RSS

Category Archives: human culture

Machiavellism, social dominance orientation and authoritarianism are tightly related (and subclinically psycopathic)

Depending on one’s ideology this may seem either obvious or counterintuitive but that is what a powerful set of five successive studies has found.
Laura Niemi & Liane Young, Caring across Boundaries versus Keeping Boundaries Intact: Links between Moral Values and Interpersonal Orientations. PLoS ONE 2013. Open accessLINK [doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0081605]

Abstract

Prior work has established robust diversity in the extent to which different moral values are endorsed. Some people focus on values related to caring and fairness, whereas others assign additional moral weight to ingroup loyalty, respect for authority and established hierarchies, and purity concerns. Five studies explore associations between endorsement of distinct moral values and a suite of interpersonal orientations: Machiavellianism, prosocial resource distribution, Social Dominance Orientation, and reported likelihood of helping and not helping kin and close friends versus acquaintances and neighbors. We found that Machiavellianism (Studies 1, 3, 4, 5) (e.g., amorality, controlling and status-seeking behaviors) and Social Dominance Orientation (Study 4) were negatively associated with caring values, and positively associated with valuation of authority. Those higher in caring values were more likely to choose prosocial resource distributions (Studies 2, 3, 4) and to report reduced likelihood of failing to help kin/close friends or acquaintances (Study 4). Finally, greater likelihood of helping acquaintances was positively associated with all moral values tested except authority values (Study 4). The current work offers a novel approach to characterizing moral values and reveals a striking divergence between two kinds of moral values in particular: caring values and authority values. Caring values were positively linked with prosociality and negatively associated with Machiavellianism, whereas authority values were positively associated with Machiavellianism and Social Dominance Orientation.

A synthesis of the results of the five studies is presented in figure 2:
Figure 2. Summary of correlations observed across all studies.
Each square represents an observation of a significant partial correlation (politics, religion, and gender controlled). Each circle represents an observation of a significant zero-order correlation. Study (#) indicated on each circle/square. Moral values are color-coded.
“Mach” means Machiavellianism and “SDO” means social dominance orientation, which are clearly and positively correlated among them, via the same set of “group values” (ingroup loyalty, authority and purity). Instead helping those close to oneself and prosocial distribution are very positively correlated among them and associated with the “humanist values” or caring and fairness.
This is very much counterintuitive, especially as the authors use the term “individualizing” for the caring and fairness values, which makes absolutely no sense to me, as individualism means selfishness and aloofness, even misanthropy. Hence I replaced that term for “humanist” although I also pondered “personalist” (as the person can be something more whole and socially connected than the individual).
The produce of the two sets of values is even more at odds with the concept individualism. In fact it is the group (or “binding and dividing”) value people who actually strive for social dominance and favor Machiavellianism. This is because they do not think in the group as extensive but as intensive and almost certainly as tool for their own individualist selfish goals. 
Interestingly:
Most interpersonal behavior requires individuals to balance selfish motivation with prosocial motivation – to be a positive social partner who helps other people. These orientations are not mutually exclusive – care for the self is at times necessary to enable care for others. However, for some individuals, a motivation to dominate or exploit the group for selfish aims, measureable as Machiavellianism [20] or Social Dominance Orientation [21], may take precedence. Individuals high in Machiavellianism (“Machs”) admit to employing manipulation and deception to achieve power, status, control, and financial success [20]. These goals require successful management of group relations, which may in turn shed light on the paradoxical nature of Machiavellianism. Machs are often described as socially skilled, well-liked, popular, and excellent at building alliances [22], but they are also subclinically psychopathic [23] and exploitative of others’ trust [24], [25]. Machiavellian negotiation of relationships and social structures for personal gain may benefit from a moral stance that elevates values like loyalty and deference to authority. More specifically, these values are critical for the preservation of existing social order but largely insensitive to concerns about caring and fairness. Moralization of these values – alongside relative indifference to caring and fairness values – could facilitate strategic hierarchy management while freeing the individual to feel morally justified in engaging in manipulative or exploitative behavior.
Subclinically psychopathic is a most revealing concept. I have often though of this as a real social problem of first order. The subclinicality may only be because psychiatry has established a boundary not to touch the powerful, what would be playing with fire. But, as we will see below, there is more to it.
What happens with social dominance orientation?
Relatedly, Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) is characterized by a desire for inequality and a tendency to categorize people along a hierarchical “superior-inferior dimension” [21]. SDO, like Machiavellianism, has been found to predict various antisocial outcomes, including explicit racism and sexism as well as reduced empathy and concern for others [21], [26], [27]. While SDO has previously been identified as negatively correlated with individualizing values and positively correlated with binding values [2], SDO has not yet received attention for its potential positive connection with binding values when political orientation is controlled. Since an orientation towards social dominance requires a strict hierarchical worldview, a positive correlation between SDO and authority values, regardless of political orientation, would be predicted [2].
Later in the discussion they turn back to “Machs”:
What could account for the positive relationship between respect for authority and Machiavellianism, an antisocial interpersonal style associated with strategic manipulation? Indeed, Machs have been shown to lie more convincingly [35], steal more readily [36], and rationalize deeds with callous unemotionality [37]. To provide the foundation for two potential explanations for this surprising relationship, we first describe two relevant aspects of Machiavellianism: (1) Machiavellianism and psychopathy are distinct in relation to social norm processing, and (2) Machs are likely to be dominant individuals in positions of authority. Next, we propose two potential explanations for the positive relationships between moral valuation of respect for authority and Machiavellianism: (1) Machiavellianism may entail moralization of respect for authority for a variety of strategic reasons, and (2) authority values may license Machiavellian behavior.
Discussing the subtle differences between Machiavellianism and outright psychopathy:
Although Machiavellianism is characterized by selfishness and shares some overlap with psychopathy [23], Machs are not necessarily aloof and unconcerned with social norms. Instead, the ability to manipulate others may actually benefit from a keen sensitivity to norms that govern social structure.
Instead most clinical psychopaths tend to be aloof. 
Another key difference is that Machs are highly sensitive to punishment, while again true psychopaths may be somewhat indifferent to this social corrector, so Machs retreat and even give away profusely in order to avoid this outcome.
Machiavellianism is also clearly related to dominance and control and, therefore to respect for authority:
In addition to being hyper-attuned to social structure, Machs are also likely to reside at the top of those structures in positions of authority. Machiavellian-style social climbing tactics (e.g., manipulation and deception) are more likely to be used by individuals high in dominance and well-equipped to assume authority over others [38]. Likewise, Machiavellian supervisors in a range of business sectors have been described by subordinates as employing authoritarian work habits involving strict control over a hierarchical workplace structure [46]. As individuals who recognize they can personally benefit from “working the system” from a position of authority – rather than attempting to make the system work for all – Machs may be more likely to identify respect for authority as relevant or even central to their concepts of “right and wrong”.
Ironically Machiavellianism finds in authoritarianism a self-serving morality. Being able to play the game and climb to the top, Machs clearly benefit from such respect to authority themselves and will spread the word among their subordinates. It also helps themselves to self-regulate their behavior in ways that are within the boundaries of the game, yet still selfish. Accepting others’ authority acts as self-protection and gives them a moral varnish, internalizing these values allows them more easily to perform their flattery and igratiation climbing tactics (otherwise probably perceived as humiliation).
The authoritarian ethics seem also useful in order to condone otherwise anti-social behaviors such as cheating, graft or torture. Other recent studies have shown that individuals primed to feel high in power – that is, closer to “authority figure” status – were more likely to endorse unethical and antisocial behavior [55], [56].
Something I really miss in this study is the proportion of tendencies among the studied group, which could reflect general distribution in society. While the statistical correlations are systematically produced the proportion and intensity of the values of the actual human sample is not shown.
The authors assume that the prosocial values are generally desirable but in reality what I have found way too often is that many people, especially those in intermediate command positions or with a career to develop, experience serious contradictions between the “official” prosocial or humanist ethics and the “unofficial” but very real Machiavellian one. I would even say that they often feel emotionally broken by this contradiction. And this “they” at least sometimes becomes “we” and “I”, so painfully.
It would certainly be interesting to study this contradictory social and psychological reality, even cross-culturally. 
In any case this study does produce some very interesting data that should be most valuable for future and more comprehensive research. It also produces very important information for our meditations on our social and personal reality, and certainly it also applies to past realities, at least since society became complex and hierarchical.
 
10 Comments

Posted by on December 21, 2013 in human culture, mind, psychology, Sociology

 

"Modern human behavior" is out, generic human potential is in

There is a hypothetical model in Prehistory on something vague and ethereal which has been called “Modern human behavior” (MHB). It’s not about nuclear weapons, Internet addiction nor commuting to work; it’s not either about the printing machine, the Industrial Revolution and the ideals of Human Rights; it’s not even about farming, living in cities and through sailing the seas… it’s about something extremely vague and ill-defined but which, by definition would set apart “modern humans” (H. sapiens) from “archaic humans” (other Homo species, particularly Neanderthals).
While it is almost intangible and every day more dubious, a large number of prehistorians, some as notorious as Mellars, Stringer or Bar-Yosef, strikingly influenced by religious ideas setting an arbitrarily absolutist line between “humans” (i.e. Homo sapiens) and the rest (including other humans), have insisted for decades on the validity of such notion. Now three researchers challenge the model radically:
Christopher J. H. James, Julien Riel-Salvatore & Benjamin R. Collins, Why We Need an Alternative Approach to the Study of Modern Human Behaviour. Canadian Journal of Archaeology Volume 37, Issue 1 (2013). Pay per viewLINK

Abstract

In this paper we review recent developments in the debate over the emergence of modern human behaviour (MHB) to show that despite considerable diversity among competing models, the identification of given material traits still underpins almost all current perspectives. This approach, however, allows assumptions over the biological relationship between archaic and modern humans to permeate the definitions of MHB and, as a result, has effectively stultified archaeology’s potential contribution to the issue. We suggest that the concept of MHB as currently defined is flawed. It must either be redefined in strictly behavioural terms before reincorporation into the debate over modern human origins or, more productively, discarded all together to avoid the harsh and unrealistic dichotomy it creates between a modern and non-modern archaeological record.
They essentially argue that: that the model (of which there are several, often contradictory variants) is extremely useless and confusing, that there are “archaic humans” with many or even all traits of MHB and there are “modern humans” without many or even most of them.
They tentatively argue for a throughout revision of the model but then they seem to lean rather for the whole abandonment of the idea suggesting instead a mosaic and punctuated evolution pattern that is socio-cultural rather than merely genetic or essentialist:


(…) the rapidly accumulating evidence for a mosaic pattern of behavioural change (…) and the evidence of behavioural advances appearing and rapidly disappearing in the MSA, make the harsh dichotomy model untenable. What it does suggest is a punctuated or saltation model that led to widespread adoption of more complex behavioural patterns once the demographic circumstances were appropriate (…).

Somehow this made me recall one of my all-time favorite bands: Suicidal Tendencies and their 1990 hit “Disco’s out, murder’s in” (surely not apt for pop, techno and folk music lovers):
 

Asian Homo erectus may have used fire and clothes

That is what a media news is claiming on this New Year’s night: that Peking man, an early member of a long diverged branch of Humankind (understood as the genus Homo in full) may have already used artificial fire and leather clothing.
While this may seem quite necessary for any kind of people living as far North as Beijing (roughly the latitude of Philadelphia) the possibility that our cousin’s adaption to cold was biological, by means of retaining ancestral fur instead of our techno-cultural way, was open.
Now some researchers from the Chinese Academic of Science’s Institute of Palaeoanthropology and the University of Toronto think that they have some evidence that could support the use of fire and clothing.
As far as I can tell no study has been published yet, so I’m telling from the media alone.
Sources: Live Science, MSBCN – h/t Unreported Heritage News.

PS – Happy 2013 to all. 

 
 

The gene that affects behavior but only if culture allows

This is the interesting story on an SNP demonstrated (statistically significant) to influence behavior among white US citizens. The gene in question is OXTR and the effective SNP is rs53576.
People with two G alleles are more likely to seek emotional support if needed than people with one or two A alleles. But it’s not just generic people… it is white undergraduate US-Americans, who may differ both culturally and genetically from other peoples.
For a change researchers did realize this problem and compared with a Korean sample. Koreans did not display this difference in behavior. So the allele behaves differently in US citizens of European ancestry than in Korean ones.
The question then became: is this ethnic difference caused by different cultural norms or different genetic pools or a combo of both. The answer would come from Korean-Americans: these behave almost identically to European-Americans and quite differently from Koreans in their home country. The result indicates that, while the allele induces a difference in behavior, the expression or blockade of this genetic expression is caused essentially by cultural norms: looking for emotional support is not favored in Korean culture and therefore Koreans raised at their homeland cannot not freely express this allele’s push.
Culture hence shows that it can be dominant over genes. However that is not necessarily a good thing.
This is the summary on the allele’s behavior recycled from Not Exactly Rocket Science, the reference paper being:
But the rs53576 in its G allele has some other curious psychological impacts as revealed by previous papers: people carrying this variant are better able to discern emotional states in others (ref), it affects loneliness and intelligence (ref) and also parenting skills (ref).
 
2 Comments

Posted by on September 19, 2011 in human culture, human genetics, psychology

 

Early farming was inefficient compared to foraging

Early farming was only able to generate some 60% of what foraging (hunting and gathering) did, according to new research:
Samuel Bowles, Cultivation of cereals by the first farmers was not more productive than foraging. PNAS, 2011. Pay per view (depending on world region and time).

Abstract

Did foragers become farmers because cultivation of crops was simply a better way to make a living? If so, what is arguably the greatest ever revolution in human livelihoods is readily explained. To answer the question, I estimate the caloric returns per hour of labor devoted to foraging wild species and cultivating the cereals exploited by the first farmers, using data on foragers and land-abundant hand-tool farmers in the ethnographic and historical record, as well as archaeological evidence. A convincing answer must account not only for the work of foraging and cultivation but also for storage, processing, and other indirect labor, and for the costs associated with the delayed nature of agricultural production and the greater exposure to risk of those whose livelihoods depended on a few cultivars rather than a larger number of wild species. Notwithstanding the considerable uncertainty to which these estimates inevitably are subject, the evidence is inconsistent with the hypothesis that the productivity of the first farmers exceeded that of early Holocene foragers. Social and demographic aspects of farming, rather than its productivity, may have been essential to its emergence and spread. Prominent among these aspects may have been the contribution of farming to population growth and to military prowess, both promoting the spread of farming as a livelihood.
A news article is also available at PhysOrg.
Is the alternative explanation correct?
I find this discovery most interesting because the assumption has generally been that automatically farming was more productive than the old human way of life: foraging what Nature had to offer. 
Yet this assumption did not explain why farming had not evolved earlier or why the, generally very pragmatic, peoples of the World, did not adopt it earlier, as they were no doubt aware of how gardening could be done.
It reminds me somewhat of the very much comparable misunderstanding on the transition from the Bronze to the Iron Age: iron had by then been known for very long but it was brittle in comparison with bronze, quasi-bronze (copper and arsenicum) and even the old good flint stone. Actually I read somewhere recently that another good old friend of humankind, obsidian, makes such great blades that compete favorably with steel scalpels.
Things are not so simple: steel began to be developed (as sweet iron is not really good for most uses) after tin resources began to fail in the Eastern Mediterranean, as the communications with Atlantic Europe (where most tin mines were back then) may have collapsed when the two classical Iberian civilizations, El Argar and Zambujal (VNSP), did as well for reasons not well understood and not too relevant to discuss here. 
It was therefore problems in the bronze industry, so critical for the military of the time, what pushed steel technology ahead, inaugurating the Iron Age.
Molino neolítico de vaivén
Seed milling was done long before Neolithic too
Therefore I’d like to consider what may have caused people to adopt farming instead of just continue foraging, as they had done successfully until that time. We know that farming was preceded by a period we call Mesolithic and that is characterized by intensive foraging of wild cereals or other foraging behaviors that somehow announce the advent of farming or herding. 
So, in the Fertile Crescent, there was for a time, since about the end of the Ice Age, a focus on a pre-farming type of foraging. As I have not read the paper yet, I do not know if Bowles has factored this period in his equations. As for me, I’d think that this kind of foraging (maybe already associated to some early gardening practices) we call Mesolithic, seems to respond to an ecological pressure of some sort, no doubt related to the then ongoing climate change. 
Another issue I am pondering is that, even before cereal farming was fully developed in Palestine, herding of sheep and goat was adopted in Kurdistan, followed by cow herding in Anatolia (near the well-named Taurus mountains). Maybe herding had to be developed in order to make farming effective? Cattle (be it bovine or ovi-caprine) provides nutrients in form of manure and, goats specially but not only, can also be used to clear up wild vegetation areas, while pigs are great to plow the fields.
So I am wondering if animal domestication was a condition to make cereal (and pulse and flax) farming an economically effective way of life. 
Honestly I prefer a true economic explanation rather than one based on very conjectural preferences about sedentarism, and this may be made up of:
  • The push factor of climate change at the end of the Ice Age
  • The pull factor of animal domestication, increasing the yields of agriculture until it became economically worthwile
What do you think?
 

Human natural societies flexible and not primarily built on genetic kinship

Understanding hunter-gatherer societies is important because we are after all just paleolithic peoples dumped into Market Street. Our flexibility allows us to deal with this strange unnatural reality with some ease but this is not the context in which we evolved, not at all.
New research in this ancestral reality of us, embodied in a variety of surviving hunter-gatherer groups, provides some interesting results:

Abstract

Contemporary humans exhibit spectacular biological success derived from cumulative culture and cooperation. The origins of these traits may be related to our ancestral group structure. Because humans lived as foragers for 95% of our species’ history, we analyzed co-residence patterns among 32 present-day foraging societies (total n = 5067 individuals, mean experienced band size = 28.2 adults). We found that hunter-gatherers display a unique social structure where (i) either sex may disperse or remain in their natal group, (ii) adult brothers and sisters often co-reside, and (iii) most individuals in residential groups are genetically unrelated. These patterns produce large interaction networks of unrelated adults and suggest that inclusive fitness cannot explain extensive cooperation in hunter-gatherer bands. However, large social networks may help to explain why humans evolved capacities for social learning that resulted in cumulative culture. 
A news article is also available at Science Daily.
What may seem a bit unexpected is how this social structure is not at all like any related primate group. Our closest relatives live in individual units (orangutans), in single-male dominated harems (gorillas), in patrilocal promiscuous communities (chimpanzees) and in matrilocal even more promiscuous ones (bonobos). 
Instead humans form bands, typically of some 28 individuals, which are neither patrilocal nor matrilocal, and end up including people who are mostly not even closely related to each other. There it goes genetic egoism down the toilet!
This structure actually seems to integrate wider networks of relationships beyond the band, which (from other sources) is typically so flexible that it loses and gains members very frequently. Probably what this implies is ethnic (tribal) networks as main unit, however not even these are closed to strangers, not at all.
The research included some 5000 people from the following nations: Gunwinggu (Australia), Labrador Inuit, Apache, Ache (America), Mbuti, Aka (Africa), Agta and Vedda (Asia).

Update (Mar 17): Blackbird, who runs some interesting blogs on non-human animals you may want to check, mentions that our Pan sp. cousins, both chimpanzees and bonobos, may not be as gender biased as we used to think in regards on who moves and who lives in the established community. The following paper addresses this matter a bit and also includes an interesting analysis of haploid genetics among bonobos (all of which live in D.R. Congo):

Jonas Erikson et al, Y-chromosome analysis confirms highly sex-biased dispersal and suggests a low male effective population size in bonobos (Pan paniscus). Molecular Ecology 2006. [doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2006.02845.x]

He (Blackbird) suggests, and he may be right I’d say, that this ambiguity of locality is similar to what Hills observes for Homo sapiens and may therefore be a shared pattern among the super-genus.  

 

Modeling cultural diversity, local extinctions, etc.

Before I forget, just a quick mention of another potentially interesting paper published at PLoS ONE this week:


L.S. Premo and S.L. Kuhn, Modeling Effects of Local Extinctions on Culture Change and Diversity in the Paleolithic. PLoS ONE 2010. Open access.

Abstract
The persistence of early stone tool technologies has puzzled archaeologists for decades. Cognitively based explanations, which presume either lack of ability to innovate or extreme conformism, do not account for the totality of the empirical patterns. Following recent research, this study explores the effects of demographic factors on rates of culture change and diversification. We investigate whether the appearance of stability in early Paleolithic technologies could result from frequent extinctions of local subpopulations within a persistent metapopulation. A spatially explicit agent-based model was constructed to test the influence of local extinction rate on three general cultural patterns that archaeologists might observe in the material record: total diversity, differentiation among spatially defined groups, and the rate of cumulative change. The model shows that diversity, differentiation, and the rate of cumulative cultural change would be strongly affected by local extinction rates, in some cases mimicking the results of conformist cultural transmission. The results have implications for understanding spatial and temporal patterning in ancient material culture.

This mention is not adhesion. I find the modeling potentially interesting in its essentials but I surely have many discrepancies on issues such as assuming tiny “populations” of some 25 individuals in black and white (life or death) states. Such size is ok with operative hunter-gatherer bands but these are not “sovereign” units but just dynamic and fluctuating economic ones, integrated in larger groups. Probably a better size would be something like 100 or 200 people but again integrated into larger units of several hundreds to several thousands (tribes or nations).

Also we have to consider that people change “clans”, for example when marrying. So cultural, as well genetic flow is persistent at least within the borders of the ethnicity, which are anyhow generally open. So I guess that the modeling needs a lot of refinement but still it is a curious speculation – or exploration if you wish.

Something I do agree is in the authors founding their research on previous works that strongly suggest that population size and specially connectivity is critical in driving and maintaining the rhythm of innovation.