Final Reflection

Evolution and Human Behavior class has given me not just a great experience but also, a general understanding of the topic. Going into this class as a Management major with little to no biology background was a bit uneasy at first. Quite frankly, I had no clue what I was about to walk into. Luckily Prof. C helped make this semester an enjoyable time with her diverse (to me) course plan. I’ve never taken an online class that strictly revolved around setting up and running a blog site along with a twitter handle. This approach in itself is evolutionary.

This course has made me feel comfortable posting blogs publicly. I really didn’t know what to expect at first. Once the class got going and students began to interact I began to enjoy my workload. The fact that we’re allowed to create posts on topics of interests was a huge benefit to me. Being set loose like this can be awkward to start. This course module allowed me to dig deep into human behavior and evolution topics that interested me. It was nice not following a strict lesson plan for once. Some might see this not being beneficial to students because it’s more of you get what you put in work load. However, the loose requirements and the brief intro to the topic at the beginning of the semester helped glue the pieces together.

I’ve learned quite a lot throughout the semester regarding the processes and importance of evolution. For me, it was eye-opening learning about how everything we’ve done in the past shapes our future similarly. For example one of my blogs “Gossip Then Gossip Now” explains how we communicated prior to having verbal language. How social grooming was used as a tool to know if another species could be trusted. Another example would be my “Roots of Violence” article. In this post, I go over how humans are one of the most violent species towards each other on the planet. Humans used to fight to increase fitness. A man needed a mate and food for survival and that was about it. Now we live in a much more complex world where our surroundings impact our emotions much more. However, we’re still fighting each other today for similar resources.

This class is set up very well for working with other students even though it’s strictly online. Having to read and comment on other classmate’s posts helped me stay engaged and inspired. One classmate Devan Kurr posted an article on “The Sixth Extinction” that sparked my interest in extinction specifically for Honey Bees. The following week I researched about Honey Bees and their future to come up with my second blog post.

All in all, I enjoyed my time spent working in this class. I plan to keep on blogging after this course is complete. I’ll also continue to tweet any exciting discoveries I find in the future. I recommend this class to any student regardless of their degree focus. This class gets you thinking outside of the box and also gives some great tips and tricks for running a successful blog!

Roots of Violence

Human – business evolution

Business Evolution by patriziasoliani is licensed under CC 2.0

It’s without question that humans are some of the most violent species on the planet. An article from the Independent suggests “Humans have evolved with a propensity to kill one another that is six times higher than the average mammal” all according to a new study. In this study, researchers compiled information on over 4 million deaths within mammals dating back to the Paleolithic era. They used this information to produce an evolutionary tree that displays different mammals violent tendencies. The research resulted with humans being the most violent species towards each other. At the end of the day, we were the first species to conquer earth.

To further back this claim Live Science suggests, “the difference between human and animal violence comes down to the complexity of the emotion driving it” Humans have complex social relationships that most other animals don’t share. Emotions like revenge and spite have yet to be proven in other species. Social tension and complex environmental issues spike emotions in human. Violence can be triggered in so many different ways.

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Skull Timeline by Internet Archive Book Images with no known copyright restrictions 

It’s important to understand that violence and emotions have always been a part of human nature. If we think back to the Paleolithic time, life was rooted around survival. Hunting and mating were the needs for survival. Studies suggest that male human faces have evolved to minimize injury caused by punches. This adaptation suggests that when resources like food and mates were scarce violence occurred in order for survival. Humans weren’t killing each other in revenge or because of a political disagreement. Humans were fighting each other for increased fitness.

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Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix is licensed under CC-0

It’s scary to think that environmental and social issues continue to cause violence today just as it did in the past. Except now we’re more evolved and have the capacity to do great harm. The fact that most of our wars have been over resources goes to show that nothing much has changed. The complexity of our social issues has increased however the root of violence still remains very similar. If we can’t learn to make peace with natural resources we will continue to fight with each other.

Religion and its Evolutionary Mismatch

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Religion by Szczepan1990 is licensed under CC 3.0

The textbook definition of religion is “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” With that being said the origins of religion can be broken down into three categories, polytheism, pantheism and monotheism. Polytheism is the belief in many gods coexisting, this originated from Hinduism. Pantheism is the belief that all is god, we see this in Buddhism. Lastly, monotheism is the belief in just one god, common in Christianity. Those who don’t believe in a supernatural higher power often consider themselves atheists.

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Supplicating Pilgrim by Ali Mansuri licensed under CC 2.5

There are many reasons why religion was created; I’ll list some below.

  1. To set order – Communities and villages needed a way to organize and set up rules to control villagers. Without laws what’s keeping civilians from doing harm? The Ten Commandments are a great example of how behavior could be regulated.
  2. To unify people – Religion helps bond groups of diverse people together as one.
  3. To provide a sense of the world and our belonging – Religion helps give us hope and a sense of belief. It can help reason why things happen the way they do. An example would be a tsunami wiping out a city or a relative dying unexpectedly. Simply, it gives us shelter and reason. It can provide hope for an afterlife.
  4. Exploit evil – Religion helps explain why some people do bad things and also helps justify the positives of doing good. Was Satan created to scare man or antagonize?
  5. Happiness – Overall, religious practice and worship are known to stimulate and generate positive feelings.

I’m a firm believer that each and everyone shall be entitled to their own religious and spiritual beliefs. However, with that being said, our world is so diverse at the moment that religions have begun to clash and cause more harm than good. We’ve hit an evolutionary mismatch with religion. An evolutionary mismatch means that evolved traits that used to help us, now don’t due to a change in the environment. Religion was used as an advantage back in the day to guide, rule, and control civilizations. Now it’s causing war, death, and destruction.

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Bertrand Russell by Atheistrepublic.com

  Famous philosopher Bertrand Russell said it the best “Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines.” This simply argues the battle between religion and science. Before science, we had religion, as science evolves we’ve discovered truths that in the end dismantle religious beliefs. Again, I don’t think it’s fair to doubt one’s faith and beliefs. However, not everyone is anthropomorphizing the same god. With that being said, until everyone synchronizes as a whole I fear we will continue to clash with each other.

Theory of Mind

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Brain by Allan Ajifo Licensed under CC BY 2.0

 Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, do you know what they’ve been through; can you interpret one’s mental state from their body language and actions? Most humans are born with this understanding. This understanding is known as Theory of Mind or ToM for short. ToM is defined by wiki as “…the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one’s own.” As mentioned before most humans are born with this ability however, that’s not always the case.

Individuals that cannot process Theory of Mind often suffer a cognitive disorder known as mind-blindness. This means an individual does not have the ability to truthfully understand the minds and notions of others. They often will not understand that everyone is unique with their own motives and initiatives. Mind-blindness is common with people who have autism, Asperger’s, schizophrenia, dementia, bipolar disorder and other mental disorders.

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Eye-Tracking by City University Interaction Lab licensed under CC BY 2.0

 There are many tests that are used to assess Theory of Mind. False belief testing is used to understand that “other people can have beliefs about the worlds that are different from their own” (ncbi). False belief allows for the understanding and predictability of others. Children typically develop most Theory of Mind skills by age 6. Today we use eye-tracking technology known as anticipatory looking for false belief testing.

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Progress by Kevin Dooley is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 For many years scientists have not been able to confirm that great apes have a complete understanding of Theory of Mind. This is because up until last October testing could only prove certain elements of Theory of Mind in apes. According to Scientific American, scientists were able to implement a new study that uses an infrared camera to monitor the eye movement of apes. During the experiment bonobos, chimpanzees and orangutans were brought into a room one at a time to watch a series of videos. Since apes are obsessed with social information like us humans, researchers created soap opera videos that displayed a series of events with apes as the main characters. All three species ended up passing this false belief test. The video below by New Scientists explains how the testing was conducted and monitored.

 

 

In my opinion, I believe that apes have the same ability to understand Theory of Mind like us humans do. Without language, it’s hard to accurately test the claim. However, with the increase in technology we have the potential to conduct new tests that can potentially uncover the truth. The experiment conducted last October is just the start to proving this claim. Do you think only humans have Theory of Mind?

Gossip Then Gossip Now

The contemporary definition of gossip by dictionary.com is “idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others”. We typically identify gossip as the spreading of negative information about others. This video by CBS about gossip helps explain the other side of the word.

Dr. Michelle Callahan shares in the video that gossip can be either constructive or nasty. However, the initial intent of gossip always falls on gaining information about others. They joke around and say women use the term gossip where men often like to use the term “networking” as an associate form.

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Barbary Macaques by AquilaGib is licensed under Wikimedia Commons

Let’s take a step back and look at the word “gossip” from an evolutionary perspective. Before language and the human species existed apes would gossip for survival purposes. It was important to gain information about other surrounding apes in order to group up and survive. Apes needed to know whom the strongest were, who’s the best forager, etc. They weren’t able to do this through speech. However, body language and social gestures often replaced language. These primates traveled and worked in groups. The level of threat predators brought determined this group size. Working in a group compromises one’s personal interests and turns them into group interests. Trust is one of the most important demands when working in a group. Apes needed to know they could rely on each other in desperate times. The larger the group was, the more one’s personal interests were compromised. In this case, gossip was used to gain information on others in social groups to know if they can be trusted.

Without language how did this information spread? Evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar suggests that friendships were made through social grooming. Back in the day simply acts like cleaning others fur or sharing food represented social grooming. All in all, grooming built trust and relationships within social groups. Psychology Today says it best “it’s quite literally a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” kind of relationship”. This grooming represented the “idle chit-chat” that we often relate with gossip today.

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Barber Chair by Skitterphoto is licensed under CC0

In modern day we still part take in social grooming, we just use language now. From clothing someone to doing his or her hair it’s all a form of it. When’s the last time you went to a barber appointment where nothing was spoken? I can’t remember one either. At the end of the day, we still use gossip in a similar way that apes did in the past. The word gossip has evolved with the addition of language and evolution of primates. Plain and simple, we still use gossip to learn and share information about other whether it’s positive or negative.

The Future of Honey Bees

A few weeks back classmate Devan Kurr posted an article on The Sixth Extinction that sparked my interest in Honey Bee research. Over the last 10 years the Honey Bee species has been rapidly dying out. In 2016 there was a 44% drop in honeybee colonies, with summer losses rivaling the winter. The statistics are conducted every year by Bee Informed and funded by the USDA. The chart below shares colony loss rates for both commercial and small-scale beekeepers from 2006 to 2016.bee1

Posted on Bee Informed, created by Bee Informed & USDA

The fact that bee loss has continued to grow in summer is extremely alarming. Experts know that this issue needs to be resolved fast in order to keep honeybees alive.

If honeybees went extinct should we worry? The answer is yes, absolutely. Honey Bees contribute greatly to our economy; they are the reason we have cotton goods and many nutritious foods like apples, almonds and avocados. Watch this short clip from Life Noggin on “What Would Happen To You If All The Bees Die?”

It’s crazy to think that without bees our economy will suffer at least a $14 billion loss. I don’t know about you but I would like to continue to eat fruits and vegetables for the rest of my life.

In order to save the bees, we must first understand the root causes of extinction. Truthfully we can’t point fingers to one issue, there are many factors contributing to the problem. The three main issues are habitat destruction, parasites, and cell phones. Humans contribute to this issue by expanding infrastructures with construction. Ultimately we are taking away from bee colony habitats and forcing them elsewhere. Parasites are another major issue that is harming the bee species. Trachael (live internally) and Varroa (live externally) mites are the two parasites that infect bees. The infestation from both mites causes deadly diseases that ultimately reduce colony size. The last major issue is the increase in cell phone use. Cell phones give off electromagnetic waves that are harmful to bees. This radiation causes bees to lose the ability to return to their colony. In the end, we need bees and they need our help.

The University of Washington shares some tips on what we can do to help save the honeybee. Here’s what you can do!

The Solution” by: University of Washington 

  1. Plant Things that Bees like
  2. Provide Bee Habitats
  3. Eliminate Garden Pesticides
  4. Let your Veggies Bolt (turn to seed)
  5. Support your Local Beekeepers

Drug Addiction and Its Evolutionary History

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Evolution  by Taymaz Valley is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Drug addiction is growing steadily as well as the deaths associated with it. Below you’ll find the annual overdose death report for the United States by the National Institue on Drug Abuse. It’s alarming to see the number of deaths double within a mere ten years. This is a huge ongoing epidemic. It’s argued that this is due to the rapid increase in production and consumption of drugs worldwide.

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Posted on National Institue on Drug Abuse, created by CDC Wonder

Our evolutionary history can help explain some of these patterns in drug addiction. First, we need to understand the root causes of addiction. Most professionals will agree that addiction comes from many different factors, not one specific cause. These factors include mental health issues, genetic predisposition, and the environment. Drugs are used for many reasons; they fix short-term health issues, mask internal pain. Some people enjoy drugs for the sheer pleasure, others will use due to social norm demands. Plain and simple, people use drugs for many reasons. Now that we have a general overview of addiction, let’s take a step back and explore drug use in ancient environments.

It’s safe to say that ancestral use of drugs was greatly limited due to the lack of resources we carry today. Tammy Saah shares in the Harm Reduction Journal, “Archaeological records indicate the presence of psychotropic plants and drug use as far back as early hominid species” (NCBI) which is dated millions of years back. It’s said that many ancient civilizations were using psychotropic plants as sources of food. That means that ancestral usage of drugs revolved around increasing fitness. The psychotropic plants were originally used as nutritional supplements throughout cultures. These plants helped to increase energy, limit fatigue, and stimulate hunger which overall increases chances of survival. In ancient time it’s perceived that positive emotions increased fitness. For example, successful mating would cause a euphoric high due to the needs of survival. This is a result in increased fitness, not happiness. In modern day, drugs can be and are used to increase happiness. Positive emotions that used to be related to increasing fitness from drug intake now has transformed around improving happiness.

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Liquors by Jeff Golden is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Today, drug addiction indicates a false improvement in fitness. As we move forward into the modern day we see technology improving and resources growing. This inevitably allows for mankind to create more potent drugs. Alcohol was the first real drug to increase in potency with the finding of the distillation process. It’s said that the first real distillation of alcohol was discovered in Southern Italy back in the 12th century. China was right behind them in this evolution. In modern day we have a desire to create new drugs and increase the potency of existing ones. Abuse can be caused by internal and external events. Tammy Saah also said, “although a person may be predisposed to addiction, environmental and emotional stimuli may act as a catalyst towards the state of actual substance addiction” (NCBI). The motivation behind drug use today relates to our evolved dopaminergic and serotonergic systems. These systems control our emotions, which directly affects our human behavior. They act as a reward system in a way. After the initial intake and liking of a substance, we find ourselves craving it more and more even when we know the negative outcomes. Happiness in today’s world isn’t revolved around who’s the best fit for survival. For some, it’s who has the nicest car or the biggest house. Drugs are used to alter these states for us however, it’s only short-term alterations.

As we move forward into the future drug abuse has not slowed down one bit. In fact, this epidemic is growing quite rapidly. Take a look at this chart below provided by the United Nations back in 2010.

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Posted on Humanity Plus, created by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

Yes, you’re reading correctly. Global oxycodone consumption has grown from a few tons in 1991 to 95 tons in 2010. No wonder why Oxycodone is the most popular addictive drug worldwide.  These drug companies are bringing in a killing, literally… It’s scary to see what the future holds. If our evolutionary history of ancestral drug use to increase fitness is true, are we possibly moving towards a future of immortality?