This booked sparked my interest in Evolutionary Psychology, which remains one the favorite topics to this day. In it the authors explain several aspects of human behavior, especially those that are self-destructive or has a negative impact on ourselves. One can expect that through evolution – survival of the fittest – man would have developed traits that are beneficial to survival and producing more offspring. But why is it that many of our most basic behaviors are bad for us and cause us to overtime produce less offspring?
The authors anchor much of their writings on the Savanna Principle, a term coined by one of the authors Satoshi Kanawaza. Savanna Principle in a nutshell is idea that the human brain on a subconscious level has a hard time comprehending and dealing with situations that did not exist in the savanna, the environment which we evolved in for millions of years. Humans evolved in an environment that was harsh, dangerous, and resources were scarce. Meanwhile, most of us live in cities where it is relatively safe, prosperous and food is easily accessible. And, it was only in the last couple of centuries when this reversal occurred, a mere blink of the evolutionary eye. The authors uses this disparity between the environment we evolved in and modern society to explain a host of societal difficulties.
Or, put in another way: When examining human behavior, it is helpful to examine it in a lens of how it benefited our hominid ancestors in the savanna.
For example, our ancestors who craved for foods rich in salt, sugar and fat and exerted efforts to obtain them lived longer and were healthier than those who didn’t. In the savanna, salt, sugar and fat were very hard nutrients to come by, and it was only by hard work or good fortune that you could come upon them. Meanwhile, for many of us it takes us five minutes to go online or on the phone to order a pizza that can give you enough calories to sustain you for a couple of days. Thus, in modern society the abundance of salt, sugar and fat-laden foods leads to preventable diseases like, such as obesity and heart disease.
One aspect of human behavior the authors cover that sticks to mind is their explanation of the addictive quality of television, particularly soap operas. Humans didn’t evolve with TV’s in the savanna, so on a subconscious level, the mind has a hard time distinguishing characters we see on TV and real life characters. Has it ever struck you how closely we identify with our favorite characters in the movies or TV series we watch? Did you ever wonder why we developed such a strong emotion connection with them? Did you cheer for Jon Snow when he was declared King of the North, and did it fill you with glee when the sadistic Lord Ramsay Bolton was being beaten to within an inch of his life by Jon Snow? (It’s a Game of Thrones reference for those who don’t watch the series.)
The book ends with the humbling salvo that not everything can be explained by Evolutionary Psychology, and that there are aspects of human behavior that even scientists who think about Evolutionary Psychology all day cannot give a fool-proof answer. For example, why do we love our parents?
You can read more about the book and other reviews on Amazon here.