RationalAnimal

The rational Animal How Evolution Made Us Smarter Than We Think by Douglas Kenrick and Vladas Griskevicius is a superb and intellectually stimulating book. The author discussed that evolution is not just about reproduction and extensively emphasized the seven subsets of fundamental problems our ancestors have to face and successfully solved, namely self-protection, disease avoidance, affiliation, status, mate acquisition, mate retention, and kin care. Throughout the book, the authors argued that our choices in the modern world were heavily influenced by the mechanisms our ancestors used to solve adaptive issues. Therefore our seemingly irrational decisions on the surface imply rational mechanisms in solving adaptive issues in the past. The discussion ranges from many concepts of irrational biases (those usually pointed out in Social Psychology textbooks) to the real life examples of successful generations of unlucky Kennedy families, Martin Luther King’s guilt on his own promiscuity, to the Walt Disney productions, Steve Job, and real world economic principles, etc.

Male risk taking behaviors were discussed from evolutionary viewpoint. One study that was mentioned in the book was conducted in Australia; male skaters, who saw a very attractive woman during skating, took more risks in performing tricks they haven’t mastered. Another study described involves males who were usually more averse to loss such as losing $100 than finding the lost $100 (mathematically $100 remains the same value whether it is gaining or losing, but people are more upset by the loss) became unmoved (in fact quite happy because he is signaling his extravagant/ generous/ wealthy quality to a potential imaginary mate) by loss aversion after imagining a romantic date situation. The other study mentioned involves a group of people who chose “standing out “ clothes and interesting shiny items to buy after watching a romantic movie, but the other group chose “boring” items to buy after watching movies that display infectious diseases (They want to blend in). One interesting study that was mentioned in the book also involves the identical twins who cooperate more on prisoner games (cooperation in the game gets more benefits over the long run) than fraternal twins. Many other examples were discussed.

The book also described the study that reported that the jungle dwellers in the Amazon rain forest, Shiwar, who outperformed the Harvard student. I will pose this short interesting logical question here.

Linda is thirty-one years old, single, outspoken and very bright. She majored in philosophy. Ass a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice and also participated in antinuclear demonstrations.

What is more probable?

  1. Linda is a bank teller.
  2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

If you are like me and others, you would choose B. But, logically A is more likely to be true than B. The truth of B is based on the probability of two events, one of which is based on A. Before B is true, A must be do. So why do most of us, including those who are educated in math, logic and reasoning in Top Universities in the U.S. choose answer B? The explanation is discussed more in details in the book.

The key idea throughout the book is that our choices are rational in a sense that they are mostly based on the choices that were adaptive to most problems in the past. But those choices may or may not be adaptive for the modern environment. The authors even gives the analogy of our modern life as modern cavemen. And many of our modern practice are still parallel to the past actions and have not changed. For example, “happy Mate acquisition is seen as It’s Valentine day, happy mate retention as It’s our anniversary, happy disease avoidance as get well soon, happy status gaining as Congratulations, happy affiliations (we relied on each other in the past as well) as Thank You cards, Happy Kin Care as It’s a Boy or It’s a Girl” and self-protection as We Need to Make Owning Guns Legal. Again, these relate back to seven subsets the authors discussed.
Many more psychological examples are discussed in the book. Buy the book and read it! Highly, highly recommended. I think if we know what we are up to, we hopefully would make our decisions better!

Acknowledgement 

This is my book review. This book highlights why we make when we make decisions. And I am not affiliated with both authors. I just think it would be a good decisions to get the book and engage with it. 🙂  Make the right decision. It’s only $5.5+, if you buy a used one.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Rational-Animal-Evolution-Smarter/dp/0465032427

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