How the Monarch Butterfly Conquered the World: Sometimes Humans Do Good Things Too
By Heath Shive
Things look bleak for the Monarch butterfly. Or...are they?
The overwintering population of monarch butterflies is largest in Mexico - but it's not really large, only about 3 hectares (7.5 acres) in 2017. Hundreds of millions of monarchs are crowded in there - which was a bad thing in 2017 when a winter storm came through and destroyed 27% of the monarchs.
But there are other overwintering havens for the monarchs, like the Monarch Grove Sanctuary in California - where disturbing the butterflies carries a $1,000 fine.
Monarchs need specific trees to use for their "hibernation," and the Monterrey Pine (Pinus radiata) is the most important tree in Monarch Grove - which is bad news, because the pine's numbers are dwindling from climate change.
So bad news, right? The monarchs and Monterrey pines are done for, right?
They are flourishing in growing numbers....just not here in the United States!
To the science and story of how monarchs invaded the world!
According to Te Ara - the official online encyclopedia of New Zealand - the Monterrey pine was brought to New Zealand in 1850s in a forestry experiment. Today in New Zealand, 89% of New Zealand's forestry plantations (1.6 million hectares) is comprised of radiata trees!
In fact, the radiata pine is world's most successful softwood plantation tree and is grown successfully in Chile, Argentina, South Africa, and elsewhere- just not in California!
So if only monarchs could find a home in New Zealand, right?
Well, monarchs are alive and well in New Zealand...and Australia. And New Guinea. And around the world!
Monarch butterflies apparently made their way into Australasia around the mid-1800s. How they did this is anyone's guess! But there were no quarantines in those days, and international trade and immigration were alive and well.
Of course, invading species cannot just survive anywhere - they need the right conditions. And monarchs need milkweed. There are native Australian and Kiwi milkweeds, but the monarchs don't like them.
Instead, the monarch colonists loved the 2 species of non-native milkweeds! The Gomphocarpus species (from Africa) and the Asclepias species from the Caribbean!
In other words, the monarch colonists succeeded in Australia and New Zealand because of 2 previous "invasive" species - and now there are also Monterrey pines by the millions in these countries for the monarch to winter on!
The Bittersweet Story of Evolution
In 2017, biologist Chris Thomas wrote a great book Inheritors of the Earth.
Thomas reminds us that humans are natural - and thus human effects on the planet are natural too.
This is the Anthropocene Era in planetary history, and humans are the dominant evolutionary driving force on earth.
This forces millions of species to adapt to us - and they do!
Birds (like pigeons) and mammals (like rodents) have adapted to thrive with urbanization. We chopped down forests for fields, but fields now support prairie and meadow bird species. Vast herds of cattle create prairie ecosystems, as the bison did before.
Many species are disappearing - but many more are adapting because their survival depends on it. And the species we call weeds (like milkweed or teasels) or invasive animals (like starlings and Asian carp) are just really good at surviving.
Monarchs are not surviving very well here in North America. Their numbers are dwindling.
But monarchs are growing, multiplying, and thriving in Australia and New Zealand!
And in Spain, New Guinea, and Morocco.
And that is why the monarch butterfly is one of the most successful butterfly species in the world!
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Berg, P., 'Radiata Pine', Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand; https://teara.govt.nz/en. Accessed 16 June 2019
"Eastern Monarch Population Numbers Drop 27%". News. The Monarch Joint Venture. 16 February 2017. Archived from the original on 5 June 2017. Retrieved 16 June 2019
Jones, Ann. "Flying Weeds: how the monarch butterfly colonised Australia". ABC News. 14 September 2015. https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/offtrack/flying-weeds:-how-the-monarch-butterfly-colonised-australia/6768228. Accessed 16 June 2019
Obama, President Barack (20 June 2014). "Presidential Memorandum – Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators". Office of the Press Secretary. Washington, D.C.: The White House. Retrieved 16 June 2019
Thomas, Chris D. Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction. PublicAffairs, Hachette Book Group, 2017
The Peak-End Rule: How to Conquer Any Bad Day (Or Even a Colonoscopy)
By Heath Shive
It doesn't matter how a day starts, it only matters how the day ends.
In an episode of The Office – entitled “Diversity Day” (Season 1, Ep. 2) – the character Jim is unable to close a very important sale because of his boss Michael Scott’s obnoxious handling of a sensitivity seminar.
Jim loses his sale…to his office rival Dwight! It’s an awful defeat for Jim.
But by the end of the working day, Pam (Jim's love interest) falls asleep on his shoulder. Jim is spellbound.
Jim concludes to the camera that it was “not a bad day.”
What does this have to do with bad days and colonoscopies?
They all used the peak-end rule of psychology.
To the science!
The Peak-End Rule
The peak-end rule was coined by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Barbara Fredrickson, and it is about how we summarize an experience.
How we remember an experience boils down to 2 criteria: (1) how the experience feels at its peak, whether at its best or worst, and (2) how the experience ended.
Barry Schwartz – author of the fantastic book The Paradox of Choice - cites a lab study where participants were asked to listen to two terribly loud noises.
The first noise was awful, but lasted only 8 seconds.
The second noise was the same as the first and also lasted 8 seconds…but it was followed by another 8 seconds of unpleasant noise that wasn’t as loud.
The vast majority of the participants chose the second noise – despite the fact that it was unpleasant as the first, and also twice as long (16 seconds vs. 8 seconds).
How does that make sense?
They’re both terrible to hear, and the second noise was twice as long.
But the participants preferred the second noise because of the “peak-end” rule.
Both the first and second noise had the same “peak” of awfulness…but the second noise ended with a noise that wasn’t nearly as bad.
Therefore, the second noise was judged better.
A Not-So-Bad Colonoscopy
A colonoscopy is a notoriously unpleasant experience. In the described study, two groups were given a colonoscopy.
Daniel Kahneman, Joel Katz, and Donald Redelmeier performed lab study with colonoscopies to examine the peak-end rule.
One group’s procedure was standard. The second group’s procedure was different.
In the second group, after the colonoscopy was finished, the scope was left inside – unmoving – for 20 additional seconds. Unmoving, the probe was not as unpleasant as a moving probe.
The second group rated their experience slightly better than the first group did.
Both groups had the same bad colonoscopy, but the second group had a milder ending.
Why We Need Fairy Tale Endings and Dessert
The peak-end rule is basically telling us that it doesn’t matter how something starts, it’s the ending that is more important.
Our brains aren’t rational computers. Our brains are slimy bags of instincts. So play to your instinct.
There's a rule to life here.
Jim’s day was "not a bad day” after Pam slept on his shoulder.
If you squeeze an orange too hard, the juice turns bitter. Stay at a party too long, and you'll leave bored. We end a meal with a dessert, not...brussel sprouts.
Keep in mind the happy ending!
Having a bad day?
Put something you love at the end of the day.
A hot bath. A basket of chicken wings. A bowl of ice cream. Watch a movie with someone you care about or read a beautiful story to your children before they go to bed.
And as you read to your kids, note that the story has a happy ending.
We love happy endings. It’s our instinct. It’s called the peak-end rule.
Kahneman, Daniel; Fredrickson, Barbara L.; Schreiber, Charles A.; Redelmeier, Donald A. (1993). "When More Pain Is Preferred to Less: Adding a Better End". Psychological Science. 4(6): 401–405.
Redelmeier, Donald A; Katz, Joel; Kahneman, Daniel (2003). "Memories of colonoscopy: a randomized trial". Pain. 104 (1-2): 187–194.
Schwartz, Barry. The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less. New York: Harper Perennial, 2004.
There’s Someone for Everyone: The Science!
By Heath Shive
“Men are all ….”
“Women are just …”
These sentences never end well.
When genders start going to war with each other, both men and women have a tendency to reduce each other to stereotypes.
But here's the good news! Both men and women are (mostly) wrong!
To the science!
What Women Think About Men
In 2009, psychologist Glenn Geher performed a study on “the ability to assess the mating desires of the opposite sex.”
A successful romantic strategy requires that you read the thoughts and feelings of potential mates.
So Geher designed a fairly large study – nearly 500 young men and women – to get some data.
In the study, women were asked to predict who men would choose for a short-term relationship from a list of 3 theoretical females.
This list (abbreviated) is as follows:
A. “Who said chivalry was dead? Open doors for me…I will make your favorite sandwich when you wake up hungry in the night.”
B. “I am looking for a fling of epic proportions…Human beings are not meant to be paired for life, like lobsters.”
C. “I know all the words to Grease…I am looking for someone who can make my heart sing.”
The majority (53%) of the study's women predicted men would choose option B – i.e., the “fling” lady.
But as it turns out, the majority of the study’s men (54%) chose the “chivalry” lady from option A!
Only 24% of men chose the fling in option B.
And surprisingly enough, 22% of the men wanted the "musical" lady option C!
Women had a tendency to oversexualize men’s choices.
What Men Think About Women
In the study, men were asked to predict who women would choose for a short-term relationship from a list of 3 theoretical males.
The list is as follows:
A. “I’m pretty busy working all week, but that doesn’t stop me from having fun, usually out and about a couple nights during the week…”
B. “I’ve been described as a very energetic individual…I’m a man in a uniform looking for some fun.”
C. "I’m spontaneous and I like to try new things. I enjoy diversity, cultures, art…good food and intelligent conversation.”
Almost half of the study's men (49%) predicted that women would choose option B – the man in uniform.
But instead, almost half of the women (48%) chose option C – the diversity and arts man!
Only 29% of the women chose the very masculine man in uniform (B). And surprisingly enough, 23% of the women chose the fairly ordinary guy in option A!
Men had a tendency to oversexualize women’s choices.
So both men and women had a tendency to reduce the opposite gender's decisions to stereotypes.
But look at the numbers again.
Even though the musical lady was the least picked option, still at least 1 in 5 men wanted to date her!
Even though the “ordinary” guy was the least picked option, still about 1 in 5 women wanted to date him!
You do not have to be the most popular option to be chosen!
Given the billions of men and women in the world – and the myriad varieties of desires in that mad tumble – you can afford to be optimistic.
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Geher, Glenn, and Kaufman, Scott Barry. Mating Intelligence Unleashed: The Role of the Mind in Sex, Dating, and Love. Oxford University Press, 2013.
here to edit.
Arlington National Cemetery: Somber Facts for Memorial Day
By Heath Shive
It’s Memorial Day. Here are some facts about America’s greatest cemetery of soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen.
About the Graves
For more information, visit the website of the National Arlington Cemetery at https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil.
Did Dinosaurs Invent Flowers? The Science of Paleontology and Springtime
By Heath Shive
According to the old proverb, "April showers bring May flowers.”
So April’s been getting the credit all these years.
But maybe, just maybe, dinosaurs invented flowers!
To the science of paleontology in spring!
The Dinosaur Herbivores
There are basically 2 kinds of plants: gymnosperms and angiosperms.
All flowers – including May flowers - are angiosperms, and so are grains, grasses, cereals, sedges, fruits, vegetables, palms, oaks, hickories, almost every berry, etc. Today angiosperms dominate the planet.
But during the Jurassic, gymnosperms - like conifers and ferns - were king.
Then 140 million years ago, everything started to change. During the Jurassic, all the major herbivores were long-necked, tree-browsing dinosaurs (Brontosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Diplodocus, etc.). In the Cretaceous, almost all of those high-tree-browsers were extinct.
By the Cretaceous, the major herbivores were low-browsing ground-feeders.
The Dino-Flower Theory
Robert T. Bakker in his famous book The Dinosaur Heresies postulated that this new dominant ground-browsing herbivore created an flower-favorable environment.
A gymnosperm-dominated woodland would provide few available niches for early flowering plants to evolve. But if a herd of hungry Triceratops mowed down the ground cover, the net effect would reset all the ground cover back to square one. Ground cover would have to grow from scratch, similar to after a forest fire.
Angiosperms with their faster growth and maturity rates would recover first and dominate the newly available niches.
Flowering plants flourished. May flowers rule!
But Bakker has his critics too. For example, angiosperms first flourished close to the equator. Dinosaurs only sparsely populated this region, which would seem to diminish the effect of their appetites.
Furthermore, angiosperms didn’t dominate the plant world until the Late Cretaceous, when dinosaur numbers already were starting to dwindle. Others believe that environmental factors may have aided angiosperms more than dinosaur herbivores. The Mid-Cretaceous was a period of increased volcanism and ocean floor production.
Did increased temperature, CO2, and sea levels favor angiosperms over gymnosperms? Or did the rise of the pollinator insects (wasps, bees, and moths) during the Mid-Cretaceous give angiosperms their decisive advantage?
In any case, the world the dinosaurs left behind was angiosperm-supreme.
The graves of dinosaurs were festooned with flowers.
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Bakker, Robert T. The Dinosaur Heresies: New Theories Unlocking the Mystery of the Dinosaurs and their Extinction. New York: William Morrow, 1986.
Barrett, P.M. and Willis, K.J. Did dinosaurs invent flowers? Dinosaur-angiosperm coevolution revisited. Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society 76 (2001), 411-447.
Willis, K.J. and McElwain, J.C. The Evolution of Plants. New York: Oxford UP, 2002
The Emotional Risks of Bachelor/Bachelorette Parties: There’s Science For This?
By Heath Shive
Researchers in 1989 (Kenrich et al.) performed a study with male and female college students. The students’ devotion to their respective romantic partners was measured. Then, one half of the students were shown opposite-sex nude centerfolds (from Playboy and Playgirl, etc). The other half were shown pictures of abstract art. Afterwards, the students’ attraction to their partners was measured again.
Afterwards, males exposed to attractive images of nude women felt that their female romantic partner was less sexually attractive.
However, females exposed to attractive images of nude men (from Playgirl centerfolds) did not feel differently than before.
So according to this study, men were more likely to discount their current partner in the presence of more attractive women. But the study’s women were more steadfast, despite the imagery of very attractive men.
This study became a cornerstone for evolutionary psychology, frequently appearing in textbooks! By 2015, the paper had been cited 249 times on Google Scholar, and over 100 times on PsycINFO.
But there’s another paper that begs to differ.
Times Have Changed!
In 2016, a different group of researchers (Balzarini et al., 2017) wanted to see if the results of the famous Kenrick study could be replicated.
Turns out, the results were completely different!
In the new study’s first 2 experiments, the subjects’ exposure to opposite-sex nude images had no effect on their attraction to their partner. This was true for both men and women!
In the third experiment of this new study, the subjects again were exposed to pictures of the opposite-sex. But now these pictures were of attractive nudes or attractive non-nudes (with conservative clothes).
Afterwards, the subjects (both men and women) felt that their romantic partners were now more attractive!
Why the Difference?
There were some differences in the two studies (1989 vs. 2016). The original 1989 study involved young college students, but the 2016 study involved full-grown adults (average age, 35).
The first study was published in 1989 – when attitudes about nudity and eroticism were more polarized between the two sexes.
The new study was published in 2017 – with the Internet firmly part of modern life. Has the Internet made nudity so pervasive that it has become less shocking, and thus less powerful?
Gender sensitivity has grown in both the private and professional sector since 1989.
And a growing attitude of equality has allowed women to practice many of the habits previously accorded to men, including:
In other words, nudity is not as big a deal now. Nude imagery doesn't carry the same emotional power as before.
It’s a different America.
We’ve Grown Up?
Balzarini’s study would seem to show that both American males and females can be more sexually mature now. Whether that maturity comes from personal growth (as we age) or cultural growth (like #MeToo), the improvement seems real.
So how erotic should your bachelor/bachelorette party be?
Can you handle it?
How mature are you?
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Balzarini, R.N., Dobson, K., Chin, K., & Campbell, L. (2017). Does exposure to erotica reduce attraction and love for romantic partners in men? Indpendent replications of Kenrich, Gutierres, and Goldberg (1989) Study 2. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 70 (5), 191-197.
Kenrick, D. T., Gutierres, S. E., & Goldberg, L. L. (1989). Influence of popular erotica on judgments of strangers and mates. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 25 (2), 159-167. DOI: 10.1016/0022-1031 (89)90010-3.
Can Women Domesticate Men? The Science of the #MeToo Movement, Anthropology, and Female Bonobos
By Heath Shive
The effect of the #MeToo Movement was immediate and powerful.
Millions of women began to share their experiences of sexual harassment and assault on Twitter. From shared experience came shared encouragement, which progressed to shared empowerment.
A lot of power.
In time, evidence accumulated and the voices of women could destroy the success of very powerful men, from business leaders (Harvey Weinstein), to celebrities (Louis C. K. and Aziz Ansari), to legends (Bill Cosby), and members of Congress (Al Franken).
Accusations alone were enough to ruin some careers. Young men were banished from college campuses on hearsay alone. In time, even some women – from female Harvard academics to a conservative Secretary of Education – began to warn of the dangers of abandoning due process.
This is #MeToo in the short term.
But what could the long term effects be?
Could female empowerment change the evolution of human beings?
To the science of anthropology!
Girl Power? Thy Name Is Bonobo
Chimpanzee and bonobo primates are genetically very similar. They are so similar that bonobos weren’t considered a separate species until well into the 20th century. Before that recognition, bonobo skulls were considered to be unusually large skulls of chimpanzee juveniles.
But there are differences between the 2 species. Sexual dimorphism (the physical differences between males and females) is less pronounced in bonobos, with males barely bigger than females. Bonobo skulls are rounder. But the most pronounced difference is social. Bonobo primates are not nearly as ultraviolent as chimpanzees.
And females are in charge!
As you might have read in a previous blog article, infanticide and homicide rates among non-human primates seem almost sociopathic! Males dominate males, females dominate females. Toddlers are killed as potential threats to resources.
But not the bonobos.
So why the profound difference? Well, for starters, bonobo females dominate (or discipline, if you wish) the group. If a male becomes too pushy or aggressive, the female bonobo screams. All females in the area converge.
Female bonobos look out for each other.
The result is that aggressive males cannot breed. Aggression – at least on the male chromosome – is weeded out of the gene pool.
Bonobo “sisterhood” domesticated the species.
Dogs descended from wolves, but their differences are obvious. Dogs are more likely to have floppy ears, larger heads proportional to the body, less dramatic sexual dimorphism, and broader muzzles.
In other words, dogs look more like wolf cubs than wolves! That’s what domestication does to an animal species. Sexual dimorphism is decreased. Heads and eyes are bigger in proportion to body. There are fewer violent tendencies and a greater tendency to play.
Physically juvenile qualities were not bred into the dogs, rather these qualities “piggy-backed” on the genes that favored less reactive violence.
Richard Wrangham has a book out that is very much in vogue right now entitled The Goodness Paradox.
Wrangham – an anthropologist – noticed that human reactive violence (killing your neighbors) is very low, whereas our proactive violence (like war) is very high – the exact opposite of other species!
Wrangham also noticed that – when compared to our mid-Pleistocene (“cave man”) ancestors – sexual dimorphism is less pronounced in humans today.
In other words, Wrangham saw evidence of “domestication” in human beings.
But how? Where were the “shepherds” of humanity?
Wrangham in his book makes the point that as language evolved, so did communication.
As humans could gossip, complain, and share experiences – especially about how they hated their oppressor – they could also strategize, plan, and judge. Wrangham says that language gave birth to cooperation – principally among the other males – and the ultra-violent that “crossed the line” were executed.
Hence the beginning of social law – and the culling of the ultra-violent DNA out of the human gene pool.
Can Women Do the Same?
If women can censure aggressive men (“toxic masculinity”), than women can control which men mate, and therefore which genes continue to the next generation.
Unlike many of my friends, I think that equality of the sexes has long since arrived in the United States - certainly the tools for equality are already here. What has been lacking is self-actualization. MeToo served as a kind of oriflamme to this cause.
Hopefully it evolves from here – both in power and responsibility.
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Wrangham, Richard. The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution. Pantheon Books, 2019.
Red Republicans, Blue Democrats: Political Identity and the Psychology of Colors
By Heath Shive
Part of the blessing of thinking is the curse of overthinking.
Children see pretty colors. Adults…overthink this.
We can see green in the leaves and grass. But green is symbolic too – of St Patrick’s Day, Irish Catholic politics, and of Islamic culture.
Orange can remind us of citrus fruit…or Irish Protestant politics, Halloween, and the Orange Revolution.
Somewhere along the way, Americans associated Republicans and Democrats with “red” states and “blue” states.
This relatively recent color coding has been credited to the broadcast networks' election coverage during the 1980s, but was locked in during the 2000 Presidential election campaign.
Is it that simple?
Let's overthink this.
To the science of primary colors and political identity!
Embodied cognition is a concept in psychology which asserts that not only do humans ascribe a metaphor or belief to a sensation, but sensations imprint feelings onto the human mind.
To influence a person’s sensory input is to influence their mental thinking.
In 2005, psychologist Danny Hayes studied "trait ownership" in politics and discovered that people generally ascribe “hard” qualities to Republicans and “soft” qualities to Democrats.
Do political views have a "hardness" or "softness"? And does the opposite happen, does hardness connect to a political idea?
Three psychologists – Michael Slepian, Nicholas Rule, and Nalini Abady – published a paper in 2012 that revealed the power of hard and soft sensations on thinking. In one experiment, they had the participants squeeze either a soft ball or hard ball. While squeezing the balls, the participants had to look at four male and four female faces and guess each face’s political orientation.
Those who squeezed a soft ball were more likely to guess Democrat; those who squeezed a hard ball were more likely to guess Republican.
But how does color come into play?
Red State, Blue State
In a previous blog ("Devil in a Red Dress"), I wrote about the psychological connections between the color red and the human mind.
Waitresses wearing red get tipped more. The color red can make women more attractive to men, and vice versa.
But this blog is about politics, not sex appeal.
Two researchers Anthony Little and Russell Hill experimented to see if the color red conveyed dominance even in inanimate objects. People were shown blue circles and red circles. Then they were asked which circle seemed more dominant.
The participants judged the red circle more dominant.
Circles are not famous for dominance. And no state looks red or blue from outer space. But still, we associate certain colors with certain feelings, and vice versa.
So let’s combine the thoughts of the above studies. Republicans are perceived to have more hard-line political views. Hardness communicates assertion, strength, and power.
People can be forgiven if they naturally associate the color red with Republicans.
What are the stereotypical associations with the color blue? Peace, acceptance, and higher thought. People can be forgiven if they naturally associate blue with Democrats.
The funny thing is that Republicans for most of the 20th century were associated with the color blue!
So what is different now in the psychology of the political landscape?
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D. Hayes (2005). Candidate qualities through a partisan lens: a theory of trait ownership. American Journal of Political Science, 49 (4), 908-23.
A. C. Little and R. A. Hill (2007). Attribution to red suggests special role in dominance signaling. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, 5 (1-4), 161-68.
M. L. Slepian, N. O. Rule, and N. Ambady (2012). Proprioception and person perception: Politicians and professors. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39 (12), 1621-28.
For more about embodied cognition, see:
Lobel, Thalma. Sensation: The New Science of Physical Intelligence. Atria Books, 2014.
Your Greatest Threat Is From Your Own Species: The Science of Animal Murder and Disney Delusions
By Heath Shive
Spring has arrived. The birds are singing. But it isn't peaceful.
Bird song is a declaration of territory, a warning to competitors, an announcement of virility, a call to feeding, a warning of danger, and a cry of anger.
Species can always threaten another species.
But in Nature, the greatest threat comes from your own species.
To the gruesome science of when animals kill their own kind.
In a Disney movie, animals talk to each other. They enjoy profound conversations. They save their friends.
Humans are bad. Humans are sinful and wicked…unless they have animal friends.
Humans have destroyed a lot of animal habitat - forests cleared for farming, rivers dammed for electricity. Humans could – and must – do this constructively.
But the greatest threat to any animal's life (including human life) comes from your own species.
Because you all eat from the same bowl, so to speak.
Red in Tooth and Claw
Researchers up to the 1960s thought that primates (except humans) were benign, social, and harmless.
But the more anthropologists were in the field, the more they witnessed how ultraviolent primates can be. Follow this link to learn more of the Gombe Chimpanzee War.
Infanticide occurs in half of all mammal species. For example, new alpha lions will kill all the cubs of the pride’s predecessor – while the mother lionesses watch.
But among primates, infanticide happens with horrific frequency. Infanticide could be as high as 37% among mountain gorillas, 44% in chacma baboons, 47% in blue monkeys, and 71% among red howler monkeys.
Baby chimps are not killed by leopards or poachers nearly as much as they killed by other chimpanzees.
Adult animals "murder" adults too. For example, a study of 155 wolf corpses in Yellowstone Park over 12 years revealed that 37% of the wolves had been killed by other wolves.
Not all species have these kind of intra-species “homicide” rates – but they are found particularly in social carnivores (packs) and primates.
Now compare these rates with humans. How often do babies die by infanticide? Is it even 1%?
What is the murder rate of human beings? Is it near the 40% mark of wolves?
The Goodness Paradox
Anthropologist Richard Wrangham wrote a remarkable book entitled The Goodness Paradox.
Wrangham points out that humans have a profound capacity for good and compassion, but how do we reconcile that with humanity’s equally profound appetite for destruction?
Wragham argues that there are 2 forms of violence: reactive violence (violence in response to an immediate threat or perceived threat) and proactive violence (planned, strategic, and intentional).
Two men fighting in a bar is reactive violence. Two nations going to war is proactive violence.
Wrangham remarks that humans are unique in the animal world – because humans are phenomenally low in reactive violence while being extremely high in proactive violence.
It’s the exact opposite in the animal world.
Wrangham’s central hypothesis in the book is this: humans evolved uniquely from other primates because we found a way to “self-domesticate.”
Put 300 chimpanzees on an airplane and when the plane lands, you’ll find dead chimps.
But humans ride airplanes all the time without incident. That explains how humans can form large groups, whereas other animal species cannot.
This is how humans can build civilization, whereas primates and wolves cannot.
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Cubaynes, Sarah,Daniel R. MacNulty, Daniel R. Stahler, Kira A. Quimby, Douglas W. Smith, and Tim Coulson. 2014. “Density-dependent intraspecific aggression regulates survival in northern Yellowstone wolves (Canis lupus).” Journal of Animal Ecology 83: 1344-56.
Infanticide data from Watt 1989; Henzi et al. 2003; Butynski 1982; Crockett and Sekulic 1984.
Butynski, T. M. 1982. “Harem-male replacement and infanticide in the blue monkey (Cercopithecus mitis stuhlmanni) in the Kibale Forest, Uganda.” American Journal of Primatology 3: 1-22.
Crockett, Caroline M., and Ranka Sekulic. 1984. “Infanticide in red howler monkeys (Alouatta seniculus).” In Infanticide: comparative and evolutionary perspectives, edited by G. Hausfater and S. B. Hrdy, pp. 173-91. New York: Aldine.
Watts, David P. 1989. “Infanticide in mountain gorillas: new cases and a reconsideration of the evidence.” Ethology 81: 1-18.
Wrangham, Richard. The Goodness Paradox. Pantheon Books, 2019.
Exposure Anxiety: When “Strong” Isn’t Smart
By Heath Shive
Exposure anxiety is the fear of looking weak. It is also a “cognition trap” – a mind-set (belief, personal philosophy) that limits your ability to think and act.
Maybe everyone has felt this way. But when very powerful people are afraid to look weak, the results are disastrous and large-scale.
Zachary Shore is a professor of national security affairs. He is also the author of a book entitled “Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions.”
It’s a great read, and his chapter on exposure anxiety is the first “cognition trap” he tackles.
To the history of exposure anxiety!
Orwell and His Mad Elephant
When he was young, the future-author George Orwell had been a police officer in Burma. A local elephant had broken free and gone on a rampage. When Orwell finally found the elephant, the elephant’s rage was gone and it was calmly eating grass. But the entire town had come out to watch Orwell deal with the elephant.
Everyone expected a show. Orwell didn’t want to shoot – but if he didn’t do something "strong," how could the Burmese respect his authority?
Orwell shot the elephant repeatedly…but it wouldn’t die quickly. In frustration, Orwell just left. The elephant died a half hour later.
Orwell didn’t look very powerful. He didn’t impress. He felt a fool. Even though Orwell did not want to shoot the animal, he did not want to look weak to his audience.
Greeks and the Price of Overkill
In the 5th century B.C.E, the Greek island of Mytilene had revolted against the city of Athens. In retaliation, Athens sent a war party to the island with these orders: kill every man, enslave every woman and child.
However, some Athenians had second thoughts. So they had a debate. The Athenian Cleon argued that if Athens showed mercy, it would look weak and there would more revolts in the future.
But the Athenian Diodotus argued for mercy. He pointed out that not all the Mytilenians had revolted. Many of the rebels had surrendered their arms. But – Diodotus argued – if other cities knew that there would be no mercy, new revolts would be better planned and the rebels would fight to the death. There would be no incentive for surrender.
Cleon’s show of strength actually would make future revolts more ferocious and implacable.
Athens sided with Diodotus and a fast ship was sent to stop the war party in Mytilene.
Abu Ghraib and the Need for Morale
The abuses at the prison of Abu Ghraib made international headlines. Many Americans did not see the big deal – the victims were enemy soldiers. Sergeant Ivan Frederick was court-martialed for his part in the crimes. In the closing statement, the prosecutor Major Michael Holley said that treating enemy soldiers to basic dignity was essential for long-term warfare. Because if the “prisoner – or an enemy, rather – believes that he will be humiliated…why wouldn’t he continue to fight to his last breath?”
If surrender wasn’t incentivized, then the fighting would be more intense and more soldiers’ lives lost.
Exposure anxiety leads its victims to overreact, but the aftermath usually leaves them less secure than before the conflict began.
Anxiety warps our feelings and imagination. Anxieties create a chain of fears. Anxieties cripple our ability to get what we want, because we fear how we look.
It is important to not act on fear. Act in your interest. Then you can win.
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Shore, Zachary. Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions. Bloomsbury, 2008.
Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.