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Where We Came From, and Why It's Not As Far Away As We Think

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Jennifer has worked in the human services field since 2009 and will be completing her Masters degree in Forensic Psychology in September.


Evolutionary Psychology

A sub-field that is typically included under the much broader area of psychology, evolutionary psychology is a discipline that seeks to shed light onto exactly how the primitive human being that our species evolved from still lives on inside of each of us.

They have been called "cavemen" or Neanderthals, originating approximately 200,000 years ago in multiple locations around the world. They donned animal skins and hovered with their family members around fires built from sticks and other natural materials. Their faces sloped forward, their foreheads and mouths jutting out from the rest of the face, and they communicated with one another through grunts, clicks, and primitive drawings, some of which have been found still intact in the more modern world.

Yes, they were primitive by even the most lenient of standards. Our species, the homo sapiens, have long since moved on from our once-ancient appearance and modes of communication. We no longer hunt in packs, steal our mates from other tribes, or drag our knuckles on the ground while we walk. But whereas we no longer resemble them, our common ancestor the caveman successfully passed down parts of his knowledge to us, knowledge that would ensure the survival of human beings for centuries to come.


Our History

We all originate from a world once entirely unmarred by man, a place of great beauty and promise. Ancient homo sapiens populated this world, accompanied by their very rudimentary survival skills. Some of these skills could be referred to as more instinctual than others, such as the innate instinct to avoid danger. Over time, these basic instincts were honed into skills that were more efficient in enabling their owner to survive. These instincts provided ancient humans with the ability to react to a threat or stimulus without requiring forethought; this permitted early humans to react quickly to the sudden presence of danger.

These reflexes can still be observed in their most basic stages in infants, who are routinely assessed for their ability to react to stimuli in absence of a developed thought process. Because infants have yet to learn about their environment- including understanding its dangers- these reflexes should remain intact for the first one to two years of every child's life.

The most notable of the infant reflexes- referred to as "primitives"- is the sucking/rooting reflex, the moro reflex, and the landau reflex. The rooting reflex is responsible for causing the infant to instinctively turn its head towards the direction of a food source, whereas the moro and landau reflexes involve the development of trust and the ability to crawl from potential causes of danger.

As adults, we still possess the startle reflex, enabling us to quickly move away from a sudden undesirable stimulus.


Social Reflexes

The aforementioned reflexes are physical, designed to increase the chances that any one human being will survive in sometimes hostile environments.

There are also instincts that were ingrained into the subconscious thoughts of early human beings. These "reflexes" existed to ensure that a human being would not only survive, but would produce a sufficient number of healthy offspring to ensure that the common family line would continue. They were also developed to meet an individual's needs for safety, security, acceptance, and belonging, in a world that was much bigger than anything our primitive ancestors had ever anticipated.

Sound familiar? It should; we still possess these same instincts today, yet most of the time we aren't even aware of that fact. But the presence of these "primitive" instincts are sometimes the reasons for our behavior towards ourselves as well as one another, and a number of societal attitudes are driven by the presence of these ancient instincts that remain intact inside of all of us.


The Pack Mentality

Early human beings gradually developed a system to ensure that themselves and their families would enjoy a sufficient amount of food. Therefore, they had to target larger, more dangerous game, which required additional manpower. This group- or "pack"- would also serve to protect the more vulnerable women and children when members of other tribes threatened to encroach on non-communal land. It was because of this that each group was required to maintain the optimum level of physical ability, lending credibility to the statement that "only the strong survive."

The pack mentality describes the exclusion of any member who was not fit to remain with the group. This might include those who could now be considered mentally ill, elderly, feeble, diseased, or just simply not able to contribute to the group. Because food was sometimes a scarcity, and those who were not able to contribute in any way required protection and were considered a burden, these individuals were forced to leave the group.

One of two things could happen to a person after being forced to leave. One, he or she could be taken in by another group- with unknown consequences- or two, he or she would die. It sounds dire because it was. Without support and protection from multiple, able-bodied people, any early human being was as good as dead.

Thus came the belief that there are strength in numbers; in this sense, numbers mean a higher probability that each member of the group will survive.

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We still see this draw to other people for safety and security even in the most modern of times. It can be observed in riots, where each individual member would not partake without the support of others, and schoolyard bullies, who might not stand down to one student but who would most definitely walk away from a couple. We instinctively seek out of the physical presence and support of other people. It has ensured safety while exponentially decreasing the probability that an unfortunate fate will befall a solitary member of a group.

Mating Rituals

These instincts can also be found within the most ancient of all human concepts, love and sex.

There is a commonly-held theory that monogamy in relationships is considered a "new" practice, largely due to the roles that men and women once fulfilled in primitive society. The mentality during this time centered around a "more is better" approach: more mates, more offspring, better chances of survival.

The early human male was not monogamous. Rather, depending on his tribal status, he most likely mated with many of the females within the group. There was no jealously or hard feelings in the wake of this practice; the members of each group simply viewed it as normal and natural. The females were much the same, but for different reasons: they needed to be pregnant for as long as possible with little time in between. This ensured a constant introduction of offspring into the tribe, increasing the chances that the group will survive into the future.

During this time, the early man was able to mate with and impregnate multiple women within the group unit. In fact, this was one of his many roles. Interestingly enough, this behavior was not reflected in apes, which from the beginning practiced monogamy as a way to protect their breeding rights from being infringed on by other males.

This practice continued for thousands of years. Scientists are now claiming that the modern concept of monogamy is "new", citing the possibility that it came into existence when females were once solitary, and a male was needed to protect her from other males in order to ensure his right to mate with her.

Is this an excuse for a cheating husband, or polyamorous wife? Certainly not. But the presence of these primitive instincts might serve to explain why some people- both men and women- repeatedly commit infidelity.


Our Potential Mates

What do we look for in our potential partners? More importantly, what dictates what we find attractive and desirable in others?

Our society is populated by theories and conceptions about certain types of people that exist within it. For example, that older men find younger women more attractive than women in their age group. Or, that younger women sometimes seek out older men and then affectionately refer to them as "sugar daddies".

There is an evolutionary reason behind these uncommon laws of attraction.

First and foremost, there wasn't the issue of sexuality in the culture of early man and woman. Yes, attraction played a role but certainly not to the extent that it does today. Mating and reproducing were necessary acts to ensure survival and healthy offspring. A "caveman" did not look at a "cavewoman" and hypothetically say to his buddy, "Man, what a dish!" Rather, he most likely said something along the lines of "She looks healthy and able to bear many children."

That was all that primitive human beings really cared about when it came to the reasoning behind sex. Sex produced children; children were cared for by adults; children grew to be able-bodied members of the group; children cared for aging adults. It's a persistent life cycle that is prevalent even in our society of cellphones and twerking.

Because of the extreme importance of contributing offspring to the group, males sought out the youngest and healthiest of all the female members. Older women could not bear children as well as younger women could in those times, and were more often than not overlooked as potential mates. The men required women with fertile wombs and healthy appearances; these would be the mates who would produce the most offspring.

How do you explain the fact that most older men have no desire to court younger women? The answer to this can mostly be found while examining the structure of the primitive tribe; most of the time, the alpha male- or the leader- of each group enjoyed coupling and reproducing with more women than the other males. This was considered to be a privilege that was due to him because of his tribal status. Perhaps the older men who do not experience such an attraction originate from members of the group as opposed to the alpha male, who took what he wanted when he wanted it.

Is it possible that this is the reason why some elderly gentlemen prefer young women? Probably not. But it is possible that this attraction is somewhat ingrained in the subconscious minds of today's male senior citizens. Although, most of us would like to think that our grandfathers stemmed from regular tribe members as opposed to the alpha male.

Why do men look at women in parts as opposed to the whole? According to evolutionary psychology, they are quickly assessing if the nurturing parts of a woman's physique- breasts, bottom, and legs- appear healthy and strong enough for her to be considered as a mate.

Women, in their support roles, required male partners who could provide protection for both her and her many offspring. Weak men were not considered desirable; they could defend their mates and children against potential dangers. Therefore, women sought to mate with the strongest and most powerful males within the group. This also might allude to the reason why the alpha male was also the most popular with the ladies, as well as why a man who can win in a bar fight is far more attractive than the guy sitting in the corner.

Certainly, women can admit that they look for safety and security in their potential mates. Is is employed? Does he have good credit? These are both modern day methods to ensuring that a potential partner is dependable and is capable of supporting both the woman and any offspring that they might have together.

Evolutionary Psychology in a Hub

The concepts associated with both evolution and psychology are so many and so vast that it would require several screen's worth of material. I have touched on some of the basics here that I personally find fascinating and will be researching more sometime in the near future.

Psychology at its best explains who we are as people. Add a touch of Evolution Theory and you're left with a reasonable explanation for some of our wackiest modern-day behaviors. Have an idea about something you'd like to see explained in my next Psychology of Evolution hub? Leave a note for me in the comments section and I'll do my best to answer your questions.


Jennifer (author) from Pennsylvania on November 11, 2013:

Primitive urges and evolved thought create a dangerous combination for us humans. It's become very easy to terminate relationships in these times, and why not? Maintaining a healthy and active partnership is no longer essential for our survival, and so some people see no downsides of hopping from one relationship to the other.

In order to stop the epidemic of petty divorces and break-ups, we need to infuse the spirit of survival back into our relationships.

Joshua Patrick from Texas on November 08, 2013:

Absolutely! Humans need to work together to create positive environments that breed success.

Unfortunately, the negative aspects of human nature seem to get in the way of this pursuit from many. Not to mention, marriage in the US has fallen victim to the "fairy tale" philosophy, distorting expectations and setting many couples up for failure.

Jennifer (author) from Pennsylvania on November 08, 2013:

Thank you, Juggler, and welcome :)

There was a lot of interesting information about this topic, so much in fact that it would require another Hub or two. My take on your observation is that yes, we seemed to have missed the monogamy train, at least earlier on in the game. The only explanation I have for this is that we as human beings tend to put a certain "spin" on things, if that makes any sense. In more ways than one, steady and solid monogamy is a more practical choice than random and spontaneous promiscuity- at least to me. Does that make sense? Ha ha.

Joshua Patrick from Texas on November 05, 2013:

Interesting read, for sure - voted up! One part in particular stood out to me.

"Interestingly enough, this behavior was not reflected in apes, which from the beginning practiced monogamy as a way to protect their breeding rights from being infringed on by other males."

If humans evolved from apes, you'd think that we would have inherited the monogamy trait, also. Food for thought....

Jennifer (author) from Pennsylvania on September 19, 2013:

Thank you so much for your positive feedback, sparkster. I'm glad you enjoyed it- I enjoyed writing it!

Marc Hubs from United Kingdom on September 18, 2013:

Great hub, very interesting and an enjoyable read.

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