as food. The same is true of human beings. In the days before we had culture, law enforcement and armies to protect us, each person had to be able to defend off threats with aggression when necessary.
[00:13:12] Non aggressive individuals simply would not have survived at the same rate. And their offspring would have been at risk as well. In modern civilizations. Personal aggression is rarely helpful. In fact, it can get a person into a lot of trouble, but features of human nature evolves because they were adaptive in the environment in which our prehistoric ancestors live during human evolution.
[00:13:37] And they may or may not make sense in the environment in which we live today. Human nature evolved mostly on the Plains of Africa, where our ancestors wandered around as nomadic scavengers, gatherers, and hunters long before there were settled communities. However, biologists largely agree that our brains have not changed much if any.
[00:14:00] In the short span of time that human beings have been living in civilized communities. This helps to explain behaviors that are part of human nature, but that are not beneficial to many people today in modern society, outbursts of deadly aggression are rarely beneficial to anyone, but before culture police forces and a judicial system, individuals who were willing to resort to lethal aggression to defend themselves, Their food, their offspring, their clan, and their territory, or more likely to survive and to have offspring who survived than individuals who were not aggressive or willingness to resort to aggression was essential.
[00:14:44] So that was about fear and aggression. What about overeating? Human beings have an evolved mechanism to eat? Whenever food is available during virtually all of human evolution, our days were spent looking for food. And when we found some, it made sense to eat as much as possible because we had no way to store or carry extra food.
[00:15:07] And we didn’t know how long it might be until we would eat again. The problem is that in developed countries, most people now have much more food available than they need. In addition, we seem to be attracted more to sweet and fatty foods. This may be because foods like lettuce, celery and tomatoes were fairly common on the Plains of Africa.
[00:15:30] So there wasn’t any benefit in being a glutton when it came to vegetables. However sweet fruits and fatty animals, flesh were less common. Many people react negatively to evolutionary explanations of behavior because they think that if some behaviors such as aggression or overeating is natural, then it seems like we can’t change it.
[00:15:51] Or maybe we shouldn’t even try, but that’s not the case. These reactions were natural in the environment in which evolution occurred, but that doesn’t mean that modern human beings should necessarily act in these ways. None of us are living naturally according to our evolved urges. And just because of human nature was designed a certain way to meet the challenges of prehistoric life doesn’t mean that we can’t consciously decide to behave otherwise.
[00:16:18] Controlling a particular reaction is more difficult if it involves an evolutionary designed system, but that simply means that we have to try harder. Not that we shouldn’t try it all. We can control our eating within limits, manage our aggressive impulses and even make ourselves pick up a snake and overcome our fears.
[00:16:40] So that in a way is how evolution relates and explains some of the things we do. And if we understand why these things affect us nowadays, again, it is not to say that this is our nature. So we are allowed to be aggressive, to eat too much, or to be afraid of things that we shouldn’t be afraid of. No, but that helps us understand the mysteries of our behavior.
[00:17:08] And when we understand the mystery trees of our behavior, that help us control our behavior in a better way. So that was all about understanding human, the evolution of human nature. We will talk more in our understanding human series, mainly about psychology, something about neuroscience, the way we learn, or how our personalities work, and a lot of other exciting things that will help us understand ourselves better. [00:17:34] I hope you liked the episode today. This is your host, Danny saying, thank you very much for being with me today. I will see you again in the next episode.