Several of my recent posts have dealt with mating value. One of my readers took umbrage with my politically incorrect portrayal of women in that article, and since then, I’ve been digging through my brain for a way to explain why I’m probably right and hard feminists are probably wrong. I think the concept of social capital is a good way to do it.
What is social capital? It is any resource that inheres in relationships between individuals that helps them produce or achieve some goal. (Kanazawa, 2009) The important thing to notice in this definition is that resources are goal dependent. This is very much like economic capital. Gold has no inherent value. It is only valuable because humans want it… a lot. In the same way, social capital is only valuable if other people desire it.
This is all well and good, but it causes problems for social scientists. Since value is highly subjective, any objective measure of social capital threatens to fall on its face before it even gets out of the starting gate. There is simply no existing theory of values that can give hard value to any kind of social capital. No hard data, no hard measurements… and thus, no hypotheses, tests, or results.
The Savannah Principle
But there is progress. A number of social scientists are working on a quantifiable theory of value, and it begins with the Savannah Principle, which states that human brains have considerable difficulty comprehending and dealing with entities and situations that did not exist in the ancestral environment. (Burnham and Johnson, 2005) We can see this principle at work in our fears and phobias. A very large number of humans are afraid of snakes and spiders. Curiously few humans are afraid of guns. Sure, when someone is standing in front of us pointing a loaded gun at our head, we’re afraid, but we’re not afraid of the gun. We’re afraid of the human with the gun. Spiders and snakes, on the other hand — we’re afraid of them, regardless of the context.
In reality, the opposite ought to be true. Guns are very dangerous in and of themselves, and don’t need a violent person holding them to do harm. Very, very few spiders or snakes pose any danger to humans. Many humans have never even seen a poisonous snake or spider in person. But… we’re afraid of them.
Here’s another curiosity. Lots of people make the wrong play in a one shot game of Prisoner’s Dilemma. Cooperation is not the correct answer, but that’s what a lot of people do. The reasoning behind this is that anonymous, single occurrence negotiations would virtually never have happened in our tight-knit tribal ancestral environment. Even though it’s often the norm in big cities today, our brains are not hard wired to handle these situations correctly. (This goes a long way towards explaining why used car salesmen are so persuasive, and why so many of us have a very, very hard time negotiating them down, even when it’s clearly to our advantage to do so.)
These are both examples of the Savannah Principle in action. Using this principle, we can hypothesize that humans’ goals — and therefore their values — are largely hardwired from our ancestral environment. For example, men all over the world in every known culture attempt to elevate their social status. The means to this end change significantly. In tribal cultures, it’s about hunting, killing rivals, and protecting the herds from predators. In ours, it’s about driving the most expensive car, drinking the best wine, and having the biggest…
… TVs in our living rooms. (What did you think about when you read my pregnant pause just then? Hardwiring at work? Perhaps…)
Domain Specific Adaptations
One theory of brain evolution proposes that we have certain functional mental adaptations that were evolutionary answers to specific ancestral problems. The fear of snakes and spiders is an example of one of these domain specific adaptations. Our ancestors needed to be afraid of snakes and spiders. They needed to be so afraid that they didn’t consciously think when they saw a spider on their arm. Their instinctive immediate reaction is to swat it away as fast as possible. Every instant a poisonous spider is on our arm, we risk being bitten. This would mean death to ancient man. Any conscious thought about what to do would have been detrimental. Thus, the domain specific adaptation of arachnophobia.
General Intelligence as Domain Specific
This is where the controversy sets in. General Intelligence is often cited as a refutation of strongly behaviorist models of human existence. It is also used by more conservative leaning thinkers as a justification for opposing progressive measures such as universal healthcare. In other words, the claim is that our intelligence gives us Free Will, and allows us to behave “properly” regardless of our environment and instinctive drives. I believe this same kind of thinking is what drives particularly rigid feminist models of how society’s perception and practice of gender roles “ought” to be. If only we men realize that we ought to want females who are our exact equals, we could be done with all the lipstick, high heels, and miniskirts. We could create ourselves in our own intelligent image.
It has been proposed (Kanazawa 2009) that general intelligence is actually a domain specific adaptation. In our ancestral environment, there really wasn’t a lot of novelty. We lived in very small tribes, interacted with a largely unchanging landscape, and pretty much just existed from day to day. Tigers were always tigers, and spiders were always spiders. However, there would almost certainly be some instances where nonrecurrent, evolutionarily novel problems presented themselves, and it is hypothesized that General Intelligence was the domain specific answer to this kind of situation.
This is where it gets really fun. Today’s human society is dominated by evolutionarily novel situations. General intelligence deserves its due. We couldn’t possibly have the kind of culture we have unless we relied very heavily on it. So, in effect, a domain specific adaptation that was rarely used until quite recently has become one of the most important parts of being human.
Empirical data bears this out. (Kanazawa 2007) Highly intelligent individuals are better than less intelligent individuals at solving problems, but only when they are evolutionarily novel. For problems that are evolutionarily mundane, intelligence seems to matter very little, if at all. This explains why really smart people often make the same dumb decisions as everyone else when it comes to dating, parenting, and other activities that we’ve been doing for hundreds of thousands of years, and why the cream really does rise to the top in academia.
Furthermore, three separate and widely methodologically varied studies have demonstrated that average intelligence of a population is a strong function of the evolutionary novelty of the its environment. (Ash and Gallup 2007, Bailey and Geary 2009, Kanazawa 2008). In other words, general intelligence doesn’t apply to all areas of human behavior. Let’s be sure we understand the significance of this. There are some kinds of situations in which humans with higher intelligence will excel, but in the areas of mundane, day to day routine and existence, we are still largely driven by domain specific adaptations other than general intelligence. This is why no matter how much our intelligence tells us we ought to want complete gender equality, we don’t. Men want feminine women, and ovulating women want alpha males. It’s not a matter of intelligence. Intelligence doesn’t enter into the equation.
If GE is a domain specific adaptation, we should expect to find empirical evidence in evolutionarily novel social interactions and behaviors. It turns out that we do. Contraception is an evolutionarily novel human innovation, and intelligence is a strong function of how it is used. The correlation between the lifetime number of sex partners and the number of children is positive among the less intelligent but negative among the more intelligent. In other words, the more sex partners intelligent people have, the less children they have, but the more sex partners less intelligent people have, the more children they have. (Kanazawa 2005) Less intelligent people, it appears, are using domain specific adaptations other than General Intelligence in their mating behaviors.
It is also empirically true that less intelligent people have more children than more intelligent people — whether they want to or not.
Perhaps most importantly, net of age, sex, race, education, income, and religious environment, more intelligent children are more likely to adopt evolutionarily novel values and beliefs, especially atheism and liberalism. (Kanazawa, in press.) Highly intelligent men are also more likely to remain faithful, furthering the contention that lifelong monogamy is not an evolutionarily mundane arrangement. It’s a fairly new idea.
What this hypothesis means in terms of social capital is this:
…[W]hile goals may be evolutionarily given and more or less constant across individuals, different individuals may employ different means to pursue their evolutionarily given goals. In particular, more intelligent individuals are more likely to employ evolutionarily novel means to pursue their goals than less intelligent individuals, but general intelligence does not affect the employment of evolutionarily familiar means. (Kanazawa 2009)
In other words, our goals as humans remain essentially the same, regardless of our intelligence. General intelligence was not evolutionarily designed for, and is mostly unused in the task of determining goals. Our goals are hardwired. If this hypothesis is correct, it will be the foundation upon which real value can be applied to social resources.
The implication is that there is a hierarchy of social values, much like Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs.
At the bottom of the hierarchy of social value is reproduction. Reproduction is the reason we are here. (Note: I do not mean reproduction is the purpose of our existence. I mean we are here because our parents reproduced.) Every living thing owes its existence to reproduction, and every drive we have is ultimately subservient to reproduction. If an individual does not reproduce, its genes are gone forever.
Insofar as humans have other goals, they are consistent with the ultimate goal of reproduction. That is, as a macro-organism, humanity is designed to reproduce, and all of its behaviors, both individual and group, are intrinsic to our existence as reproducing organisms. Goals that are at odds with reproduction are seen as proximate goals. These can include things like wearing a condom and delaying motherhood until after graduation, but they can also include things like war and football.
Crime and Evolutionary Novelty
It is well documented that most (if not all) forms of human criminal activity are quite common in the animal kingdom. ([de Waal, 1992], [de Waal et al, 1993], [Ellis, 1998], [Thornhill and Palmer, 2000]) The implication of this is clear: Crime is very old in the animal kingdom. It is evolutionarily familiar. What is evolutionarily novel is third party enforcement, and this appears to be a uniquely human invention. Social justice in all other species is direct and informal. That is, if you steal my banana, I’ll beat your ass and take it back.
Humans have invented the evolutionarily novel approach of appointing third parties to regulate social interactions. In accordance with the Savannah-IQ interaction hypothesis, we should expect to see less intelligent individuals solving problems with evolutionarily familiar means. In other words, crime ought to correlate strongly to low intelligence. And it does. Across cultures. And it’s not because intelligent people don’t get caught, either. (Moffit & Silva, 1988)
More intelligent people employ evolutionarily novel strategies to alleviate poverty, acquire social status, and attract mates. They invent things. They go to college. They design web pages. They go around with video cameras asking girls to take their tops off, and then sell the tapes for millions and millions of dollars. Less intelligent people employ non-general-intelligence, evolutionarily familiar strategies.
Without third party intervention, it’s unclear that general intelligence has any survival value at all. When social justice is direct (or at most, kin enforced), it’s about strength. Only with the addition of third party enforcement does intelligence gain an opening through which it can assert itself and convey social value. This is strong reinforcement for the theory of general intelligence as a domain specific adaptation.
Sex Differences and Social Capital
A crucial implication of this model of social value is that evolutionary biology suggests sex differentiation of values. In the ancestral environment, there was division of labor. (We see this division in our primate cousins, as well.) Men hunted in packs, and women physically cared for the children.
Male social status in both humans and primates is strongly tied to reproductive success. That is, females are biologically driven to be attracted to high status males. Males are driven to high status as a result of this female selection. Males are not similarly impressed with status in women. The story of Cinderella is a metaphor for a biological truth. Men don’t care about a woman’s status nearly so much as how she looks in an evening gown. In a very real way, beauty for females is the fast track to social status. Many high status men take pride in elevating a beautiful young girl out of poverty and giving her access to the jet set lifestyle.
We should expect that intelligent men and women are more prone to finding evolutionarily novel solutions for elevating status. This has been empirically demonstrated. Women are especially emotionally susceptible to the cries of a baby, and they are emotionally loathe to leave their own baby for any extended length of time. This makes perfect evolutionary sense, of course. In the ancestral environment, the fastest way to get a dead baby was to leave it anywhere for more than a minute or two. Today, it’s not so. We have day care available for even very young babies, and it’s perfectly safe. The evolutionarily novel thing to do is leave a baby in day care and go to college. The evolutionarily familiar thing to do is give up on education and devote one’s time exclusively to motherhood.*
There is also strong empirical evidence of value differentiation in the marketplace. In 1998, Safeway, a supermarket chain, began implementing the “superior customer service policy,” which required all employees, both male and female, to smile and look customers in the eye while addressing them by name. Everything was fine in 3/4 of the possible sex interactions. Male cashiers and male customers were fine, as were male cashiers and female customers, and female cashiers with female customers. But when female cashiers smiled, made eye contact and addressed male customers by name, the customers did the biologically correct thing. They assumed the cashier was sexually interested in them. It took five Federal sex discrimination charges to end this policy. Safeway’s mistake was their failure to recognize the inherent, evolutionarily hard-wired sex differences in value. Eye contact has an unique and inherent value when initiated by a female towards a male.
You’ll notice that I haven’t made many specific comments about the implications of this hypothesis, or tried to assign any kind of rating or ranking system to social value. As I mentioned at the beginning, this line of thinking is intended to be the foundation of a hierarchy of social value. I am under no illusions that such a hierarchy will have hard, fast lines of demarcation. Human interactions are far too complex to expect such a thing. However, we can see from this crash course in evolutionary value mechanisms that there are real limits to what we can expect from our fellow humans, and sex and intelligence are two of the most profoundly important factors we must consider.
The bottom line is clear, though. There is a distinction between our evolutionary drives and our approach to individual goals. In the long run, we cannot expect humans in large groups to make decisions that defy the ultimate goal of reproduction. We can, however, address the question of proximate goals from an informed position. By taking into account the differences in social value inherent in men and women, and perhaps more importantly, by recognizing general intelligence as a limited asset, useful only for evolutionarily novel situations, we can begin to think about engineering our environment in ways that will create novel situations, and allow general intelligence to kick in and find solutions to some of the nastier and more self destructive parts of our society and individual behaviors.
Perhaps more importantly, we need to rethink our approach to social value entirely. This Savannah-IQ hypothesis suggests that social value is a function of the base goal of reproduction filtered through an evolutionarily novel culture in which intelligence plays a limited but highly influential and progressive role. We know from empirical evidence that humans motivated by domain specific adaptations other than general intelligence tend to do things that cause social dysfunction and individual discomfort. It is crucial (perhaps to our survival as a species) that we begin to take this beast by the horns and find ways to engineer our environment in ways that promote intelligence and which create opportunities for general intelligence to be the default adaptation employed by the most people.
This hypothesis is an elegant and simple explanation for one of our most basic questions: Why do smart people do so many stupid things, and why do most of those things have to do with sex? It’s also a way to think critically about the role we can expect intelligence to play in society, and when it’s appropriate for us to expect our fellow humans to do the smart thing — and more importantly, when it’s not.
* I do realize that there are serious economic implications inherent in this conversation, and I am in no way suggesting that all women are financially capable of going to school and leaving a child in day care. However, the implication of this whole line of thought is that very intelligent women would seek evolutionarily novel approaches to solving the problem in the first place. Abortion and contraception are the most obvious evolutionarily novel solutions. I could not find a reference directly linking abortion and intelligence, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if such an empirical correlation exists. I suspect it simply hasn’t been studied.
Satoshi Kanazawa, Joanne Savage, An evolutionary psychological perspective on social capital, Journal of Economic Psychology, Volume 30, Issue 6, December 2009, Pages 873-883,
Burnham and Johnson, The biological and evolutionary logic of human cooperation, Analyse and Kritik 27 (2005), pp. 113-135.
Ash and Gallup, Paleoclimatic variation and brain expansion during human evolution, Human Nature 18 (2007), pp 109-124
Bailey and Geary, Hominid brain evolution: Testing climatic, ecological, and social competition models, Human Nature 20 (2009), pp. 67-79.
Kanazawa, Temperature and evolutionary novelty as forces behind the evolution of general intelligence, Intelligence 36 (2008), pp. 99-108.
Kanazawa, Mating intelligence and general intelligence as independent constructs. In: G. Geher and G. Miller, Editors, Mating Intelligence. Sex, relationships, and the mind’s reproductive system, Lawrence Erlbaum, Mahwah (2007), pp. 283-309.
Kanazawa, An empirical test of a possible solution to “the central theoretical problem of human sociobiology”, Journal of Cultural and Evolutionary Psychology 3 (2005), pp. 249-260.
Kanazawa, Why liberals and atheists are more intelligent. Social Psychology Quarterly, 73(1).
F.B.M. de Waal, Food sharing and reciprocal obligations among chimpanzees, Journal of Human Evolution 18 (1989), pp. 433-459
de Waal, Appeasement, celebration, and food sharing in the two Pan species. In: T. Nishida, W.C. McGrew and P. Marler, Editors, Topics in primatology: Human origins, University of Tokyo Press, Tokyo (1992), pp. 37-50.
de Waal et al, Preliminary data on voluntary food sharing in brown capuchin monkeys, American Journal of Primatology 29 (1993), pp. 73-78.
Ellis, L, Neodarwinian theories of violent criminality and antisocial behavior: Photographic evidence from nonhuman animals and a review of the literature, Aggression and Violent Behavior 3 (1998), pp. 61-110.
Thornhill and Palmer, A natural history of rape: Biological bases of sexual coercion, MIT Press, Cambridge (2000).
Moffit and Silva, IQ and delinquency: A direct test of the differential detection hypothesis, Journal of Abnormal Psychology 97 (1988), pp. 330-333.