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Evolutionary Psychology and the Emotions

  • University of Colorado-Colorado Springs
Evolutionary Psychology and the
Laith Al-Shawaf
and David M. G. Lewis
Department of Psychology and Interdisciplinary
Neuroscience Program, Bilkent University,
Ankara, Turkey
College of Life Sciences, Institute for Advanced
Study, Berlin, Germany
School of Psychology and Exercise Science,
Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA, Australia
Introduction: Evolutionary Approaches
to the Emotions
Charles Darwin launched the evolutionary study
of emotion with his 1872 book, The Expression of
the Emotions in Man and Animals. However,
partly for historical reasons, the book had a nar-
row emphasis, focusing on the continuity of emo-
tional expression between humans and nonhuman
animals. The prevailing view in Darwins Victo-
rian England was that God had endowed humans
with specic facial muscles that He had specially
crafted to allow humans to communicate their
emotions to one another (e.g., Keltner et al.
2014). In such a social climate, Darwins goal
was to demonstrate to the scientic community
that human facial expressions bore the stamp of
their animal ancestry, and that close examination
of emotion expressions demonstrated the phylo-
genetic continuity between humans and other spe-
cies (Darwin 1872). In the century and a half since
the publication of DarwinsOn the Origin of
Species (Darwin 1859), things have changed dra-
matically: the fact of evolution has been
established beyond any reasonable doubt, and
the theory of evolution is one of the most parsi-
monious, explanatorily successful, and predic-
tively powerful theories in all of science (Alcock
2009; Coyne 2009; Dawkins 2009; Dennett 1996;
Dobzhansky 1973). Now that there is no longer
any real (scientic) need to demonstrate that
humans share ancestry with all other species on
earth, scientists have found themselves free to
tackle a key question that Darwin largely avoided:
the evolved functions of emotions.
In the last few decades, evolutionists have
made considerable conceptual and empirical pro-
gress in understanding what emotions are and
why they evolved. There are several evolutionary
approaches in this tradition. The current entry
presents a theoretically powerful and empirically
promising contemporary approach that is closely
associated with evolutionary psychology and was
pioneered by John Tooby and Leda Cosmides
(Cosmides and Tooby 2000; Tooby and Cosmides
1990,2008). We can refer to this perspective as
the coordinating mechanism view of the
#Springer International Publishing AG 2017
V. Zeigler-Hill, T.K. Shackelford (eds.), Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_516-1
Coordinating Mechanisms: An
Evolutionary Psychological Approach
This evolutionary psychological perspective sug-
gests that emotions are coordinating mechanisms
whose evolved function is to coordinate a variety
of programs in the mind and body in the service of
solving a specic adaptive problem. For example,
fear coordinates programs in the service of pre-
venting or escaping danger (Tooby and Cosmides
1990; Marks and Nesse 1994), disgust regulates
mechanisms to prevent infection (Curtis et al.
2004; Oaten et al. 2009; Tybur et al. 2009), and
sexual arousal orchestrates physiological and psy-
chological programs for an advantageous mating
opportunity (Al-Shawaf et al. 2015b).
In their presentation of the coordinating mech-
anism approach, Tooby and Cosmides (1990;
Cosmides and Tooby 2000) suggest a list of pro-
grams regulated by the emotions, including:
(1) perceptual mechanisms, (2) attention,
(3) memory, (4) categorization, (5) motivational
priorities, (6) current goals, (7) information-
gathering adaptations, (8) specialized inference
mechanisms, (9) communication and expression,
(10) learning processes, (11) reexes, (12) energy
level, mood, and effort allocation, (13) physiol-
ogy, and (14) behavior. The idea of the coordinat-
ing mechanisms approach is not that every
emotion is expected to regulate every program in
every instance of that emotions activation
rather, the central idea is that emotions can be
best understood as regulatory mechanisms
whose evolved function is to coordinate a variety
of these programs to ensure their harmonious co-
activation in the service of solving an adaptive
Fear and Disgust as Illustrative Examples
Fear offers a useful illustration (Tooby and
Cosmides 1990; Cosmides and Tooby 2000).
When an organism is afraid of a potential threat
in the environment, a cascade of changes takes
place: perception becomes heightened (especially
to potential danger); attentional focus is narrowed
so that stimuli of less immediate relevance go
unnoticed; conceptual frameworks that cause
organisms to categorize stimuli as dangerous or
safe are activated while other conceptual frame-
works recede into the background; motivational
priorities change such that less urgent concerns
such as pathogen avoidance and status enhance-
ment fall by the wayside; and physiology shifts so
as to facilitate escape, for example by shunting
energy toward the muscles for ight (Tooby and
Cosmides 1990; Cosmides and Tooby 2000). The
central idea is that fear is a mode of operation for
the whole body and brain; a coordinating mecha-
nism that regulates a variety of physiological and
psychological programs to facilitate the solution
of the adaptive problem at hand.
Disgust, an emotion whose complexity we are
just beginning to understand, provides a second
example. When a pathogen threat activates dis-
gust, many changes take place: attention is
narrowed (van Hooff et al. 2013), sexual arousal
becomes more difcult to achieve (Fleischman
et al. 2015), heart rate and skin conductance are
affected (Schienle et al. 2001; Vrana 1993), par-
ticipants are less willing to engage in potentially
pathogenic behaviors (Tybur et al. 2011), immune
responses are activated (Schaller et al. 2010),
avoidant behaviors are engaged (Mortensen et al.
2010), and people report feeling less extraverted
and less open to new experiences (Mortensen
et al. 2010). The key idea again is the same:
pathogen disgust is a coordinating mechanism
that regulates and synchronizes the activity of
programs in the body and mind to solve the adap-
tive problem of avoiding infection.
How Does This Approach Differ from
Previous Evolutionary Approaches?
This coordinating mechanismsview of the
emotions shares features with several other evo-
lutionary approaches to emotion. Key elements of
overlap include the view that emotions are biolog-
ical adaptations that evolved to serve a function,
that adaptive action would be difcult or impos-
sible without emotions, that many emotions are
cross-culturally universal, that our emotions
evolved from our hominin ancestors and are
2 Evolutionary Psychology and the Emotions
phylogenetically related to the emotions of other
species, and that aversive emotions are just as
functional and benecial as pleasant emotions
despite their inherent subjective aversiveness.
That said, this approach also differs from other
evolutionary approaches in several key respects.
The following six are particularly important.
First, the coordinating mechanisms perspective
suggests that there is no principled, non-arbitrary
reason to draw a distinction between basicand
non-basicemotions (Al-Shawaf et al. 2015b;
Tooby and Cosmides 1990; Cosmides and
Tooby 2000). There is no evolutionarily compel-
ling reason to privilege some emotions over
others, and no principled reason why the
privileged few should be limited to disgust,
anger, fear, sadness, joy, surprise, and sometimes
contempt (cf. Ekman 1992; Ekman and Cordaro
Second, most evolutionary accounts of emo-
tion have placed undue emphasis on survival to
the exclusion of reproduction. But evolutionary
scientists recognize that survival is important only
insofar as it facilitates reproduction: differential
reproductive success is the actual engine of the
evolutionary process (Alcock 2009; Hamilton
1964; Williams 1966). Both logic and empirical
evidence demonstrate that whenever survival and
reproduction conict, the latter trumps the former
(Alcock 2009; Al-Shawaf et al. 2015b; Dawkins
1976; Williams 1966). Consistent with this fun-
damental evolutionary principle, the coordinating
mechanism approach expands the range of adap-
tive problems emotions evolved to solve to
include other adaptive problems tributary to
reproductive success, including problems such
as acquiring mates, retaining mates, competing
with intrasexual rivals, parenting and
childrearing, investing in kin, and more. Conse-
quently, the coordinating mechanism perspective
expands the range of evolved emotions to include
romantic love, parental love, sexual jealousy,
guilt, pride, shame, and many others (Al-Shawaf
et al. 2015b). An emotion does not need to facil-
itate survival per se; if it evolved to solve any
adaptive problem tributary to reproductive suc-
cess, then it is an evolved emotion.
Third, there is no need to stipulate that an
evolved emotion must have a recognizable signal
or facial expression (Tooby and Cosmides 1990).
Whether or not a given emotion evolved an
accompanying signal depends on the ancestral
costs and benets of displaying that emotion to
others (Al-Shawaf et al. 2015b). Evolved emo-
tions can have accompanying facial expressions
that are xed and universal, or changeable and
context-dependent, or they may not come with
an accompanying facial expression at all.
Fourth, whereas other evolutionary approaches
often insist that an emotion needs to also exist in
other species for it to qualify as an evolved emo-
tion, an evolutionary psychological approach
does not. Many adaptations are unique to one
species, but this does not make them any less
evolved or basic.On this view, an evolved
emotion can be shared with other species, unique
to humans, or shared with other species but with
uniquely human features (Al-Shawaf
et al. 2015b).
Fifth, an evolutionary psychological perspec-
tive is integrative and inclusive rather than
insisting on the primacy of one particular aspect
of emotions, such as physiology, behavioral out-
put, facial expressions, or subjective feelings
(phenomenology), the coordinating mechanism
approach regards all of these elements as impor-
tant components of emotion. Further, it links them
together with other cognitive and perceptual ele-
ments (e.g., attention, memory, conceptual cate-
gorization) to paint a picture of emotion that is
more comprehensive and less narrowly dened
than approaches that elevate one particular ele-
ment, such as physiology or phenomenology,
above all else (Tooby and Cosmides 1990;
Cosmides and Tooby 2000).
And sixth obviously but importantly this
approach differs in its denition of emotions as
evolved neurocognitive programs whose function
is to regulate psychological and physiological
mechanisms in the service of solving an adaptive
Evolutionary Psychology and the Emotions 3
What Are the Benefits of This
Evolutionary Psychological Approach?
There are at least four major benets of this
approach. First, it provides a non-arbitrary way
of classifying emotions. In particular, it avoids the
unwarranted basic versus non-basic division and
eschews the arbitrary insistence on particular
emotion elements such as facial expressions, dis-
tinctive physiology, or presence in other species in
order for an emotion to count as basicor fun-
damental.Second, in broadening the range of
adaptive problems that emotions have evolved to
solve, this perspective has heuristic value,
pointing researchers toward emotions that have
so far received scant attention from evolutionary
emotions researchers, such as romantic love,
parental love, regret, guilt, embarrassment, pride,
shame, and gratitude. Third, and perhaps most
important, this perspective provides a principled,
systematic method for generating a priori predic-
tions about emotions: the method of evolutionary
task analysis (Al-Shawaf et al. 2015b; Marr 1982;
see also Lewis et al. in press). An evolutionary
task analysis for an emotion consists of several
key questions: (1) what adaptive problem, if any,
did this emotion evolve to solve?, (2) which sub-
tasks must be solved in the solution of this adap-
tive problem?, (3) which information-processing
programs are capable of solving these subtasks?,
and (4) how should these programs be coordi-
nated to deliver a well-designed solution to this
adaptive problem? (Al-Shawaf et al. 2015b).
Finally, this perspective can be used to gener-
ate subtle and nuanced predictions about individ-
ual differences in emotion as well as context-
specic effects on emotion (Al-Shawaf et al.
2015b). For example, a task analysis might sug-
gest that individuals who are immunocompro-
mised should exhibit higher levels of disgust
(Fleischman and Fessler 2011; Al-Shawaf and
Lewis 2013); that whether disgust leads to avoid-
ance or approach may depend on who else is
present in ones immediate environment (e.g.,
approach and kill the pathogen vector if it might
endanger ones offspring; Al-Shawaf et al.
2015b); or that mens psychological and physio-
logical programs return to baseline after orgasm
more rapidly than do womens, but that this dis-
crepancy is attenuated for men who are oriented
toward committed long-term mating (Al-Shawaf
et al. 2015b). The key point is that an evolutionary
psychological approach to the emotions offers a
principled method for generating nuanced
hypotheses about individual differences and con-
text effects. This approach is theoretically power-
ful, empirically promising, and to our knowledge,
unique among theories of emotions in its capacity
to generate truly a priori hypotheses let alone
such diverse and nuanced ones.
Is This Approach Making Empirical
This perspective is relatively new, and only a tiny
fraction of its potential has been tapped. Never-
theless, there has been some important initial pro-
gress. For example, this perspective was recently
used to generate an array of novel hypotheses
about the effects of disgust on specialized infer-
ence mechanisms, information gathering, and
memory (Al-Shawaf et al. 2015b). Many of
these hypotheses include nuanced predictions
about individual differences and the effects of
context. All of these hypotheses were generated
a priori using the coordinating mechanism
approach in conjunction with evolutionary task
Importantly, this predictive power extends to
other psychophysiological programs that are not
usually regarded as emotions. For example,
despite its powerful effects on physiology, psy-
chology, and behavior, sexual arousal does not
appear in previous taxonomies of basic emotions
and is typically excluded from the category of
emotions altogether (e.g., Barrett et al. 2016;
Ekman 1992; Keltner et al. 2014). In contrast, an
evolutionary psychological approach regards sex-
ual arousal as a critical emotion that evolved to
solve one of the most important adaptive prob-
lems faced by sexually reproducing organisms
the coordination of a number of disparate mecha-
nisms in the service of conception. Accordingly,
the coordinating mechanism approach has
recently been used to generate a host of novel
4 Evolutionary Psychology and the Emotions
hypotheses about the effects of sexual arousal and
orgasm on memory, conceptual frameworks,
information gathering, specialized inference, and
learning (Al-Shawaf et al. 2015b).
A similar logic may apply to hunger: hunger is
typically regarded as a driverather than an
emotion, but it is an important psychophysiolog-
ical state that may coordinate a variety of pro-
grams in the body and mind in the service of
acquiring food. Recent work suggests that the
coordinating mechanism approach can be used
to generate a bounty of new hypotheses about
the effects of hunger and eating on perception,
attention, memory, problem-solving, and concep-
tual categorization (Al-Shawaf 2016).
Recent work on anger and shame is also highly
promising (Sell et al. 2009a,b; Sell 2011; Sznycer
et al. 2012,2015,2016). The recalibrational the-
ory of anger suggests that anger is triggered when
an organism detects evidence that another individ-
ual is placing insufcient value on its welfare. The
primary evolved function of anger, on this view, is
to convincethe target of the anger to upregulate
the value he places on the angry individuals wel-
fare (Sell et al. 2009). This work is guided by the
coordinating mechanism perspective: the central
idea motivating this research is that anger coordi-
nates physiology, attention, communication,
facial expressions, body posture, behavior, and
other psychological programs in order to cause
another individual to recalibrate the weight he
places on the angry individuals welfare. This
research is relatively new but has already demon-
strated that: (a) the anger face is not an arbitrary
set of muscular contractions, but rather a specic
constellation of changes that increases the per-
ceived ghting ability of the angry individual
(Sell et al. 2014), (b) the conditions that trigger
anger are exactly what you would expect
according to the welfare-recalibration theory
(e.g., stronger anger is triggered when the cost to
the victim was large, the benet to the perpetrator
was small, and the perpetrator knew exactly who
he was harming; Sell 2005; Sell et al. under
review), (c) the content of apologies and attempts
to decrease anger are also exactly what you would
expect according this theory (e.g., the benetto
me was large, I thought the cost to you was small,
and/or I didnt know you were the person incur-
ring the cost from my behavior; Sell 2005;Sell
et al. under review), and (d) individual differences
in anger thresholds are predictable a priori on the
basis of ones bargaining power, such that those
who are better able to confer benets and inict
costs tend to anger more easily and more readily
(e.g., attractive women and attractive and muscu-
lar men; Sell et al. 2009).
Recent work on shame also points to the utility
of the coordinating mechanism approach. This
approach suggests that shame is a species-wide,
cross-culturally universal mechanism that
evolved as a defense against being devalued by
others (Sznycer et al. 2012,2016). Guided by the
coordinating mechanism perspective, this
research proposes that shame coordinates changes
in physiology, perception, cognition, motivation,
and behavior in order to reduce the likelihood and
costs of social devaluation. This involves
(a) refraining from behaviors that may lead to
devaluation, (b) concealing information that may
lead to devaluation, and (c) minimizing the nega-
tive impact of devaluation when it does occur
(Sznycer et al. 2016). To this end, and consistent
with the coordinating mechanism approach,
researchers have discovered that shame motivates
the avoidance of behaviors and the concealment
of information that lead to devaluation
(Rockenbach and Milinski 2011), and that when
such information is discovered, shame leads an
individual to withdraw (Tangney et al. 1996),
accept subordination (Gilbert 2000), become
more cooperative (Masclet et al. 2003), and
appease social others (Keltner et al. 1997). Addi-
tionally, shame regulates endocrinology and
immunology, raising cortisol levels (Dickerson
and Kemeny 2004) and upregulating pro-
inammatory cytokines to provide a defense
against infection (Dickerson et al. 2009).
The coordinating mechanism perspective on
the emotions has also led to important advances
in our understanding of pride, but space con-
straints prohibit us from discussing this research
in depth (see Sznycer et al. 2017; Tracy and
Robins 2007; Tracy et al. 2010, for more infor-
mation). Despite the relative youth of this theoret-
ical perspective and the novelty of the research
Evolutionary Psychology and the Emotions 5
programs discussed above, researchers are using
this approach to make rapid gains in our under-
standing of emotions as varied as disgust
(Al-Shawaf et al. 2015b), sexual arousal
(Al-Shawaf et al. 2015b), hunger (Al-Shawaf
2016), anger (Sell et al. 2009a,b,2014), shame
(Sznycer et al. 2012,2015,2016), and pride
(Sznycer et al. 2017; Tracy et al. 2010). The next
few years are sure to bring novel insights and new
discoveries and to witness the extension of this
coordinating mechanism perspective to other
emotions that are ripe for investigation within its
framework, including romantic love, parental
love, guilt, regret, gratitude, and many more.
Culture, Context, and Individual
Three theoretical sidenotes bear mentioning here.
First, an evolutionary psychological approach to
the emotions does not imply that emotions are
innate, rigid, and inexible. As with the rest of
evolutionary psychology, our evolved neurocom-
putational emotion programs are built by the joint
interplay of genes and environment, and are
highly responsive to environmental input (Buss
1995; Confer et al. 2010; Tooby and Cosmides
1992). By denition, these emotions are inextri-
cably tied to what is going on in the environment
around us, and this evolutionary perspective on
the emotions would obviously not make sense if
one were to try to remove the environment from
the equation. An evolutionary psychological
approach to the emotions regards the environment
as critical in driving the evolution of the mecha-
nism in the rst place, crucial in the ontogenetic
development of the mechanism, and indispens-
able as a trigger of the mechanism in the immedi-
ate present (see Buss 1995; Confer et al. 2010;
Lewis et al. in press). This evolutionary psycho-
logical perspective is thus environment-centered
at all three stages of the causal process: evolution
across generations, development within a genera-
tion, and immediate causation. Misinformed alle-
gations that evolutionary approaches regard the
emotions as rigid, inexible, genetically deter-
mined, or environmentally insensitive are simply
incorrect. For example, see Al-Shawaf et al.
2015b for a number of evolutionary hypotheses
about context effects and individual differences in
Second, it is worth noting that an evolutionary
psychological approach does not predict complete
invariance in emotions across cultures. Recall that
the computational architecture of a psychological
mechanism consists of three stages of
information-processing: environmental cues are
taken as inputs, which are then stored and oper-
ated upon by computational procedures, which
are subsequently turned into outputs (e.g., behav-
ior). As a general principle, evolutionary psycho-
logical approaches do not predict universality at
the level of output, but rather at the level of com-
putational design (Al-Shawaf et al. 2015b; Lewis
et al. in press; Tooby and Cosmides 1992). Impor-
tantly, culturally variable input combined with
universal neurocognitive mechanisms often yields
culturally variable output (Gangestad and Buss
1993; Lewis et al. in press). This culturally vari-
able output is not necessarily a sign that the mech-
anism in question is not a product of evolution.
Rather, it is often a sign that the inputs that trigger
the mechanism differ across cultures. Stated dif-
ferently, if you start with different cultural or
ecological inputs you will likely get different out-
puts. Consequently, this view of the emotions
does not predict that every aspect of emotions
will be culturally invariant. Instead, it expects
variability in emotion output to be underlain by
cross-cultural uniformity in neurocomputational
design. This is precisely the pattern that seems to
emerge from cross-cultural studies on emotion
(e.g., Neumann et al. 2009; Sznycer et al. 2012,
2017). Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this
discussion is that rather than being arbitrary and
unpredictable, these cultural differences are often
systematically predictable a priori. An evolution-
ary psychological perspective makes it possible to
generate theoretically principled predictions
about what cultural differences one should expect
to observe in advance rather than observing cul-
tural differences and then concocting post hoc
explanations for them (see e.g., Sznycer et al.
2012 for an emotion example or Gangestad and
Buss 1993 for a non-emotion example).
6 Evolutionary Psychology and the Emotions
Third, an evolutionary psychological perspec-
tive does not imply the absence of individual
differences in emotion. On the contrary, individ-
ual differences in emotion are a natural part of the
coordinating mechanisms perspective. Providing
a nice parallel to the case of cultural differences,
an evolutionary psychological approach provides
one with a means for making theoretically
grounded a priori predictions about individual
differences. For example, it has been suggested
that individuals with less robust immune systems
may have lower disgust thresholds (e.g., Fessler
et al. 2004; Al-Shawaf and Lewis 2013;
Al-Shawaf et al. 2015b) and that the emotions
that arise after orgasm are likely different for
men oriented toward short-term mating compared
to those who are oriented toward long-term mat-
ing (Al-Shawaf et al. 2015b). Researchers using
this perspective have also predicted and found that
attractive women anger more easily than their
less-attractive counterparts (Sell et al. 2009b),
that attractive and physically formidable men
anger more readily than their less-attractive and
physically weaker counterparts (Sell et al. 2009),
that individuals with less bargaining power are
more prone to shame (Sznycer et al. 2012), that
individuals with lower relational mobility are
more shame-prone around their friends (but not
around strangers, Sznycer et al. 2012), and that
individuals with a stronger proclivity for short-
term mating have stably lower sexual disgust
(Al-Shawaf et al. 2015a). The key point here is
that, as with cultural differences, individual dif-
ferences are not only consistent with an evolution-
ary psychological approach to the emotions; they
can be predicted a priori according to theoretical
Future Directions
What are the next key steps for this evolutionary
approach to the emotions? First, researchers
should continue to generate and test novel hypoth-
eses based on this approach. The coordinating
mechanism view is heuristically valuable and pre-
dictively powerful, but given its youth, there is
still a great deal of work to be done at the
hypothesis-generation stage and even more to be
done at the design-and-testing stage. Researchers
have reaped only a small portion of the empirical
fruits of this approach so far, and this suggests an
exciting and promising future. Second,
researchers should continue to generate subtle
and nuanced hypotheses about context effects,
cultural differences, and individual differences in
emotion. As we move toward a more complete
explanation of species-typical mechanisms, sex-
typical mechanisms, cultural differences, and
individual differences, we move toward a more
comprehensive understanding of the mind both
in the science of emotion and in psychology more
broadly. Finally, it would be valuable for evolu-
tionary psychologists to devote greater attention
to positive emotions. As it currently stands, we
understand the structure and evolved function of
the negative emotionsa great deal better than
we do the positive emotions.This is slowly
starting to change with emotions such as gratitude
(Forster et al. 2016; McCullough et al. 2008) and
pride (e.g., Tracy and Robins 2007; Tracy et al.
2010), but our understanding of these emotions
along with others such as joy, contentment, and
love still does not compare to our understanding
of emotions such as anger, fear, and disgust. Great
benet is likely to come from thinking about the
evolved function of positive emotions in a rigor-
ous, systematic, and theoretically principled way.
We look forward to this development and suggest
that the coordinating mechanism perspective pre-
sented here offers an especially fruitful path
An evolutionary psychological perspective sug-
gests that the emotions are coordinating mecha-
nisms whose evolved function is to orchestrate
psychological and physiological programs to
facilitate the solution of a particular adaptive
problem. The current entry presented this
approach, described how it differs from other
evolutionary approaches to the emotions, and
discussed the benets of this approach. Key
Evolutionary Psychology and the Emotions 7
benets include a more theoretically principled
method of classifying emotions, a broader consid-
eration of the adaptive problems that emotions
evolved to solve and a broader consideration of
the range of emotions that evolved to solve them,
and crucially the use of evolutionary task
analysis to generate a priori hypotheses about
each emotion, including hypotheses about context
effects, individual differences, and cultural vari-
ability. We then detailed the empirical progress
this approach has made in understanding certain
emotions, including anger, pride, shame, disgust,
and sexual arousal. Finally, this entry offers some
useful future directions, including further testing,
theoretical and empirical progress in understand-
ing cultural and individual differences, and
greater attention to positive emotions. We hope
that this entry helps introduce the coordinating
mechanism perspective to non-evolutionists as
well as to those familiar with other evolutionary
approaches to the emotions, and motivates
researchers to use this theoretically grounded
approach to generate and test novel a priori
hypotheses about a wide range of emotions.
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10 Evolutionary Psychology and the Emotions
... Evolutionary approaches to psychology have proven fruitful in considering emotions as cognitive adaptations, evolved to coordinate the activity of multiple (e.g. physiological, attentional, motivational) systems in the solution of specific adaptive problems (Al-Shawaf et al., 2016;Al-Shawaf & Lewis, 2017). Fear functions to protect organisms from fitness-costly dangers (Cosmides & Tooby, 2000). ...
... A problem of classification: How to distinguish, in a non-arbitrary and fruitful way, properly moral emotions from merely social ones? 2. A problem of functional specification: What is the specific functional role each emotion plays in moral (or social) cognition? As researchers have argued, an evolutionary approach to emotions offers an avenue for jointly solving these two problems, as it provides non-arbitrary criteria for classifying emotions, that are precisely based on the evolved functional role each plays in the general cognitive architecture (Al-Shawaf et al., 2016;Al-Shawaf & Lewis, 2017). ...
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In recent decades, a large body of work has highlighted the importance of emotional processes in moral cognition. Since then, a heterogeneous bundle of emotions as varied as anger, guilt, shame, contempt, empathy, gratitude, and disgust have been proposed to play an essential role in moral psychology. However, the inclusion of these emotions in the moral domain often lacks a clear functional rationale, generating conflations between merely social and properly moral emotions. Here, we build on (i) evolutionary theories of morality as an adaptation for attracting others' cooperative investments, and on (ii) specifications of the distinctive form and content of moral cognitive representations. On this basis, we argue that only indignation ("moral anger") and guilt can be rigorously characterized as moral emotions, operating on distinctively moral representations. Indignation functions to reclaim benefits to which one is morally entitled, without exceeding the limits of justice. Guilt functions to motivate individuals to compensate their violations of moral contracts. By contrast, other proposed moral emotions (e.g. empathy, shame, disgust) appear only superficially associated with moral cognitive contents and adaptive challenges. Shame doesn't track, by design, the respect of moral obligations, but rather social valuation, the two being not necessarily aligned. Empathy functions to motivate prosocial behavior between interdependent individuals, independently of, and sometimes even in contradiction with the prescriptions of moral intuitions. While disgust is often hypothesized to have acquired a moral role beyond its pathogen-avoidance function, we argue that both evolutionary rationales and psychological evidence for this claim remain inconclusive for now.
... Emotions serve as coordinating mechanisms that regulate cognition, physiology, and behavior in ways that aid in solving adaptive problems (Al-Shawaf et al., 2015;Al-Shawaf, 2016;Al-Shawaf & Lewis, 2017;Tooby & Cosmides, 2008). The emotion of disgust regulates disease avoidance mechanisms and reduces the likelihood of pathogenic infections (Curtis et al., 2004). ...
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Disgust is an emotion that regulates disease avoidance and reduces the likelihood of pathogenic infections. Existing research suggests a bidirectional relationship between disgust and mating, where disgust inhibits sexual behavior and sexual behavior inhibits disgust. In the current study, we investigated the role of individual differences and mating motivations on visual attention to pathogenic cues. Participants (N = 103) were randomly assigned to a mating prime or control condition, and they were asked to view images of pathogenic cues (i.e., rotten food, exposed cuts, bodily fluids) paired with their non-pathogenic counterparts. The findings showed no effect of mating prime on visual attention to pathogenic stimuli; however, dispositional mating strategies (SOI-R) were associated with attention to pathogenic stimuli. Individuals with unrestricted sociosexual orientations viewed pathogenic stimuli longer. The findings demonstrate that dispositional mating orientation is associated with greater attention to disgusting images, a link between pathogens and mating orientation that warrants further exploration.
... For example, the automatic expression of, say, fear in situations requiring a neutral look would be selected against. Facial display works in the best interests of the displayer rather than in the interests of their inner uncontrollable states: there should be context-dependent inhibition of facial displays, to meet the best interests of signalers (Al-Shawaf et al., 2015;Al-Shawaf & Lewis, 2017). ...
Although emotional displays have long been considered as mere read-outs of the affective state of agents, recent studies and modern evolutionary thinking instead suggest that they should be characterized as proper communicative signals. This implies that emotional displays have evolved to be used strategically, to serve the senders' interests. However, for these signals to be stable, they must also benefit receivers. What guarantees that emotional signals are beneficial for both emitters and observers? In this chapter, we review evidence showing that humans are equipped with mechanisms that evolved to evaluate emotional displays and their sources, so as to minimize the risk of being fooled. We called these mechanisms 'emotional vigilance,' following the 'epistemic vigilance' mechanisms used in ostensive communication. Emotional vigilance, we argue, is part of the human cognitive make-up, and we outline empirical avenues to best elucidate its features.
... There are large individual differences in people's disgust thresholds (Al-Shawaf & Lewis, 2017;Tybur et al., 2009), which can predict important psychological and behavioral outcomes. Evidence suggests that these individual differences in disgust predict variation on manifold other dimensions, ranging from mating strategy (Al-Shawaf et al., 2015b) to political orientation (Inbar et al., 2012). ...
Due to the environmental benefits of entomophagy, a growing field of research is now investigating the factors that predict people's willingness to eat insects. In the current studies, we examined how willingness to eat insects may vary as a function of individual differences in disgust sensitivity, food neophobia, and hunger. We conducted two studies, one using a self-report measure and one using a behavioral measure of willingness to eat insects. In both studies, higher food neophobia predicted reduced willingness to eat insects. Disgust predicted lower self-reported, but not behavioral, willingness to eat insects. By contrast, hunger did not predict willingness to eat insects in either study. Our findings suggest that reducing food neophobia toward insects may be important for acceptance of entomophagy and may inform future marketing strategies that aim to encourage people to view insect protein as a viable source of nutrition.
... To begin, folk emotion labels like "anger" likely refer to the outputs of multiple mechanisms, each with its own specific rules of operation; thus, relying on folk categories is going to inflate the apparent variability of emotional responses (Scarantino, 2012a(Scarantino, , 2015Sznycer et al., 2017). Even more importantly, dealing effectively with fitness-critical situations requires emotion programs to be sensitive to context and produce open-ended response tendencies, rather than rigid and reflex-like behaviors (Al-Shawaf & Lewis, 2017;Al-Shawaf et al., 2016;Scarantino, 2015). Invariance is expected at the level of the function and information-processing structure of the mechanism, but not at that of the mechanism's output, which should display systematic variability across persons and situations. ...
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The chapters in this Handbook shows that evolutionary scholars are making tremendous progress toward an integrated model of emotions. However, there remain a number of theoretical problems that will have to be resolved before integration can truly occur. In this concluding chapter I review and critically discuss what I see as the most pressing issues in the field: the bifurcation between “mechanism-rich” and “mechanism-free” models of emotions, the biological plausibility of emotional readouts (i.e., displays that signal internal emotional states in a statistically reliable and at least partly involuntary fashion), and the conceptual limitations of basic emotions theory. I then present a big-picture research agenda with suggestions to address these issues. I end the chapter by suggesting that the theoretical and empirical challenges facing the field can be tackled most effectively from an explicitly motivational perspective.
Attractiveness is a perception produced by psychological mechanisms in the mind of the perceiver. Understanding attractiveness therefore requires an understanding of these mechanisms. This includes the selection pressures that shaped them and their resulting information-processing architecture, including the cues they attend to and the context-dependent manner in which they respond to those cues. We review a diverse array of fitness-relevant cues along with evidence that the human mind processes these cues when making attractiveness judgments. For some of these cues, there is unequivocal evidence that the cue influences attractiveness judgments, but exactly why attractiveness-assessment mechanisms track that cue is an area of current debate. Another area of active inquiry is when these cues influence attractiveness judgments: because the fitness costs and benefits associated with these cues would have varied across contexts, selection should have shaped attractiveness-assessment mechanisms to be sensitive to contextual variables. As a consequence of this context-sensitive design, these mechanisms, despite being universal, should produce attractiveness assessments that vary systematically and predictably across contexts. We review evidence indicating that this is how human perception of attractiveness works, and highlight the need for more comprehensive and systematic investigations into contextual variation in human standards of attractiveness. We conclude by identifying limitations on existing evolutionary research on attractiveness, and provide concrete suggestions for how future work can address these issues.
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Purpose The purpose of the study is to propose a framework for understanding the dynamism of the human self-system from evolutionary and socio-psychological perspective. The study aims to help scholars interested to use an evolutionary lens for examining consumer behaviour. Design/methodology/approach Relying on the principle of self-cybernetics, the study proposed a general framework explaining the operating mechanism of human self-system. The proposed framework incorporates the socio-psychological and the evolutionary perspective of the human self-concept. Findings The framework may help consumer scholars to integrate socio-psychological and evolutionary theories to produce novel and testable hypotheses. Originality/value To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first attempt to propose a framework based on the principle of cybernetics to facilitate the use of an evolutionary lens in consumer research.
A tanulmány a negatív érzelmek szerepét tárgyalja Franz Kafka Az átváltozás című novellájában a kognitív narratológia eszközeivel. Alapvetően a főszereplőre adott érzelmekkel foglalkozik. Elsőként a családtagok fiktív érzelmi reakcióit, azaz az ábrázolt érzelmeket, majd a szövegstratégiák által támogatott befogadói érzelmeket vizsgálja. A szövegstratégiákat azonosítva bemutatja, hogy a szöveg az olvasóban Gregorral szemben egy a fikcionális szereplők által bejárt érzelmi úttal – a Gregortól való távolodás állomásait leíró félelem-undor-düh érzelmi ívvel – ellentétes, közelítő érzelemív kiváltódását támogatja. Továbbá a szöveg értelmezésén keresztül amellett érvel, hogy Az átváltozás alapvetően érzelmeket ábrázol és érzelmek kiváltására törekszik. Miközben a mű az értelmi megértés szintjén rejtélyes és szemantikailag széttartó, az érzelmi megértés szintjén egy irányba mutat, és egy univerzálisan érthető és elérhető megértési élményt nyújt.
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This case study is a partial replication of an original experiment by Strack et al. (1988). It examines the understanding of the facial feedback hypothesis. For this experiment, participants were asked to rate the funniness of a cartoon after completing tasks using only their lips or teeth to hold a pen, thereby facilitating a smile or a frown. In addition to that, there have been discussed cognitive-behavioural therapy elements on the presentation of emotions following physical reactions. It was a between-participants design in which respondents were asked to complete a questionnaire in the lips or teeth condition to generate emotional states of physical reaction required to underline cognitive precipitants. In this study, a within-participants correlational design was also conducted between extraversion and altruism to consider the possibility whether these two variables could relate to funniness or not. To test that, participants were asked to rate the humour of a far side cartoon. The results did not confirm the hypothesis that those in the teeth condition rated the cartoon funnier than those in the lips condition meaning that facial reaction does not necessarily imply respective emotional states due to cognitive elements, such as awareness and attention, which posit reason as a more important factor than emotions. Discussion of the results in line with physiological and cognitive aspects and their implications to future research had also been carried out.
Drawing from the terror management theory (TMT) and evolutionary perspectives of Life-History Strategy, a between-subject online experiment examined the interaction effects of pre-existing death anxiety, fear-inducing media content (coronavirus threat vs. gun violence threat vs. low threat mental disorder), and intrasexual competition for mates on online dating intentions and social distancing intentions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Results indicate the interaction effects of participants’ pre-experimental death anxiety and different types of fear-inducing media content on perceived fear and intention to use online dating websites/apps as well as the interaction effects of pre-experimental intrasexual competitiveness and fear-inducing media content on social distancing intention in the context of online dating. Theoretical contributions to the terror management literature and practical implications for the online dating industry are discussed.
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Researchers in the social and behavioral sciences are increasingly using evolutionary insights to test novel hypotheses about human psychology. Because evolutionary perspectives are relatively new to psychology and most researchers do not receive formal training in this endeavor, there remains ambiguity about “best practices” for implementing evolutionary principles. This article provides researchers with a practical guide for using evolutionary perspectives in their research programs and for avoiding common pitfalls in doing so. We outline essential elements of an evolutionarily informed research program at 3 central phases: (a) generating testable hypotheses, (b) testing empirical predictions, and (c) interpreting results. We elaborate key conceptual tools, including task analysis, psychological mechanisms, design features, universality, and cost-benefit analysis. Researchers can use these tools to generate hypotheses about universal psychological mechanisms, social and cultural inputs that amplify or attenuate the activation of these mechanisms, and cross-culturally variable behavior that these mechanisms can produce. We hope that this guide inspires theoretically and methodologically rigorous research that more cogently integrates knowledge from the psychological and life sciences.
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Significance Cross-cultural tests from 16 nations were performed to evaluate the hypothesis that the emotion of pride evolved to guide behavior to elicit valuation and respect from others. Ancestrally, enhanced evaluations would have led to increased assistance and deference from others. To incline choice, the pride system must compute for a potential action an anticipated pride intensity that tracks the magnitude of the approval or respect that the action would generate in the local audience. All tests demonstrated that pride intensities measured in each location closely track the magnitudes of others’ positive evaluations. Moreover, different cultures echo each other both in what causes pride and in what elicits positive evaluations, suggesting that the underlying valuation systems are universal.
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Gratitude is an emotion that promotes cooperative relationships and is elicited when an act reveals that an actor values the recipient, especially when the benefit conferred is greater than the recipient expected. But recipient expectations might vary depending on how much the benefactor values the recipient —all else equal, the greater the benefactor values the recipient's welfare, the greater the expectations of benefit delivery. Thus, at a given benefit level, it might be easier to exceed the threshold of expectation in a relationship for which the recipient holds low expectations (e.g., a stranger) as compared to a relationship for which the recipient holds high expectations (e.g., a sibling). This leads to the prediction that cognitive representations of welfare valuation inversely correlate with gratitude: the greater the expected welfare valuation, the more difficult it is to exceed expectations of benefit delivery and, therefore, the less felt gratitude. To test this prediction, we conducted two experiments in which subjects estimated how much they perceived a particular person in their social network to value the subject's welfare. Next, subjects estimated how grateful they would feel if this person provided them with differing levels of benefits. Contrary to our model, we found that gratitude was predicted by the magnitude of the benefit, but not by the recipient's perception of the benefactor's valuation of the recipient.
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Significance Prominent theories of shame hold that shame is inherently maladaptive. However, direct tests of the fit between shame and its probable target domain have not previously been conducted. Here we test the alternative hypothesis that shame, although unpleasant (like pain), serves the adaptive function of defending against the social devaluation that results when negative information reaches others—by deterring actions that would lead to more devaluation than benefits, for example. If so, the intensity of shame people feel regarding a given item of negative information should track the devaluation that would happen if that item became known. Indeed, the data indicate a close match between shame intensities and audience devaluation, which suggests that shame is an adaptation.
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Sexual arousal is a motivational state that moves humans toward situations that inherently pose a risk of disease transmission. Disgust is an emotion that adaptively moves humans away from such situations. Incongruent is the fact that sexual activity is elementary to human fitness yet involves strong disgust elicitors. Using an experimental paradigm, we investigated how these two states interact. Women (final N=76) were assigned to one of four conditions: rate disgust stimuli then watch a pornographic clip; watch a pornographic clip then rate disgust stimuli; rate fear stimuli then watch a pornographic clip; or watch a pornographic clip then rate fear stimuli. Women's genital sexual arousal was measured with vaginal photoplethysmography and their disgust and fear reactions were measured via self-report. We did not find that baseline disgust propensity predicted sexual arousal in women who were exposed to neutral stimuli before erotic content. In the Erotic-before-Disgust condition we did not find that sexual arousal straightforwardly predicted decreased image disgust ratings. However, we did find some evidence that sexual arousal increased self-reported disgust in women with high trait disgust and sexual arousal decreased self-reported disgust in women with low trait disgust. Women who were exposed to disgusting images before erotic content showed significantly less sexual arousal than women in the control condition or women exposed to fear-inducing images before erotic content. In the Disgust-before-Erotic condition the degree of self-reported disgust was negatively correlated with genital sexual arousal. Hence, in the conflict between the ultimate goals of reproduction and disease avoidance, cues of the presence of pathogens significantly reduce the motivation to engage in mating behaviors that, by their nature, entail a risk of pathogen transmission.
According to the recalibrational theory of anger, anger is a computationally complex cognitive system that evolved to bargain for better treatment. Anger coordinates facial expressions, vocal changes, verbal arguments, the withholding of benefits, the deployment of aggression, and a suite of other cognitive and physiological variables in the service of leveraging bargaining position into better outcomes. The prototypical trigger of anger is an indication that the offender places too little weight on the angry individual’s welfare when making decisions, i.e. the offender has too low a welfare tradeoff ratio (WTR) toward the angry individual. Twenty-three experiments in six cultures, including a group of foragers in the Ecuadorian Amazon, tested six predictions about the computational structure of anger derived from the recalibrational theory. Subjects judged that anger would intensify when: (i) the cost was large, (ii) the benefit the offender received from imposing the cost was small, or (iii) the offender imposed the cost despite knowing that the angered individual was the person to be harmed. Additionally, anger-based arguments conformed to a conceptual grammar of anger, such that offenders were inclined to argue that they held a high WTR toward the victim, e.g., “the cost I imposed on you was small”, “the benefit I gained was large”, or “I didn’t know it was you I was harming.” These results replicated across all six tested cultures: the US, Australia, Turkey, Romania, India, and Shuar hunter-horticulturalists in Ecuador. Results contradict key predictions about anger based on equity theory and social constructivism.