Explore this conundrum with me…

Physically, evolution happens at a snaily pace, but according to evolutionary psychology, our behaviour can become adaptive to the environment we inhabit as an inter-generational gift.  For instance, lower levels of Extroversion and Openness to experience have been observed in people residing in regions that have higher historical tendencies for transmittable diseases.* Your personality traits are somewhat learned, somewhat inherited, consistent qualities that you take with you throughout your frolicsome journey across the shiny Earth-ball.  Whilst your learning never ceases these traits are thought to remain a fairly static construct. 

Now, before any of you head down introspection street and wish for an overhaul of your mental motor, don’t.  Every trait balance has its strengths and you’re perfect, yep, you are a snowflake, but you’re a fucking tough one!  We’re all steel snowflakes that shoot out flames of passion and creation as we carve our paths through history, okay? 

No negative self-talk today people.

But, as our physicality slowly morphs and our behaviour continues to adapt to our lifestyles, the travelator picks up the pace beneath our feet.  Cultural evolution takes place at a much faster pace than our creaturely rate of change.  The environment evolves as cultures emerge and slowly change over time through teaching, observation and imitation.  The nature of our world can evolve and change within a lifetime, yet we as beasties take generations to effect change.  Can our world leave us behind, rendered obsolete and bleeping for an overdue update?

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

Let’s summon a guy to walk this line for us, we’ll call him Tony.

Tony as a beast aims to produce as many offspring as possible across his lifespan.  Already there is a bit of a disparity between biology and culture here. We’ve surpassed the roam-and-ravage days of high-turnover and little romance.  Proponents of Freud would say that Tony still lives with this raging beast in his belly, but that Tony’s ego and super-ego have teamed up to dress up that womanising wolf to pass as a friend-zone-able lamb, so that Tony doesn’t get stoned in the town square.  But, I’m not here to talk about Freud, or what may be lingering of the paleo libido.. hear me out.

A recent walk through evolutionary psychology as part of a personality psychology course brought me to this thought-provoking conundrum.

A personality profile that may have been socially desirable and predicted to precede success in the past can be passed down, only to become outdated.  Let’s look back at Tony’s Dad in his prime.  He’s a stereotypical (blockbuster movie-like) successful business Man. We’re talking baggy suit, slicked-back hair, red convertible, loudly barking orders to a subordinate on a massive cell phone.  He uses dominance to overpower people and he kicks fluffy kittens in the street, you know the type.

Perhaps all the Papa figures before Tony lead their families and ran businesses with a heavy fist.  They are all remembered as cigar toting, rambunctious tycoons of their times.  Through an elegant waltz of inheritance and observation, Tony is now embodying their legacy upon his square shoulders. 

But, Tony’s time is different to his father’s time.

It’s an age of tech-informed enlightenment where the little people’s voices can congregate and be heard.  It’s a time when it’s increasingly not Okay to under-represent and under-appreciate the feminine, the meek, and the struggling marginalised.  Tony’s built-in constructs are becoming an outdated framework.  In the end, if Tony keeps rubbing life up the wrong way, chances are lower for this Man-animal to dazzle the ladies and make the babies, which lowers the number of dominating boof-heads to progress to the next-gen.

S’up Tony?
Image supplied by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

But hang on a sec..

If our traits are effectively a long-range genetic hone-in of what would make us most successful in our environment, why aren’t we all perfected by now? And, why aren’t we all the same?  A guy called Robert Plomin has delved into the deep blue of the adaptive nature of personality. Plomin (’81) suggests there is a complex higher-order form of natural selection at play, whereby genetic variability is preferred. The idea is that individuals with intermediate values of traits (not extreme values) are preferred by natural selection, and as multiple genes are involved in such trait expressions. This results in variability between individuals being favoured and strengthened over time.  Another way to word this is, that people extremely high in any one trait are usually harder to put up with and less likely to make stacks of babies.  Apparently, everyone loves a bitzer! 

Plus, we’ve all been fine tuned for a slightly different reality of course.

Evolutionary Psychology is just one perspective of personality, but if this all has some traction, your personality traits may be in part genetically coded to make you fine-tuned to cope with your environment.  A mixed result of the beast that you are combined with a response to the daily reality that your parents endured and the one that you were born into.  Have a ponder about that and comment below on what that means for you.

What are your thoughts on the disparity between a fast-moving cultural evolution vs the slower pace of biological evolution? For my Author friends, the concept would make a nice philosophical obstacle-dilemma within a story narrative or a great under-tow.

Read, write, share, repeat!

Thanks for reading!  Happy writing!

Charli

Want to jump down the rabbit hole? Check out this lecture by Stanford University’s firecracker professor Robert Sapolsky. There are many more full lectures from Stanford just like that one to be found on YouTube.

Further reading:

* Download a copy of the study mentioned at the start of this post, about lower levels of Openness and Extroversion in regions with a history of transmittable diseases.

The evolution of Personality

Adaptive Personality Calibration

Feature image supplied by Andrej Zeman from Pexels

The disclaimer! While this post describes just one perspective of personality, I don’t believe any stand-alone theory can explain or predict our behaviour or tendencies, it’s a deeply complex process to create something as wonderful as you are. But, the effects of our biology on who we are is both undeniable and fascinating, and well worth the time to ponder. As for Tony, it doesn’t really need to be said, but not all guys are “Tonys”, not all “Tonys” are bad guys.. and even bad guys deserve hugs.

If anything in this post has triggered any concerns for you, please reach out to your doctor for guidance.


happyhivemind

Charli Weinrauch is a Brisbane-based blogger and creator of Happy Hive Mind.

13 Comments

Unwanted Life · 15 April 2021 at 12:32 pm

Thus was a really interesting read, I’ve not read much about evolutionary psychology in years. However, all I could think of while reading this was how people adapt to abuse and develop behaviours that protect them but often cause them harm in the long run, as things you were forced to learn as a result of your environmental

    happyhivemind · 16 April 2021 at 5:49 am

    Hi! I’m so interested to see where other people’s minds go with this. That’s a really interesting idea, I really wouldn’t be surprised if this has been observed! Well, there’s a neat little research-rabbit-hole to jump down.
    Thanks so much for stopping by!
    Charli

Esha · 16 April 2021 at 2:13 am

What an awesome piece! I truly enjoyed the article. You are a great writer!

    happyhivemind · 16 April 2021 at 5:53 am

    Goodness! Thank you, Esha! What lovely words.
    Thank you for taking the time to read my latest post!
    All the best,
    Charli.

Sara James · 16 April 2021 at 5:02 am

It’s an interesting article on Biological evolution versus rapid culture change. I think the rapid cultural change is now aligning with our biological evolution, and Tony may be okay with that, but the system is not, or the people who don’t accept the choices of others who are better off.

My son is an undergraduate Psychology student, and he’s discussing Freud and the superego on and Off:)

I loved the conclusion, Charli.

    happyhivemind · 16 April 2021 at 5:57 am

    Hi Sara!
    I’m so glad you enjoyed the article. Freud can be unpalatable at times, but if you can get past the psychosexual codswallop there are actually some pearlers in his offerings.
    Thanks for stopping by!
    Charli

Suzy · 17 April 2021 at 2:05 pm

This is so different from the blog posts I usually read lol. They don’t tend to need much brain power lol. But seriously, it was very interesting. I studied a-level psychology for a year but when my teacher died, and they couldn’t find a replacement, I had to drop it :/
Have a great weekend.
Suzy

    happyhivemind · 17 April 2021 at 9:32 pm

    Hi Suzy!
    I’m sorry to hear about your Psychology teacher! Yes, it is quite different, even for me, but I’m so glad you found it an interesting read!
    Love your work Suzy!
    Charli

Angela Barros · 18 April 2021 at 7:28 am

Really interesting read. I’ve often wondered about how personality traits reveal themselves based on genetics and the culture you’re brought up in. Do certain cultures value and therefore propagate specific personality traits that are passed genetically? I’m currently raising my son in a foreign culture that has slightly different values to those of our native country. I wonder if in growing up as an expat certain personality traits he’s genetically predisposed too will be expressed differently than they would had he grown up in our native country.

    happyhivemind · 27 April 2021 at 9:08 am

    Hi Angela! Thanks for taking the time to read this piece! You raise some really interesting ideas. There are many perspectives on personality psych, and strong arguments for all.. I think the short answer is that it’s complex! The greatest force shaping your Son’s personality at the moment is most likely to be YOU, but it could be interesting to think about how the culture moves you and changes your behaviour in ways that may be observed by your Son!

Lucid Green · 19 April 2021 at 5:19 am

What a fascinating piece (I live for this kind of stuff). It’s as you said, it’s hard to find any stand-alone theory that can explain or predict our behaviour or tendencies. It’s just that complex so I can’t fully explain what causes the disparity between a fast-moving cultural evolution vs the slower pace of biological evolution.

The good news is, we are constantly evolving. And I remember coming across someone on Quora who talks a good deal in evolution: https://qr.ae/pGIsfl He does raise some interesting points so to speak.

    happyhivemind · 27 April 2021 at 9:30 am

    Hi Lucid!
    I am so happy that this post resonated with you! I’m stoked that you live for this kind of stuff, I do too!
    That Quora post is great, thanks for sharing. You’re right it is so complex, that’s what makes it all so beautiful, hey?
    All the best,
    Charli

JD McManus · 27 April 2021 at 5:51 am

This is a fascinating topic! I’ve always been interested in “Cultural Inheritance”, which is a zoological term for Instinct, which I think is somewhere right in between cultural and biological evolution! An overriding influence on our species is our evolved intelligence and its interesting how, despite this, our instincts can take over a lot of the time, for good or bad, and more often than not in relation to “reproduction”, although we see it through the hubristic lens of “relationships”! Changing cultural norms have a strange sort of feedback relationship on these behaviors too, naturally affecting the far slower course of biological evolution! Again, for better or worse! Are we heading to a wiser, more enlightened utopia of a future or an “idiocracy”! By the time this starts to play out evolutionarily it may be too late to do something about it! It may already be! But we have to hope for the best!! Chuck in things like modern cognitive science research and Epigenetics to our arsenal and we might just do ok!!
-JD

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *