evolving social norms

in Experimenting with Social Norms ensminger and henrich compile several very interesting studies on prosocial “fairness” norms conducted on various populations of different types — ranging from hunter-gatherers to urban factory workers — from around the world. three different economic experiments were conducted on the various populations (although it’s not clear to me if all three were run on each group — i haven’t read through all of each of the studies chapters yet): the ultimatum game, the third-party punishment or altruistic punishment game, and the dictator game.

the authors conclude that [pgs. 89-90]:

“1. Fairness and punishment show both reliable patterns and substantial variability across diverse populations.
2. Fairness increases with a population’s degree of market integration.
3. Fairness increases with an individual’s participation in a world religion.
4. Willingness to engage in punishment increases with community size.”

they ultimately conclude “that social norms evolved over thousands of years to allow strangers in more complex and large settlements to coexist, trade and prosper” — but they just mean that the norms and the cultures evolved, not the peoples.

possible biological/evolutionary reasons for the findings are given some consideration, but only across one and a half pages, and the authors end with the following [pg. 139]:

“Genetic differences between populations or groups would most likely account for the behavioral patterns we observe if they arose in response to stable differences in the culturally evolved social norms and institutions (formal and informal) found in different societies. Norms and institutions, in creating stable regularities in the local social environment, can theoretically produce conditions for natural selection to act on genes that make individuals better adapted to those particular norms and institutions (Henrich and Boyd 2001; Laland et al. 2010; McElreath, Boyd, and Richerson 2003; Richerson et al. 2010). This is an intriguing and provocative possibility, but there is no evidence at this point supporting a suspicion that such a culture-gene coevolutionary process has occurred.”

…and it’s too scary to think about anyway, so we won’t give it any more ink here. (>.<)

in 2010, re. pretty much the same data sets/findings, they had this to say [my emphasis]:

“These findings indicate that people living in small communities lacking market integration or world religions — absences that likely characterized all societies until the Holocene — display relatively little concern with fairness or punishing unfairness in transactions involving strangers or anonymous others. This result challenges the hypothesis that successful social interaction in large-scale societies — and the corresponding experimental findings — arise directly from an evolved psychology that mistakenly applies kin and reciprocity-based heuristics to strangers in vast populations (4,5), without any of the ‘psychological workarounds’ (42) that are created by norms and institutions. Moreover, it is not clear how this hypothesis can explain why we find so much variation among populations in our experimental measures and why this variation is so strongly related to MI, WR, and CS. The mere fact that the largest and most anonymous communities engage in substantially greater punishment relative to the smallest-scale societies, who punish very little, challenges this interpretation.”

this is old school evolutionary psychology at its worst — that human nature and the human psyche (and there’s only one sort in this viewpoint) stopped evolving at the end of the last ice age when a majority of us quit being hunter-gatherers.

well, i’ve got news for them: evolution in humans is ongoing, recent, can be pretty rapid (within some constraints), and has been/is localized (as well as global). in fact, human evolution has sped up since the agricultural revolution since the number of individuals, and therefore mutations, on which natural selection might work skyrocketed in post-agricultural societies.

remember, too, that all human behavioral traits are heritable (and more down to biology than many like to think), “every society selects for something,” and that we’re talking about frequencies of genes in populations and that those frequencies can fluctuate up and down over time.

given all of the above, there are NO good reasons for dismissing genetic or evolutionary explanations for variations in social norms between populations (and individuals for that matter). since we are biological creatures, biological explanations should be ruled out (properly!) first before moving on to other sorts of explanations.

again ensminger and henrich said:

“This result challenges the hypothesis that successful social interaction in large-scale societies — and the corresponding experimental findings — arise directly from an evolved psychology that mistakenly applies kin and reciprocity-based heuristics to strangers in vast populations, without any of the ‘psychological workarounds’ that are created by norms and institutions.”

no, of course not. a more likely scenario is that the behavioral traits realted to social norms in large-scale societies — post-agricultural societies (and post-post-agricultural societies) — evolved with some rapidity away from what had existed before in smaller societies thanks to: 1) the larger population size itself (generating a greater number of mutations), and 2) the larger societies and the structures that developed exerting new selective pressures on those populations in sort-of giant feedback loops — society selects for genes for new behavioral traits which in turn produces new societal forms, and so on.

more from the authors:

“Moreover, it is not clear how this hypothesis can explain why we find so much variation among populations in our experimental measures….”

well, that’s easily explained if you remember that human evolution is ongoing, recent, pretty rapid, and can be local.

to take just one example from their findings, if we look at their results from the dictator game…

mean dictator game offers

…it was primarily members of the hunter-gatherer or horticulturalist groups who gave low offers in the game, african agriculturalists (or pastoralists) middling offers, and the residents of hamilton, missouri, the highest. (annoyingly, a couple of the populations — accra and isanga — are groups of mixed ethnicities, so it’d be difficult for anybody to tease apart what’s going on.)

well, hunter-gatherers and horticulturalists — like the hadza, the tsimane’, the au, and the sursurunga — have largely missed out on the agricultural revolution and its evolutionary effects. the middling offers from the mostly african (mostly bantu) agriculturalists are not a surprise either since agriculture and the development of large-scale societies got going comparatively late in sub-saharan africa. and that the hamiltonians offered up the most money — and have the highest market integration — probably owes a lot to the fact that that population is a part of the u.s. midlands and are descended from a group that experienced the agricultural revolution back in the neolithic, and furthermore went through the selection pressures created by medieval manorialism and long-term outbreeding (and who knows what else?).

those are just a few ideas for starters. i’m sure it’s much more complicated than that. for instance, why are the tsimane’ forager-horticulturalists so stingy while the au from papua new guinea, who are also forager-horticulturalists, quite generous? i dunno, but one possibility i suggest checking out is the difference in the family structures of the two groups (prolly will be difficult to do this very far back in time): the interconnectedness of au families, which stretch between villages, is quite complex, while tsimane’ families are not so much (afaik). among many other possibilities and scenarios, we should be looking for the selection pressures created by family types and the flow of genes (especially for behavioral traits like altruism) through different family types.

one final thing – ensminger and henrich et al. from 2010:

“Methodologically, our findings suggest caution in interpreting behavioral experiments from industrialized populations as providing direct insights into human nature.”

well, quite. but it works in the other direction, too: we should also be cautious in interpreting behavioral experiments from non-industrialized populations as providing direct insights into human nature(s).

see also: The 10,000 Year Explosion

(note: comments do not require an email. citizens against prosocial behaviors.)

40 Comments

  1. This sounds remarkably like the way the Hebraic concept of God evolved in the late Bronze Age as described in Genesis: Abraham’s new god was a fair god and would protect those who dealt fairly with the peoples they encountered in the new land into which they were moving: https://goo.gl/kO3Wzk It was an international idea.

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  2. “since we are biological creatures, biological explanations should be ruled out (properly!) first before moving on to other sorts of explanations.”

    I disagree. Since we are made up of quarks and electrons, microphysical explanations should be ruled out (properly!) first before moving on to other sorts of explanations.

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  3. Evolution is like speciation, or IS speciation itself. Humans have adapted and of course these local adaptations have caused genetic differentiations, comparatively speaking. But human singularity is basically ”self awareness”, very developed self awareness. By logic, we should evolved starting by this singular and universal trait. Intelligence, a very generalized concept, mask self awareness influence and importance on human behaviour.

    Mutations always happen is not?? But human thinking level style seems stop in the early (historically recognized) civilizations.

    There was an increase in the demographic proportionality of cognitively intelligent types as traders and scholars, in England for example. But in terms of significant evolution in which one would expect that these types of modern problems were not happening, we still continue with the kind of thinking that is very similar to that which prevailed in ” the 1st ” human civilizations or historically recognized. That is, ” create ” morality bubbles localized, contextual or subjective and despising the reason where by logic should intercede for realism perceptual or perceptual synchronization towards experienced or observed phenomenology.

    Dogs could be considered as a evolution of wolfes? Domestication can be considered as evolution by generalized concept of this word but not in biologically logical term, my opinion, of course.

    evolution

    generalized concept: change of characters, change per si.

    but just biological change seems conceptually appropriate for adaptation.

    biological concept: benigne change of characters, improvement of existent and group-universal capacities, climb a new level, what humans are in comparison with other primates.

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  4. Ok, I’ll try again.

    This post, the first part especially, reminds me of how the Hebraic conception of God arose in the late Bronze Age as described in Genesis. Abraham’s new deity was above all a “fair” god who promised to protect Abraham and his descendants as long as they were fair in their dealings with the various peoples they encountered in the new land they were entering. In other words Judaism begins as an international, even cosmopolitan idea and only later, under Moses, assumes its tribal dimension under very different historical circumstances.

    The conflict between these two versions or visions of God — the particular and the universal — have been a constant in Jewish history ever since. I explore the origins of the international version Judaism against the sociological background of the late Bronze Age in an essay I wrote many years ago. You’ll be surprised at the amount of evidence I was able to adduce in favor of this argument, one of the rare examples of original research I’ve done in my life: https://goo.gl/PPmwbR

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  5. @msailer – “Since we are made up of quarks and electrons, microphysical explanations should be ruled out (properly!) first before moving on to other sorts of explanations.”

    i actually agree with that. (~_^)

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  6. Heritability of responder behaviour in the Ultimatum Game is ~0.40 in a Swedish sample ( http://www.pnas.org/content/104/40/15631.full.pdf ) Ensminger & Henrich cite this paper in their text but I guess it doesn’t show up in the free Google book version that the Chick read.

    Anyway, the heritability issue does not seem interesting. Even if these ‘fairness’ norms were 100% transmitted non-genetically, they are completely INeloquent as measures of social interaction. Think about it, as measured, the fairness norms of a small Afro-Caribbean group in Colombia (Sanguianga) or factory workers in Accra (Ghana) are already that close to those prevailing in Missouri. There’s also the Lamelara whalers mentioned in the earlier, 2004 volume by Henrich et al.: their fairness norms EXCEED those of the developed West. But if that’s the case, what do these results from one-shot games really tell us ? I say not much that’s interesting from a social evolution / development POV.

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  7. @pseudoerasmus – “I say not much that’s interesting from a social evolution / development POV.”

    i say they do tell us interesting things, but only if you look closely at the evolutionary histories of each of the populations so you know what you’re talking about.

    the pops at accra and sanguianga are close to hamilton, missouri, but they’re not at the level of the hamiltonians, are they? west africans have had a pretty long history of agriculture and large societies, just not as long as northwest europeans, so it shouldn’t be so surprising that they fall in between the horticulturalists and the nw europeans.

    other possibilites, too: several pops in west africa appear to be outbreeders, like the igbo (and the bamileke), a group from which a large propoprtion of slaves were drawn (altho i don’t know if that’s true of the slaves to colombia — and i don’t know for how long these w. african pops have been outbreeding). i’ve also explored a bit how those same pops exhibit high civicness — again, that’d fit with outbreeding — and the selections pressures of large societies.

    also, the sanguianga appear perhaps (altho i’m not 100% sure of this) to be a self-sorted pop — they seem to be a subgroup of afro-colombians who migrated post-slavery.

    lesson: you HAVE to pay attention to the selection pressures.

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  8. Forget the evolutionary histories. Who cares. My point: there’s ZERO evidence these differences in norms as revealed by these one-shot games actually have real socioeconomic consequences. That’s my critique of Ensminger & Henrich.

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  9. @pseudoerasmus – “Forget the evolutionary histories. Who cares.”

    if one wants to understand human behavior, you absolutely must care about the evolutionary histories of populations. that’s my critique of e&h.

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  10. “in the late Bronze Age as described in Genesis”: except of course that Genesis isn’t history, but a religious tract probably fabricated many centuries after the events it purports to describe. The odds are overwhelming that Abraham didn’t exist. Nor Noah. Nor Moses. Nor Joshua. Et bloody cetera.

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  11. “if one wants to understand human behavior, you absolutely must care about the evolutionary histories of populations.

    Sure. In general. Yes.

    But I’m not talking about “human behaviour” in general. You first need to establish that the phenotype in question actually matters to anything. That Ensminger & Henrich fail to do.

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  12. For the record, I’m not a fan of contrived psych experiments, at least, more specifically, of generalizing from them to the real world.

    Any measure of a phenotype must be shown to be valid; that is, that it predicts something in the real world.

    Now, all that said, make no mistake, this is a key post. For the record, most of mainstream “evolutionary psychology” is rubbish.

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  13. Many animal species exhibit social behaviors that represent norms within their population. Domestication of animal species by homo sapiens is an example of the implementation of artificial selection to “rapidly evolve” the behavioral traits of these animals. There are also many other examples within the animal kingdom of various species co-evolving symbiotic behavioral traits. DNA encoding is the mechanism of this evolution.

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  14. @pseudoerasmus – “But I’m not talking about ‘human behaviour’ in general. You first need to establish that the phenotype in question actually matters to anything. That Ensminger & Henrich fail to do.”

    well that’s fine. and, like you said, you wrote a whole post on the matter and criticized e&h for exactly that.

    i have a different criticism of e&h, and that includes how we go about understanding human behaviors. (and i’m not certain that your criticism and mine are incompatible.)

    @pseudoerasmus – “Ensminger & Henrich aren’t evolutionary pscyhologists. They would reject that label.”

    perhaps not. but their argument from 2010 is classic old school evo psych.

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  15. i have a different criticism of e&h….and i’m not certain that your criticism and mine are incompatible.

    Obviously not, since in my post I also mentioned genetics and the heritability of experimental game behaviour. But in this case that’s of lesser importance. What’s important is that the behaviours in one shot games (dictator, ultimatum, and third-party punishment) are very simple, and the biggest variation in these behaviours obtains in relatively small societies. As soon as you get to a societal level as complex as…setting a pretty low bar here…. as Ghana or Zimbabwe, it’s already pretty close to developed country levels. So the variation is truncated at fairly low levels of societal complexity. That suggests it’s kind of useless for anything but small-scale sub-national primitive societies which are, what, less than 2-3% of the world’s population?

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  16. @pseudoerasmus – “What’s important is that the behaviours in one shot games (dictator, ultimatum, and third-party punishment) are very simple, and the biggest variation in these behaviours obtains in relatively small societies.”

    my criticism of their findings is not so much to do with the results of the games (many of the studies have awfully small ns anyway, so i’m quite dubious of them — that includes the hamilton study, btw — and never mind the mixed groups), but rather of their conclusions on how prosocial behaviors happen at all, i.e. that they just develop and evolve on their own somehow independently of the natures of populations involved.

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  17. “rather of their conclusions on how prosocial behaviors happen at all, i.e. that they just develop and evolve on their own somehow independently of the populations involved”

    I say that also. In fact, this post of yours should have acknowledged mine from 3 weeks ago. That would be conventional pro-social behaviour on the internet… But you’re even taking links from me and tweeting them as your own, so….

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  18. ”Strong” or ”extremist” personalities (melancholic, coleric…) and higher creative abilities correlates with higher ”pathogenic” (co-evolutive microorganisms) load. ”Strong” personality generally mean ”impulsivity”, ”narcisism”, ”to do what i want”.

    We are as nations, with inhabitants living inside us. this beings made our personality. Everyone is a melting pot, ;) But some people will be like USA than Spain. And other people will be like Rome in their last decades. Idiotic speculation but risks are important.

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  19. In Ensminger and Henrich’s Fig. 4.4, the slope is set by four cultures: Hadza, Tsimane, Sanquianga and US. Without them, the slope is zero. So maybe there’s nothing to explain.

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  20. dearieme
    10/22/2015 at 12:51 PM

    “in the late Bronze Age as described in Genesis”: except of course that Genesis isn’t history, but a religious tract probably fabricated many centuries after the events it purports to describe. The odds are overwhelming that Abraham didn’t exist. Nor Noah. Nor Moses. Nor Joshua. Et bloody cetera.”

    Hi dearieme, You are certainly right about Noah, possibly or probably about Moses and Joshua, but the Mesopotamian background and sociological context of the Patriarchal Narratives argues for a kind of historicity, or folk memory if you like, handed down in oral traditions, of things that actually happened. If you take the trouble to read the article I referenced I think there is a chance you might agree. Certainly the ethos and many of the details in these middle chapters of Genesis like nothing else in the Bible, and it is almost inconceivable that they were written when the later books of the Bible were (6th, 5th century BC?).

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  21. In Ensminger and Henrich’s Fig. 4.4, the slope is set by four cultures: Hadza, Tsimane, Sanquianga and US. Without them, the slope is zero. So maybe there’s nothing to explain.”

    Yes. Even with those societies included, the variables of interest barely explain anything. The r^2 is like 0.06 !

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  22. Cognitive bias, i.e, where conclusions born and curiosity die, could not be treated as the end point of thinking trajectory?? (without leave into account the reflective thinking or ”doubt of own brain conclusions”). And it could not to be express brain hemisphericity?? A personal common pattern in the thinking style? ”Every stimuli will be analysed a priori (robotically, naturally, without self criticism) by same pattern/thinking style.

    It’s not righ/left brain but male/female brain types variability, ;) or not, maybe, mayday, mayday

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  23. https://de.reddit.com/r/MapPorn/comments/3ps83h/nonreligious_population_in_germany_according_to/

    How explain it??

    understand masses psychology, ;)

    people who no have certainty about most of phenomenology and need subjective ways like group-conformity to internalize behavioural routines as ”religion”.

    unique environmental factors created by human mind.

    abstractions are ways/tools to socialize, like language, a abstraction itself, more than a way to try understand viscerally the world.

    There is a abstract world of ideas between think and act among human beings.

    Or east germans will be on average genetically different than west germans (or different selective pressures)

    OR

    religion, ideology and culture, have exactly the same effect/imoact on human mind, specially, human average mind.

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  24. Sorry again Hbd Chick

    ….because religion, ideology or culture are exactly the same thing. ;)

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  25. Jayman@

    Just other doubts (by now)

    – Poland return massively to catholicism after fall of communism… eastern germans by geographical logics should have more polish genes than western germans,

    – Atheists tend to have higher general intelligence than religious (specially classical religious or socially conservative), then east germans who are atheists tend to be smarter too??,

    What i understand with the profusion of maps that you show in the post ”Germania’s Seed”: East Germans specially in some regions of ex-Socialist Republic have a strong disposition to political ultra-conservatism but i don’t know if they also tended to be ”atheist” during nazi period or since ever,

    – Endogamy/exogamy ”in” Germany seems to have reverse effect in religious/magic fantasy?? Different demographic proportion of different bio-culture tribes than US or different geographical distribution??,

    – North Korea also exhibit ”officialized atheism” and worst standard living than South Korea,

    – the idea of phenotypical or contextual atheistic people (i mean, people who are convinced about God nonexistence and life value frugality/niilism) and genotypical atheistic people (those who are biologically shaped to avoid magical thinking —- but not sofisticated magical thinking, almost part of leftoidism), Berlin underground culture resemble Seattle.

    I think unique environmental factors like imposition of certain culture also can have a impact, of course, biology is most important, but seems to be unlikely that most of east germans were atheists since Adolph Hitler regime.

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  26. ”Basically, it is an aristocratic feeling that feeds the inclination to isolation and loneliness. All bastards are sociable; what a pity”

    – Arthur Schopenhauer

    ”The pains of the world”

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  27. Jayman@

    other interesting stuff, happened in USA

    Hippie movement

    Before 60’s, USA were very conservative, even nonconformist artists and others still (seems) were more socially conservative than today (or, conservative society tolerate and promote conservative artists as tend to happen in liberal societies)

    You can have many bio-cultural subgroups without a OFFICIAL and ORGANIZED group, atomized one each other, living inside a society that don’t nurture many of its behavioral dispositions.

    where were the hippies before sexual/cultural revolution?

    Cultural expression, separation and identification, a new cluster there, with globalization, bio-cultural tribes had flourish.

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  28. @pseudoerasmus – “I say that also.”

    what i recall from that post – “Experimenting with Social Norms” in Small-Scale Societies — is that you discussed cultural evolution, not genetic. if you meant genetic, you didn’t say so explicitly enough.

    @pseudoerasmus – “In fact, this post of yours should have acknowledged mine from 3 weeks ago. That would be conventional pro-social behaviour on the internet…”

    i would’ve linked to your post if i were responding to your post, but i wasn’t. again, i was writing a completely different criticism of e&h. you criticized the validity of these specific studies and if their findings actually mean anything when it comes to the socioeconomic success or market integration or whatever of societies. i am criticizing their whole approach, i.e. basically that they’re not doing sociobiology — which they, and everybody else, need to be doing.

    @pseudoerasmus – “But you’re even taking links from me and tweeting them as your own, so….”

    eh? i don’t follow you on twitter.

    @pseudoerasmus – “(Ensminger & Henrich aren’t evolutionary pscyhologists. They would reject that label.)”

    i don’t say or think that they are. but the evolutionary explanation that they present in their 2010 article — which they set up just to reject — is. and it’s old school evo psych.

    Reply

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