The Model: our emotions transcend “nature red in tooth and claw”
[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
Two days ago we covered a few examples of emotional cycles. Some are obvious, like hunger when low on food and thirst when low on water.
Other motivations and emotions aren’t as obvious, like to avoid being shunned by a group or other social behaviors. Some are complex, like the anxiety before speaking or performing in front of a crowd. How do we make sense and understand them?
A century ago, people understood motivations like fight-or-flight and various competitive ones, seeing them as necessary in the struggle for scarce resources. They also understood why fathers and mothers would feel motivation to help their children even risking their own safety, as helping them helped pass on their genes, an evolutionary advantage. Until recently, why people would help non-family members mystified people. How could sacrifice help others?
The burgeoning field of evolutionary psychology is clarifying this mystery and stands at the core of our Model. Without it, the Model would predict only a subset of the behaviors we exhibit. In particular, it would only predict selfish, competitive emotions. Instead, it predicts all the emotions that make us human, all the emotions on which people base their ethics and morality. In other words, it lets us trust in the Model that if we follow our emotions, we’ll help and give to our communities, not just compete with everyone around us.
As people understood genetics, observed behavior in other social animals, game theory, and other advances of the past half-century or so, we’ve come to understand how reciprocity, sacrifice, and altruism offered our ancestors evolutionary advantages.
The upshot of these recent developments is that we understand how many more emotions likely evolved in our ancestors, who passed them on to us. Popular misconceptions of “nature red in tooth and claw” predict we’d be vicious. Current evolutionary psychology theory can explain the human behavior you practice and observe in others every day, including kindness, reciprocity, self-sacrifice, altruism, and the like.
Another upshot of this Model is to expect that our human emotional system to apply across all cultures, which it does, as far as I can tell. We all share a common past for about a billion years, diverging in perhaps the last fifty thousand years, which is to say, hardly at all. People in different cultures may have different environments and beliefs, leading us to react differently to the same environments. We share the same systems, they just give different outputs to different inputs.
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