Anthropology on Individualism or Altruism

Christopher Boehm has been studying the interplay between the desires of an individual and that of the larger group for more than 40 years. He has conducted fieldwork with both human and nonhuman primates and has published more than 60 scholarly articles and books on the problem of altruism. In his newest book, “Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame”, Boehm synthesizes this research to address the question of why, out of all the social primates, are humans so altruistic?

“There are two ways of trying to create a good life,” Boehm states. “One is by punishing evil, and the other is by actively promoting virtue.” Boehm’s theory of social selection does both. The term altruism can be defined as extra-familial generosity (as opposed to nepotism among relatives). Boehm thinks the evolution of human altruism can be understood by studying the moral rules of hunter-gatherer societies. What he has found is in direct opposition to Ayn Rand’s selfish ideal—generosity or altruism is always favored toward relatives and nonrelatives alike, with sharing and cooperation being the most cited moral values.


Read also: Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame

Posted in Altruism, Anthropology, Cooperation, Hunter-gatherer, Individualism, Moral, Selfishness, Sharing | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Modelling Creativity: Identifying Key Components

Creativity is a complex, multi-faceted concept encompassing a variety of related aspects, abilities, properties and behaviors. If we wish to study creativity scientifically, then a tractable and well-articulated model of creativity is required. Such a model would be of great value to researchers investigating the nature of creativity and in particular, those concerned with the evaluation of creative practice. This paper describes a unique approach to developing a suitable model of how creative behavior emerges that is based on the words people use to describe the concept. Using techniques from the field of statistical natural language processing, we identify a collection of fourteen key components of creativity through an analysis of a corpus of academic papers on the topic. Words are identified which appear significantly often in connection with discussions of the concept. Using a measure of lexical similarity to help cluster these words, a number of distinct themes emerge, which collectively contribute to a comprehensive and multi-perspective model of creativity. The components provide an ontology of creativity: a set of building blocks which can be used to model creative practice in a variety of domains. The components have been employed in two case studies to evaluate the creativity of computational systems and have proven useful in articulating achievements of this work and directions for further research.


Posted in Behavior, Creativity, Social behavior, Social creativity | Tagged , , ,

Habits that Improve Cognitive Function

In order to give your brain a full workout, you need to engage both hemispheres of the cerebrum, and both hemispheres of the cerebellum. You can only do this by practicing, exploring, and learning new things in the three dimensions of the real world—not while being sedentary in front of a flat screen in a cyber reality. Digital games are incapable of giving the entire brain a full workout. These digital programs can’t really exercise the cerebellum (Latin: “Little Brain”) and, therefore, are literally only training half your brain. These “brain-training workouts” are the equivalent of only ever doing upper body workouts, without ever working out your lower body.  Although the cerebellum is only 10 percent of brain volume, it houses over 50 percent of the brain’s total neurons. Neuroscientists are perplexed by this disproportionate ratio of neurons… Whatever the cerebellum is doing to optimize brain function and improve cognition, it recruits a lot of neurons to do it.


Posted in Brain, Cerebellum, Cognition, Neurons, Neuroscience | Tagged , , , ,

What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children

Caring deeply about our children is part of what makes us human. Yet the thing we call “parenting” is a surprisingly new invention. In the past thirty years, the concept of parenting and the multibillion dollar industry surrounding it have transformed child care into obsessive, controlling, and goal-oriented labor intended to create a particular kind of child and therefore a particular kind of adult. In The Gardener and the Carpenter, the pioneering developmental psychologist and philosopher Alison Gopnik argues that the familiar twenty-first-century picture of parents and children is profoundly wrong–it’s not just based on bad science, it’s bad for kids and parents, too.

Drawing on the study of human evolution and her own cutting-edge scientific research into how children learn, Gopnik shows that although caring for children is profoundly important, it is not a matter of shaping them to turn out a particular way. Children are designed to be messy and unpredictable, playful and imaginative, and to be very different both from their parents and from each other. The variability and flexibility of childhood lets them innovate, create, and survive in an unpredictable world. “Parenting” won’t make children learn—but caring parents let children learn by creating a secure, loving environment.


Read also: Abandon Parenting, and Just Be a Parent

Posted in Childhood development, Childrearing, Children's learning, Children's thinking, Parenting, Parents | Tagged , , , , ,

Children Learn by Observing and Contributing to Family and Community Endeavors: A Cultural Paradigm

The book documents the organization of children’s learning and social lives, especially among children whose families have historical roots in the Americas (North, Central, and South), where children traditionally are included and contribute to the activities of their families and communities, and where Western schooling is a recent foreign influence. The findings and theoretical arguments highlight a coherent picture of the importance of the development of children’s participation in ongoing activity as presented by authors with extensive experience living and working in such communities.

Children Learn by Observing and Contributing to Family and Community Endeavors provides a major step forward in highlighting patterns and variability in the normative development of the everyday lives of children, expanding beyond the usual research populations that have extensive Western schooling in common.


Read also: Children From “Underserved Minority” Backgrounds Have Strengths for Learning

Posted in Children, Children's learning, Community, Family, Rogoff | Tagged , , ,

Children From “Underserved Minority” Backgrounds Have Strengths for Learning

Children’s learning is fundamentally based on their prior skills and knowledge, as educational institutions enhance and expand students’ skills. The background skills and knowledge that “underserved minority” students bring to school are assets that are often unnoticed, to the detriment of these students and others who could learn from them. Skill in collaboration, for example, is a strength of many Mexican-heritage and Central American children, and it is an important skill for learning and for contributing with which many middle-class European American children have difficulty. Attention to the skills and cultural resources of “underserved minority” students can support their learning and can enhance schools’ instructional approaches, to the benefit of all children.

A key area of strength in some “underserved minority” communities is skill in collaboration. Other areas include: attentiveness to surrounding events, skilled storytelling and narrative, metaphoric thinking, community-mindedness, helpfulness, perspective-taking and consideration, and systems thinking.



Posted in Indigenous children, Indigenous culture, Indigenous education, Indigenous family, Indigenous knowledge | Tagged , , , ,

How to Raise a Sympathetic Child

Children learn to share and show concern from an early age. Parents and teachers might often wonder how to teach children caring toward others – more so when the world feels full of disagreement, conflict, and aggression. As development psychologists, we know that children start to pay attention to the emotions of others from an early age. They actively take into account others’ emotions when making decisions about how to respond to them. Does this mean that children feel sympathy for others from an early age? And is there a way in which parents can teach their children to be sympathetic? The ability to feel concern for others is one of the key characteristics that make us human. Sympathy binds individuals together and increases cooperation among the members of the society. So, one of the things that we can do to facilitate sympathy in young children according to developmental research is to use what is called “inductive reasoning”. Inductive reasoning implies that parents and teachers emphasize the consequences of a child’s behavior during a social interaction.


Posted in Childrearing, Children, Empathy, Sympathy | Tagged , , ,

Swarm-made Intelligent Architectures

The nests of social insects are not only impressive because of their sheer complexity but also because they are built from individuals whose work is not centrally coordinated. A key question is how groups of insects coordinate their building actions. Here, we use a combination of experimental and modeling approaches to investigate nest construction in the ant Lasius niger.We quantify the construction dynamics and the 3D structures built by ants. Then, we characterize individual behaviors and the interactions of ants with the structures they build. We show that two main interactions are involved in the coordination of building actions: (i) a stigmergic-based interaction that controls the amplification of depositions at some locations and is attributable to a pheromone added by ants to the building material; and (ii) a template-based interaction in which ants use their body size as a cue to control the height at which they start to build a roof from existing pillars. We then develop a 3D stochastic model based on these individual behaviors to analyze the effect of pheromone presence and strength on construction dynamics. We show that the model can quantitatively reproduce key features of construction dynamics, including a large-scale pattern of regularly spaced pillars, the formation and merging of caps over the pillars, and the remodeling of built structures. Finally, our model suggests that the lifetime of the pheromone is a highly influential parameter that controls the growth and form of nest architecture.


Posted in Ants, Architecture, Swarm, Swarm intelligence | Tagged , , ,

Models of Affective Decision Making – How do Feelings Predict Choice?

Intuitively, how you feel about potential outcomes will determine your decisions. Indeed, an implicit assumption in one of the most influential theories in psychology, prospect theory, is that feelings govern choice. Surprisingly, however, very little is known about the rules by which feelings are transformed into decisions. Here, we specified a computational model that used feelings to predict choices. We found that this model predicted choice better than existing value-based models, showing a unique contribution of feelings to decisions, over and above value. Similar to the value function in prospect theory, our feeling function showed diminished sensitivity to outcomes as value increased. However, loss aversion in choice was explained by an asymmetry in how feelings about losses and gains were weighted when making a decision, not by an asymmetry in the feelings themselves. The results provide new insights into how feelings are utilized to reach a decision.


Posted in Affect, Decision making, Feeling | Tagged , ,

Subjective Status Shapes Political Preferences

Economic inequality in America is at historically high levels. Although most Americans indicate that they would prefer greater equality, redistributive policies aimed at reducing inequality are frequently unpopular. Traditional accounts posit that attitudes toward redistribution are driven by economic self-interest or ideological principles. From a social psychological perspective, however, we expected that subjective comparisons with other people may be a more relevant basis for self-interest than is material wealth. We hypothesized that participants would support redistribution more when they felt low than when they felt high in subjective status, even when actual resources and self-interest were held constant. Moreover, we predicted that people would legitimize these shifts in policy attitudes by appealing selectively to ideological principles concerning fairness. In four studies, we found correlational (Study 1) and experimental (Studies 2–4) evidence that subjective status motivates shifts in support for redistributive policies along with the ideological principles that justify them.

Decisions about how wealth should be distributed and redistributed are among the most fundamental political decisions that citizens and their leaders must make. We suggest that social comparisons are critical for understanding attitudes toward economic inequality, as differences in relative status can contribute to differences in political preferences.


Posted in Political preferences, Social inequality, Social status, Subjectivity | Tagged , , ,