[Paleopsych] David Goetze and Patrick James: Evolutionary Psychology and the Explanation of Ethnic Phenomena

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David Goetze and Patrick James: Evolutionary Psychology and the 
Explanation of Ethnic Phenomena 
Evolutionary Psychology 2: 142-159

    David B. Goetze, Department of Political Science, 0725 Old Main Hill,
    Utah State University, Logan, Utah 84322-0725, USA.

    Patrick James, Political Science Department, 113 Professional
    Building, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO 65211, USA.

    In a recent series of articles, Hislope (1998, 2000) and Harvey
    (2000a, 2000b) have raised questions about the usefulness of
    "evolutionary theory" especially for any purpose other than
    identifying "distal" causes of ethnic phenomena. This article responds
    to those views and argues that evolutionary psychology shows great
    promise in contributing to the explanation of contemporary ethnic
    identities and ethnic conflict. The authors argue that an evolutionary
    psychology approach embraces research conducted through conventional
    social science approaches, helps to complete explanations of the
    proximate causes of ethnic conflict, and can recast thought and
    encourage new areas of research about important issues in the ethnic
    conflict field. Illustrations are provided in support of each of these
    points. Some of these arguments have been heard before with respect to
    the general role of evolutionary theory in explaining social phenomena
    but they are arguments we think bear repeating and illustrating in the
    context of the study of ethnic phenomena. Before examining the ways
    that evolutionary psychology can contribute to social science
    explanation of ethnic phenomena, we summarize the general evolutionary
    psychology approach to the study of social behavior.

    : affective intelligence model, Balkans, Bosnia, ethnic conflict,
    fitness cliff, inclusive fitness, intolerance, kinship bonding,
    martyr, nationalism, proximate cause, Rwanda, social norms, threat.

    Evolutionary Psychology Approach

    An elaborate description and defense of the general evolutionary
    psychology approach to the study of social science phenomena is found
    in Tooby and Cosmides (1990, 1992), Cosmides and Tooby (1994) and Buss
    (1995). Because ethnic phenomena and ethnic conflict are human social
    phenomena there is no obvious reason why evolutionary psychology
    cannot be applied to their study and, indeed, ample reason why it
    makes sense to do so. Van den Berghe (1981), Johnson, (1986) and
    Salter (2000), for example, have strongly suggested that psychological
    mechanisms revolving around kinship bonding are pivotal in generating
    ethnic behaviors.

    More broadly, an evolutionary psychology approach posits that, through
    the process of natural selection, humans have acquired a diverse array
    of mental mechanisms. Each one is designed to respond to the demands
    of a specific environmental problem or task that is relevant to the
    survival and reproductive success of the individual and has been
    repeatedly encountered by humans in the environment of evolutionary
    adaptation. Persistent exposure to a particular environmental problem
    over large numbers of generations results in the evolution of a
    well-defined adaptation in the form of a psychological mechanism.

    In general, evolved psychological mechanisms are thought to operate in
    an algorithmic fashion. Scanning and filtering functions of a
    mechanism identify environmental stimuli that constitute a particular
    environmental problem or task and elicit specific emotions and
    behaviors that address the problem or task in ways that contribute to
    its adaptive resolution. Evolved psychological mechanisms are thought
    to exist for addressing innumerable problems and tasks such as: mate
    choice, hunting, alliance formation, and reputation-building, to name
    only a few. Among the problems and tasks relevant to ethnic phenomena
    are: group bonding and cooperation for both benign and malevolent
    purposes, and responses to the menace of group threat and conflict.

    Embracing Conventional Research

    Research that adopts an evolutionary psychological approach can be
    quite complementary with traditional social science research that
    addresses these same ethnic phenomena. When developed insights of
    evolutionary psychology are brought into the analysis explanations can
    be expanded and given more meaning. To the point, an especially
    crucial aspect of the explanation of ethnic phenomena involves the
    description of human nature. The most common way of facilitating
    explanations among traditional researchers is to adopt ad hoc and
    implied assumptions about human nature and to investigate causal
    factors consistent only with those assumptions. In contrast,
    evolutionary psychologists do not take "nature" for granted and,
    instead, hypothesize about the relevant mechanisms of the human brain
    that come into play as humans engage in ethnic behaviors. They bring
    novel elements to an explanation by fleshing out hypotheses about the
    possible connections among environmental stimuli, mental activity, and
    actual behaviors that generations of adaptations have given us.
    Evolutionary psychology approaches synthesize traditional dichotomies
    between so-called nature and nurture by acknowledging the interaction
    between environment and culture on the one hand and the
    genetically-inspired mechanisms and molds of human social behaviors on
    the other. Ultimately, behaviors result from these interactions as
    environmental events trigger mental mechanisms, shape the paths of
    human development, and even co-evolve with the mechanisms themselves
    (Ridley, 2003; Marcus, 2003).

    The evolutionary concept of "inclusive fitness" (developed by Hamilton
    (1964, 1970, 1971) and West-Eberhard (1975) and popularized by Wilson
    (1975) and Dawkins (1979, 1982)) has provided a dramatic boost to the
    explanation of social behavior. Inclusive fitness refers to the idea
    that humans enhance the spread of genes like their own by acting
    beneficently towards close kin and that natural selection would have
    favored genes that expressed such beneficent behavior. While the basic
    concept is widely accepted in the evolutionary psychology field, the
    role of inclusive fitness in explaining the existence of altruism and
    bonding for groups larger than families and clans is still developing.
    Van den Berghe (1981) and Johnson (1986) have emphasized evolved
    mechanisms that activate kinship bonding whenever humans recognize
    appropriate "markers" in others (i.e., encounter specific initiating
    environmental stimuli) such as ethnic features, language, and mere
    association. These markers serve as indicators for whomever might
    qualify as remote or perceived family among the multitudes of
    contemporary societies. Rushton (1989) identifies phenotypic
    similarities as the stimuli that initiate kinship bonding mechanisms.
    Goetze (1998) argues that all of these psychological mechanisms likely
    evolved in hunter-gatherer society but their ability to generate
    bonding in large-scale groups derives, in part, from the mobility of
    modern humans and the difficulties in mobile societies of actually
    locating real kin. Hence, humans exhibit at least minimal bonding
    emotions and behaviors with large numbers of surrogate family. In
    traditional research, debate about the depth and durability of ethnic
    attachments has been carried on between the primordialists who see
    such bonding as strong, extremely durable and originating far into a
    sometimes mysterious past and circumstantialists who see group bonding
    as ephemeral and interest-driven (Scott, 1990). While not sealing the
    case for primordialism, inclusive fitness concerns provide at least
    some scientific footing for the position and reduces some of the
    mystery about group origins by demonstrating how strong, durable
    ethnic group attachments might have formed and persevered.

    An historian, Peter Mentzel (2000) utilizes the concept of a kinship
    bonding mechanism to explore variation in the origins of nationalist
    loyalties and viable nation-states in the Balkans, especially as they
    developed under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. To begin, he notes
    that nationalism, the politically active expression of ethnic
    identity, resulted in more effective and stable nation-states in
    Croatia, Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria than in the territories largely
    populated by Albanians. The former can all point to politically
    autonomous units emerging as the cohesion and strength of the Ottoman
    Empire waned. By the 19th century, Serbia established a full-fledged
    nation-state that would endure through the Yugoslav period and
    maintain its cohesiveness despite disastrous attempts by Serbian
    political elites to establish a Serbian Empire all its own, despite
    the essential loss of the region of Kosovo, and despite the economic
    deprivations imposed by NATO bombing and a regime of economic
    sanctions. In contrast, an Albanian political entity did not develop
    until the Yugoslav era, failed to incorporate the lion's share of the
    adjacent Albanian population, and has continued in a status so fragile
    that a collapsing pyramid scheme nearly tore the fledgling Albanian
    state asunder.

    A traditional issue for scholars and for Mentzel is explaining the
    development of nations or nation-states and in the particular case,
    why the Croats, Serbs, Bulgars, and Greeks, and even Bosnians have
    been successful at state-building and the Albanians were relatively
    unsuccessful. A traditional answer has been to assert that
    nationalisms are constructions of political elites designed to serve
    their political ends and that elite manipulations are the focal point
    for understanding the building of nation-states (See, for example,
    Rothschild, 1981; Mason, 1994). This approach begs the question,
    however, of why such constructions would have resonated with mass
    populations or why they would have failed to do so.

    Mentzel's analysis provides a persuasive connection between elite
    manipulations and the responses of the masses. Following the work on
    kinship bonding and especially that of Johnson (1986), he argues that
    kinship is the foundation stone for the often cooperative, emotional
    and fairly durable attachments that individuals make to larger social
    associations and, ultimately, to national groups. The evolved
    psychology of kinship is not perfectly refined and humans react in
    kin-like manner (forge strong attachments to nonkin) when the triggers
    of kinship attachment are invoked. Calls to protect the Motherland,
    for example, can stir the sacrificial behaviors of broad classes of
    unrelated peoples. This can work even when political leaders - and
    institutions more generally - lack a democratic base of public
    legitimacy. The archetypal case is Josef Stalin's appeal to fight for
    'Mother Russia' against the German invaders. Not everyone listened,
    but the point is that even Stalin eschewed an ideological or personal
    appeal in this instance, understanding at a fundamental level that
    kinship had the best chance of working under the most dire of

    Mentzel's unique contribution here is in showing how a layered
    development of ever larger associations could produce national level
    associations and how the absence of this line of development serves as
    an obstacle to the leap from direct kin-based groups to the enormous
    and often demanding associations of nations and nation-states. He
    argues that clan-based associations needed to pass through
    intermediate associations that were constructed on evocation of kin
    sentiments before they could make the leap to national groups. In the
    Balkans, the intermediate associations that would perform those
    functions were the "autonomous confessional associations," more
    commonly thought of as religious associations. Except for Croatia, the
    growth of Balkan nationalisms could be traced to the religious
    "millets" organized in the Ottoman Empire. According to Mentzel, these
    formal, nonterritorial associations were coterminous with the less
    formal religious groups that had developed as large-scale,
    transcendent replacements for earlier clan associations. The evocation
    of kinship had enabled these religious associations to emerge and were
    given added impetus by Ottoman organizational schemes. These events
    had succeeded in pushing social organization into large-scale
    associations that were, nonetheless, cemented by deep-seated emotional
    attachments. The final step in the transition to nationalisms was to
    define territories and add political status to these large-scale
    associations. Nation-states in the Balkans can be seen as territorial
    and political extensions of religious associations or, as in the
    Bosnian case, as more or less tenuous alliances among these

    Albania is the exception. Religious associations apparently never
    succeeded in forging clan associations into transcendent associations.
    Albanians adhere in significant numbers to Catholicism, Orthodox
    Christianity, and Islam but those faiths did not serve to organize
    clans or to evoke extensively the triggers of kinship affiliation that
    an organization of clans would have enabled. Interclan relations and
    amalgamations were not coterminous with religious affiliation. Lacking
    religious grounds, elites attempted to build national identity out of
    a sense of common language, but this effort was limited by the obvious
    reality that Albanians spoke two distinct languages. In Mentzel's
    (2000, p. 251) own words:

      To restate all of this one could argue that Albanian nationalists
      faced such a difficult task precisely because they needed to
      confront (and attempt to co-opt) kinship relations such as the
      Albanian clans directly without being able to use confessional
      group attachments as an intermediary or disguised kinship
      association. Hence, Albanian nationalist intellectuals stressed
      linguistic nationalism in their attempts to build an Albanian
      national consciousness, an effort made difficult because of the
      Gheg/Tosk division.

    Efforts to develop national identities and states in most Balkan
    communities succeeded because of a progressive effort to expand the
    scale and depth of associations that elicit kin-based affiliations.
    Efforts to forge a national identity in Albania have not yet
    culminated in comparable success because the evocation of kinship
    affiliation was not or could not be used to forge a progression of
    supra-kin associations. In paralleling traditional scholarship and in
    studying the construction of national identity, Mentzel has rendered
    the variation in a truly important and widely studied political
    phenomenon more understandable by elaborating on a fundamental concept
    from the repertoire of evolutionary psychology. Hopefully, Mentzel's
    work will inform and enrich the continuing work of traditional
    scholars in this field.

    Completing Explanations

    The categories of research examined here are by no means exclusive.
    Mentzel's research was clearly directed at completing an explanation
    of national identities. Because it was so firmly embedded in
    traditional historical research, we chose to use it as an example of
    the first category, "embracing conventional research." The research
    reported on below could also be placed in the same category. We place
    it in the category of "completing explanations," however, because of
    its potential in making complete an explanation of ethnic conflict
    where the lack of completeness is especially salient.

    This research (Goetze and Smith, 2004) demonstrates how evolutionary
    psychology has the potential for playing an important role in
    constructing explanations of ethnic conflict that include the
    proximate causes of ethnic conflict. This suggestion actually runs
    counter to the positions of Hislope and Harvey who, in a previously
    noted series of articles (Hislope, 1998; 2000; Harvey, 2000a; 2000b),
    review the contributions of evolutionary theory to the study of ethnic
    conflict. These authors argue that evolutionary theory has the
    capacity to identify only the distal causes of ethnic conflict.

    While acknowledging that evolved traits are important in such distal
    explanations, Hislope (2000, pp. 161-162) prefers to focus on
    "culture" as the source of proximate explanations:

      A second reason for the inclusion of genetic factors when a
      dependent variable appears explained by culture revolves around the
      difference between proximate and distal explanations. While culture
      may stand in an unmediated and direct causal path to any given
      behavioral trait, what makes the cultural factor possible could be
      a certain biological predisposition, a gene, or a novel turn in the
      evolutionary history of the species. Hence, exploring distal causal
      factors helps to complete the chain of causation and provides an
      understanding of why things are the way they are. If
      sociobiologists were to frame their study in such exploratory
      "distal" terms, it is likely they could silence some of their more
      severe critics.

    Later, Hislope (2000, p. 174) offers his view on the extent of the
    reach of evolutionary theory - the longest reach being in the cultural
    evolutionary variant:

      The argument advanced herein is that the articulation of cultural
      evolutionary theory represents theoretical progress over
      sociobiology, but its explanatory payoff remains limited due to the
      role of contingency in human affairs and the significance of
      non-evolutionary, proximate causal factors. While evolutionary
      theory undoubtedly elucidates the development of all organic life,
      it would seem to operate best at macro-levels of analysis, "distal"
      points of explanation, and from the perspective of the long-term.
      Hence, it is bound to display shortcomings at micro-level events
      that are highly contingent in nature.

    Likewise, Harvey (2000b, p. 184) finds evolutionary theory wholly
    inadequate for even contributing to the explanation of micro events
    such as the outbreak of war and ethnic violence:

      Research on evolutionary theory, phenotype matching and kinship
      affiliations is extremely useful for understanding the root causes
      of patriotism, nationalism (both ethnic and non-ethnic),
      xenophobia, and even racism. But it cannot explain ethnic war -
      that particular subset of human social interaction that involves a
      high level of inter-group violence and hostility. Nor can it
      account for variations in the severity and timing of ethnic
      violence more generally. Stronger explanations for this variability
      focus on environmental forces, some of which underscore the
      prominent role played by ethnic elites in the mobilization

    We can easily share the observation that evolutionary theory has
    previously offered little in the way of adding to proximate
    explanation of ethnic conflict. That condition is, we believe, only
    temporary and Hislope and Harvey have underestimated the potential
    that evolutionary psychology offers in forming proximate explanations
    of social behavior including the outbreak of ethnic conflict. Again,
    we do not claim that evolved mechanisms are the only source for
    constructing explanations of social behaviors. We agree with Hislope
    that monocausal explanations of social phenomena are unlikely to be
    sustainable. We do argue, however, that evolved psychological
    mechanisms typically play large roles in accounting for most social
    behaviors including the outbreak of ethnic conflict. And, what often
    seem to be cultural events independent of and cut off from
    evolutionary processes may themselves have evolved as functional
    adaptations that complement or activate embedded psychological

    In a preliminary study of the triggers of ethnic conflict, Goetze and
    Smith (2004) report on a mechanism derived from evolutionary
    psychology premises that illustrate these interactions in the context
    of group mobilization for conflict. In particular, they posit an alarm
    mechanism that disposes individuals to organize in the defense and
    offense of their ethnic group when viable and deadly threats to the
    security of their group are experienced. The behavioral manifestations
    of this mechanism are precisely the organization of group defense and
    offense when threats are encountered and, as activating stimuli, the
    dissemination of threats (cultural phenomena) by political elites who
    wish to engender a conflict situation.

    Why would humans possess such a mechanism? Alexander (1979, section 4)
    has speculated that humans developed alarm mechanisms that might even
    be specific to human threats as a result of cumulative experiences in
    the environment of evolutionary adaptation. Once humans had emerged as
    the dominant species able to defend against nonhuman predators, their
    most feared competitors were other humans and especially other humans
    who were organized as a group for the purpose of predatory mayhem.
    Behaviors that served as responses to threats from other humans may
    have been necessary for immediate survival and became adaptive as
    threat circumstances were repeated over the generations.

    One can imagine that an array of menacing stimuli provokes defensive
    reactions and that an array of behaviors could manifest those
    reactions. A plausible speculation is that murderous threats and
    actions directed at members of an ethnic group due to their ethnic
    identity are included among the array of menacing stimuli. Likewise,
    behavioral dispositions to organize group defense or offense in the
    face of those threats are included among the array of adaptive
    reactions. Empirical evidence that such connected stimuli and
    behaviors are universal across cultures and group conflict conditions
    would constitute considerable support for believing them to be part of
    an evolved psychological mechanism - their universality arguing for
    adaptations formulated early and effectively in the EEA. Goetze and
    Smith (2004) report on two such cases of intense, violent ethnic group
    conflict in Bosnia and Rwanda, respectively, and examined the
    circumstances that preceded the outbreak of organized hostilities in
    each case.

    In Bosnia in 1995, the contagion effect of group hostilities in
    neighboring regions was clearly in play. Croat and Serb (officially,
    Yugoslav) forces had recently engaged in a full-scale war and tensions
    in Bosnia about what Serbs in the region might do next were certainly
    high. Serbian elites within Bosnia who controlled television
    transmissions began disseminating reports of Muslim atrocities against
    Serbian villagers in which the latter were reportedly murdered by the
    former. No documentation that these events actually occurred has been
    put forward suggesting very strongly that the reports were concocted
    by Serbian elites in order to send off alarm bells in the minds of the
    Serbian masses. In many Serbian villages, the organization of militias
    soon followed and these militias were, in turn, often organized into
    more regular forces for carrying on systematic hostilities within

    These media messages about Muslim atrocities were, of course,
    available to Muslim elites and masses and one would expect that
    Muslims would organize militias in alarm over Serbian activities. Yet
    initially, Muslims did not commence organization of communal militias
    on a widespread basis. Perhaps the messages did not deliver the same
    provocative stimuli as they delivered to the Serbs. More likely,
    however, reactions are conditioned by the degree of vulnerability of
    the group to assaults by other groups. Groups that are most vulnerable
    and relatively defenseless against communal assaults, as the Muslims
    were at that time, have often tended to keep a low profile reminiscent
    of the "freeze" tactics that other small mammals assume when
    confronted with superior predators. A "rational" explanation of this
    behavior is that individuals in vulnerable groups assess that their
    own defense preparations could provoke other groups into preemptive
    assaults and that the balance of forces does not offer favorable
    outcomes to the vulnerable group. Humans surely make calculations of
    this sort but only evolutionary psychology offers an explanation as to
    why some manner of calculation clicks on in these types of situations
    - such situations have been repeatedly encountered in the environment
    of evolutionary adaptation and selection favored mental mechanisms
    that could generate behaviors that optimally responded to the threats
    to survival and reproduction.

    In Rwanda in 1994, Hutu elites disseminated messages over mass media
    that made reference to Tutsi atrocities committed against Hutu
    villagers, but Hutus required little convincing as the reality of
    recent Tutsi assaults on Hutus in neighboring Burundi was common
    knowledge. Again, the atmosphere was already tense and Hutu elites
    needed only to persuade Hutus that similar massacres could easily
    occur in their own country. In fact, the media campaign was geared
    primarily to spurring the organization of Hutus for the purpose of
    massacring Tutsis and eliminating the latter from the country.

    At least within Rwanda itself, Tutsis lacked resources to mount any
    kind of defense against what developed as genocidal killing. Hence, in
    most regions of the country, their reaction was predictably oriented
    toward the "freeze" alternative and little organization was observable
    among them to combat Hutu assaults. Only the regions bordering Uganda
    experienced a military response. Tutsis had held important positions
    within the Ugandan army and constituted an important proportion of its
    manpower. Out of that military diaspora, a Rwandan army (Rwandan
    Population Front or RPF) was forged that ultimately invaded Rwanda and
    drove out the Hutu militias as well as the regular Hutu army units.
    All of this happened despite the relatively small numbers of Tutsis in
    the Rwandan population (at any time no more than 20%) and despite the
    nearly successful attempt at massacring the entire Tutsi civilian
    population. Perhaps two-thirds of the Tutsi population would be
    slaughtered before the RPF would take control of the country. The
    massive acquiescence of the Rwandan Tutsis was notable for its
    uniformity of form -- almost no civilians attempted any resistance or
    attempted to organize a resistance - and its universality - all
    civilians appeared to react in the same fashion. An evolved
    psychological mechanism that generates uniform behaviors in response
    to similar and powerful stimuli offers as much explanation as any for
    the lack of variation in behaviors, a pattern that seems anomalous
    from a common sense point of view.

    At the same time, variation in response to murderous threats was
    clearly apparent across the Balkans and Rwandan cases and across the
    groups within the Balkans. Goetze and Smith posit that a complex of
    stimuli that include murderous threats and perceived military
    capabilities affect whether freeze or mobilization responses emerge.
    Another possibility is that perceived credibility of reports of
    murderous assaults shapes mobilization responses. Clearly, false
    reports of group assault will encounter different responses from one
    society to the next. Some societies will be disposed to accept these
    reports as true. Others will dismiss them rapidly as without
    substance. In the USA, reports from white supremacists groups that
    Jews and African Americans are murdering whites are generally not
    believed. The important issue then becomes: what are the environmental
    conditions that nurture disbelief in one society or, conversely, what
    are the environmental conditions that make such reports credible?

    Recasting Thought

    Evolutionary theory can recast thought, encourage new areas of
    research, and generate novel hypotheses about important issues in the
    ethnic conflict field and help to determine which areas of research
    are especially important.

    Threat Mechanism

    A unique question raised by an evolutionary psychology approach is
    exactly how does an evolved psychological mechanism function? How do
    specific behaviors connect algorithmically with specific environmental
    stimuli? Marcus, Wood, and Theiss-Morse (1998) attempt to isolate the
    workings of what they call a threat mechanism. In particular, they
    develop a model that connects specific environmental stimuli with a
    set of behaviors that they label intolerance. They are interested in
    intolerance directed at members of an out-group, typically some manner
    of ethnic or racial group. The primary problem, as they see it, is to
    identify the environmental stimuli that provoke intolerant behaviors.
    Identifying the right stimuli can be accomplished, however, only by
    gaining understanding of the process through which stimuli are
    translated into behaviors.

    They begin their model-building task by first reviewing features of
    two general models that have been used to explain threat behaviors - a
    rational actor model and a symbolic politics model. The salient
    features of a rational actor model include an assessment mechanism
    that initiates intolerance behaviors whenever threatening stimuli are
    perceived. More specifically, the mechanism surveys the environment
    and assesses the probability of a dangerous event occurring.
    Intolerance behaviors are seen as coping devices designed to
    ameliorate or nullify the danger. An individual might attempt to
    deprive a group of political rights, for example, if members of that
    group are engaging in behaviors that have a high probability of
    infringing on the status of one's own group.

    A symbolic politics model identifies provocative behavior as the mere
    presence of a member of a group that is associated with a threat
    earlier in one's life or the presence of some symbol of the group.
    People respond to these symbols in intolerant ways not because they
    pose real threats or even a probability of real threat in the
    contemporary environment but because the symbols acquired a negative
    valence (through cultural transmission or conditioning) at a distant
    time in the past. Environmental stimuli are not assessed through
    rational calculation that evaluates the degree of threat but almost
    subconsciously in a way that arouses emotional responses. By
    triggering affect and emotion, intolerant behaviors are set in motion.
    The type of stimuli that initiate this sequence are deviations from
    norms - an action, event, or person that represents a violation of the
    status quo and carries the associated negative valence.

    Marcus, Wood, and Theiss-Morse (1998) find fault with these models and
    propose a new model that corrects for deficiencies. They cite previous
    work (Kinder and Sears, 1981) that demonstrates that the degree of
    threat posed in a contemporary environment fails to elicit
    appropriately measured intolerance responses and other studies
    (Hamill, Wilson, and Nisbett, 1980; Jennings, Amabile, and Ross, 1982;
    Kahneman and Tversky, 1982; Nisben and Ross, 1982) that show that the
    human brain may not be adept at processing threats in a conscious
    calculated manner. They note that rational calculation of threat is
    unlikely to be the process invoked in threatening circumstances
    because rational calculation is a relatively time-intensive process
    and threats need rapid responses. Hence, the subconscious, affective
    system of processing is more likely to be invoked because this system
    processes stimuli at very rapid speeds.

    However, the notion that even the affective system is triggered to
    produce coping responses by high values on a differentiated threat
    dimension may by misguided. The degree of immediate danger is not
    likely to be the activating stimuli. Instead, the authors suggest that
    threat responses tend to be provoked when out-groups are perceived to
    be engaging in violations of accepted societal norms - in other words,
    alarm bells tend to go off when out-groups are disrupting the societal
    environment - an intriguing conclusion that suggests a new class of
    behaviors that ought to be examined in the search for proximate causes
    of ethnic conflict.

    In a clever experimental design, Marcus, et al (1995) tested the
    validity of the rational choice model, the symbolic politics model,
    and their own affective intelligence model. First, subjects were given
    the opportunity to rate a wide variety of different groups according
    to their likes and dislikes. This procedure enabled subjects to "rely
    on their previously secured affective disposition ..." Two weeks later
    the same subjects were confronted with alternative scenarios involving
    actions of groups that they had rated as "least-liked." The actions
    were distinguished by whether the disliked groups were moving into
    positions in society where they could pose danger to the subject or by
    whether the actions of the group violated accepted norms of social or
    political behavior. Thus, the scenarios created an opportunity to
    assess, on the one hand, the likelihood of threat and, on the other
    hand, the violation of social norms. In an initial study, the subjects
    were presented with written scenarios and in a subsequent study,
    subjects were presented with actual news broadcasts. The results were
    similar in both studies. They found that the degree of threat did not
    provoke differences in tolerance/intolerance evaluations as measured
    by a post-experiment questionnaire. However, violations of social
    norms did elicit more intolerant responses, thereby, supporting that
    aspect of the affective intelligence model that identifies norm
    violations as the environmental activators of the mechanism that
    generates intolerant behaviors.

    In a follow-up experiment; Marcus, Wood, and Theiss-Morse (1998) also
    measured the affective-anxiety levels of subjects as they were being
    exposed to news broadcasts that did or did not display violations of
    social norms. They found that anxiety levels were significantly higher
    when violations of social norms were present in the news broadcasts,
    again lending credence to the notion that processing of the threat was
    taking place on an emotional level rather than on the level of
    rational calculation.

    Many real-world cases of conflict offer at least casual support for
    the affective intelligence model. Recent developments in the
    Arab-Israel conflict comprise a case in point. During that summer of
    2000, President Clinton attempted to broker an agreement between
    Israel and the Palestinian Authority that would settle longstanding,
    even ancient, land claims. The bargaining focused on what percentages
    of the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be controlled by the Palestinian
    Authority, after further devolution of authority from Israel. While no
    meaningful agreement on the main issues emerged between
    representatives of the respective sides, both Yasser Arafat and Ehud
    Barak seemed open to continuing negotiations, with either Clinton or
    (more likely) someone else as the intermediary. In other words, the
    "peace process," as it became known, seemed to be moving forward in an
    incremental fashion, subject to the usual short-term disappointments
    such as those experienced in the summer meetings. The likelihood of
    violence in the conflict, in at least an impressionistic sense, seemed
    at an all-time low.

    All of this changed dramatically and in a manner consistent with the
    framework of affective intelligence soon after negotiations lapsed. A
    visit by Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount in the early fall of 2000
    ignited street violence from Palestinians at a level not seen since
    the Intifadah of the late 1980s. This simple act, by one person,
    brought the logic of affective intelligence into play.

    Through his visit to a site holy to both Jews and Arabs in the Old
    City of Jerusalem, Sharon violated what appeared to be a basic social
    norm within the peace process. As a living symbol of Israel's
    incursion into Lebanon in 1982, Sharon, within the context of the
    winding down of the Arab-Israel conflict, would not be expected to
    enter a high-profile point of dispute such as the Temple Mount. For
    Palestinians this constituted an extreme departure from what appeared
    to be a long-term commitment by Israel to self-restraint. Thus
    Sharon's visit became the stimulus for a Palestinian response that, in
    the language of Marcus, et al., consisted of intolerance behaviors. As
    would be expected by the logic of affective intelligence, the
    processing of threat appeared to be taking place on an emotional level
    and largely in the form of social norm violations rather than through
    rational calculation.

    Marcus and his colleagues presented us with a model of how an evolved
    psychological mechanism processes threat stimuli and converts these
    stimuli into intolerance behaviors. Their work exemplifies the
    fruitfulness of examining the actual workings of psychological
    mechanisms that come into play as ethnic group conflicts develop and
    argues strongly for a research program that examines the workings of a
    range of psychological mechanisms that may be involved in the
    elicitation of ethnic behaviors.

    The affective intelligence model describes a psychological mechanism
    that generates intolerance behaviors. Some of the details of that
    model may have relevance for developing more refined explanations of
    other ethnic phenomena including mobilization for violent group
    conflict. Reports of ethnic massacres signify an extreme degree of
    threat and it is hard to dismiss the influence of these reports in
    triggering group mobilization. However, massacres are also clear
    violations of social norms and these aspects of massacres may play a
    more prominent role in activating group responses than one might
    initially think.

    Suicide Bombing

    Behaviors surrounding suicide bombing are not exclusively ethnic
    phenomena, but are important and frequently overlap with ethnic
    phenomena, especially when a bombing targets a group that is of a
    distinctly different ethny. Atran and others [[9]1] have explored the
    genesis of suicide bombing and, in particular, why individuals become
    suicide bombers. These authors utilize several ideas from evolutionary
    psychology to generate novel hypotheses about the motives of suicide
    bombers and about the factors in their environments that could
    generate their terrorist behaviors.

    Initially, Atran (2003a) cites the work of Krueger and Maleckova
    (2002) and Krueger (2003) whose profiles of Palestinian suicide
    bombers reveal few traits that set them apart from other individuals
    in their societies. Suicide bombers are at least as educated and at
    least as economically well-off and employed as the general population.
    Moreover, they are not notably more religious than others at least
    prior to their recruitment into terrorist organizations. Importantly,
    they also exhibited no pattern of personality pathology that could
    have set them apart from others. Hence, the socio-economic and
    personality profiles of suicide bombers offer few obvious clues about
    why they choose this line of work and puts scholars at something of a
    loss in trying to explain these choices. Where can we look then to
    answer why individuals join terrorist organizations and engage in
    suicide bombings?

    Suicide bombers may not be very different from the general population
    in their societies. However, it does not follow that the societies
    themselves are profiles of normality. Acknowledging this environmental
    condition and drawing inspiration from evolutionary thought, Atran and
    his commentators derive at least three explanatory hypotheses. The
    first is a sociobiological one that focuses on individual motives. The
    second hypothesis points to macro-environmental conditions that create
    so-called "fitness cliffs." [[10]2] And, finally, a third hypothesis
    points to the fictive kinship of the small group environment of
    terrorist organizations as a determining factor in suicidal behaviors.
    These are interwoven hypotheses in the sense that the explanation
    embodied in the first hypothesis sets the stage for the second and
    third hypotheses.

    Among the few distinctive traits that stand out among suicide bombers
    are their maleness and unmarried status. Lacking children of their own
    and any immediate prospects of bearing any, unmarried males might be
    more inclined to sacrifice, up to forfeiture of their own lives, for
    the sake of the welfare of others who are born and nurtured by others
    but perceived to be kin. The resort to the sacrifice of one's own life
    for perceived kin may make sense, however, only in a society where
    conditions in the environment have resulted in diminished life
    prospects. The choice to engage in suicide bombing can be viewed then
    as a fundamental inclination to enhance one's inclusive fitness.
    However, single unmarried status hardly serves as the sole condition
    pushing young males into such drastic acts. In societies characterized
    by violent military occupation, inadequate medical care, and minimal
    economic opportunities life tends to be brutish and short. The
    prospects for fruitful and fecund family life are especially dim for
    unmarried males and the support of already existing kin might assume
    relatively higher adaptive value than marshalling resources for one's
    own future, i.e., where the cliff of fitness abruptly descends.
    Martyrdom can bring financial rewards to existing kin but more
    importantly, confers status on entire clans. Suicide bombings
    typically impose damage on society's enemies and are viewed by many as
    enhancing future outcomes for that society.

    Events with origins exogenous to the society may created the fitness
    cliff or render it dramatically steeper. The occupation of Palestine
    by Israeli troops is an often cited example of an event that has
    eroded the life prospects of Palestinians. In explaining why
    Palestinians take up suicide bombing, Jessica Stern (2003: 38) remarks
    in her book on religious terrorists: "Hopelessness, deprivation, envy,
    and humiliation make death, and paradise, seem more appealing." She
    goes on to cite an elderly resident of Jenin: "Look around and see how
    we live here... Then maybe you will understand why there are always
    volunteers for martyrdom Every good Muslim understands that it's
    better to die fighting than to live without hope." [[11]3] Life tends
    to be short in Palestine, employment opportunities few even for the
    well-educated, and the reproductive prospects for unmarried males
    relatively unfavorable. In these conditions, dying in the interests of
    altering the fitness cliff for the Palestinian community could, in
    theory, be a superior means of transferring one's genes into future
    generations in these conditions. Still, if unmarried male status and
    oppressive conditions were sufficient to generate suicide bombers then
    one could expect most unmarried males in such societies to engage in
    such extreme terrorism and it appears that they do not even though in
    some societies (e.g., Palestinian society) over 70% of the population
    supports "martyrdom" operations (Atran, 2003: 5).

    According to Atran (2003a: 4-6, 10-11), the final piece of the
    explanatory puzzle derives from the interactions within terrorist
    organizations. Atran proposes that the influence of the terrorist
    organization, in particular, the influence of the small, terrorist
    cell explains the final commitment to suicide. Arguably, the unit for
    which humans are most willing to sacrifice and the unit exercising the
    greatest influence on humans is the family. Natural selection provided
    humans with mechanisms that created tight, emotional bonds with
    immediate kin. As Goetze (1998) argues, however; mobility, modern
    society, and globalization have torn people away from their natural
    families. Modern humans, still operating with the mechanisms of
    kinship that evolved in hunter-gatherer society, now find themselves
    in search of substitutes. The small, terrorist cell serves as a
    meaningful substitute to family and it is not surprising that members
    end up forming strong emotional bonds with each other as well as the
    typical sacrificial inclinations of close family. Leaders of terrorist
    organizations cultivate and manipulate these emotional bonds and steer
    their expression toward political goals of the terrorist organization.

    Like any hypotheses, these three need to withstand evaluation through
    empirical comparisons. Indeed, some scattered evidence casts doubt on
    the accuracy of elements of the hypotheses. The "fitness cliff"
    hypothesis presumes that life opportunities for potential suicide
    bombers have recently plummeted. Yet, Atran reports that most bombers,
    while sometimes underemployed for their education levels, have
    relatively positive life opportunities - certainly no worse than that
    of comparable individuals in their societies. Even the sociobiological
    hypothesis is challenged by data indicating that over one-third of the
    suicide bombers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka
    and over two-thirds of bombers of the Kurdish Workers Party in Iraq
    have been women (Schweitzer, 2000: 82-83 and reported in Stern, 2003:
    53). Despite these disconfirming data, these hypotheses still provide
    some compelling and novel insight into some emerging and unexpected
    facts about the activities of suicide bombers. The disparity between
    these data and hypotheses raises new issues about how situational
    factors and environmental conditions may differ across these societies
    and may even be activating different mechanisms that, nonetheless,
    result in similar behaviors, that is, suicide bombing. As they are
    refined with empirical observations, these hypotheses seem likely to
    contribute in meaningful ways to explanation of these crucially
    important phenomena.

    All of these cases demonstrate that there need not be antagonism over
    the approach taken by traditional scholars and practitioners of
    evolutionary psychology. Traditional research provides valuable data
    and important elements of useful explanations. Clearly, an
    evolutionary psychology approach can contribute to these explanations
    in multiple ways. It can extend traditional research on ethnic
    phenomena, fill in proximate explanations of ethnic conflict, or open
    up new areas of research and thought. Most studies of ethnic phenomena
    using an evolutionary psychology approach fulfill more than one of
    these missions.

    Received 29 January, 2004, Revision received 30 August, 2004, Accepted
    19 September, 2004.


    [12]1. Interdisciplines, a website for interdisciplinary research in
    the humanities, organized an online conference on Understanding
    Suicide Terrorism in 2003. Featured were articles by Scott Atran
    (2003a) and Nilufer Gole (2003) as well as extended commentary by a
    host of other scholars. This discussion draws on the work of this
    conference, especially Atran's whose related work can be found in the
    pages of Science (Atran 2003b).

    [13]2. This discussion on "fitness cliffs" is drawn from Pitchford's
    (2003) commentary on Atran's work and also from Chisholm (1999:
    Chapter 6, The Cost of Continuing).

    [14]3. First cited in P. Jacobson (2001).


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    [18]David Goetze
    [19]Patrick James


    9. http://human-nature.com/ep/articles/ep02142159.html#1.
   10. http://human-nature.com/ep/articles/ep02142159.html#2.
   11. http://human-nature.com/ep/articles/ep02142159.html#3.
   12. http://human-nature.com/ep/articles/ep02142159.html#1
   13. http://human-nature.com/ep/articles/ep02142159.html#2
   14. http://human-nature.com/ep/articles/ep02142159.html#3
   15. http://www.interdisciplines.org/
   16. http://www.interdisciplines.org/
   17. http://papers.nber.org/papers/W9074
   18. mailto:dgoetze at hass.usu.edu
   19. mailto:jamesp at missouri.edu

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