[extropy-chat] Calling all EvoPsych Jedi...

Keith Henson hkhenson at rogers.com
Sat May 7 16:33:52 UTC 2005

At 09:52 PM 06/05/05 -0400, Robin Hanson wrote:
>At 09:10 PM 5/6/2005, Keith Henson wrote:


>>... They also work very hard for status, one classic example is judges 
>>who give up large amounts of income for the higher status of a 
>>judge.  Why is this?  The answers are obvious if not downright trivial 
>>given EP.
>What exactly status is and what people use to infer it and produce it 
>remain big open questions, and have been for a long time, long before EP 
>was popular.  They remain so even within EP.  These questions are far from 


As you know, I came very late to the party and by an exceedingly strange 
non-academic route.  It never occurred to me that there would be 
controversy about what status is (at least in hunter gatherer tribes and 
chimpanzee groups) or why (after applying EP) people and chimps would seek it.

My inspiration happened at Howard Davidson's Pensfa party in the spring of 
1996 when a woman told me her time in the scientology cult was "the peak 
experience of her life." (The tone and body language reminded me of a drug 
addict I had known two decades previous.)  My eureka moment was late that 
fall at Romano Machado's Extropian party while talking to Kennita Watson 
about this incomprehensible experience at the Pensfa party.  It eventually 
dawned on us that EP could account for cult behavior.  I posted shortly 
after that connecting drugs, cults, and evolved brain reward 
circuits.  (And crediting our mutual friend Kennita.)

"Of all the things which have been measured in such representative
ancestral environments as we have, social standing or status is the
most predictive of reproductive success.  This is true for both
sexes, though the potential rewards for high status were--and still
are--higher for males.  High status males had multiple wives or
additional mating opportunities in the ancestral environment (and
for that matter, still do).  High status females, from what we can
see in chimpanzees and humans, have no more offspring than low
status ones, but their children are more likely to survive.  (In
bad times, much more likely to survive.)

"It follows that humans would have evolved to be exquisitely
sensitive to changes in status, which (no surprise) is the observed
situation.  Activities which lead to feelings of increasing status
are highly rewarding: that is, they cause the release of chemicals
which induce highly pleasurable states in the brain.  This reward
system is fundamental to human motivation, and in the ancestral
environment it worked to enhance reproductive success most of the
time.  It makes sense for hunters who brought in the first meat the
tribe has seen in six weeks to get a lot of attention (a mark of
status) from the other tribe members and to experience rewarding
feelings about what they had done as a (real) increase in social
status.  Of course, people tend to repeat behavior which led to
flooding their brains with pleasurable chemicals.  In our hunter
example, more hunting leads to more protein for the hunter's
mate(s) and children which in turn leads to improved reproductive
success--and thus to another generation of status-seeking hunters
who are rewarded individually with brain chemicals and in the
evolutionary sense by more children.  There are two causal loops
involved here.  The short term one acts over hours to years, and
the long term one over generations.  The long term loop sets up
susceptibility to the short term loop.

"In short, an action (such as hunting) leads to attention (an
indicator of status) which in the short term releases rewarding
brain chemicals and in the long term improves reproductive success. "


Years later this was expanded into the Human Nature Review article here:


which has hundreds of links to it and has been downloaded upwards of 200k 
times.  (Not an indicator of how many time it was *read* of course.  :-)  )

I am not aware of a refutation of the points made in this article.  But 
perhaps there are.  The net is a big place not to mention academia.

Once expressed in EP terms status sure seemed obvious to me.

Best wishes,

Keith Henson

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list