How hardwired is human behavior?

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Evolutionary psychology suggests where and why - managers may be working against our inner circuitry.

How Hardwired Is Human Behavior?
by Nigel Nicholson
EW FIELDS OF SCIENCE D O N ' T

emerge in aflash,and evolutionary psychology-sometimes called modern Darwinismis no exception. But over the past several years, evolutionary psychology as a discipline has gathered both momentum andrespect. A convergence of research and discoveries in genetics, neuropsychology, and paleobiology, among other sciences, evolutionary psychology holds that although human heings today inhahit a thoroughly modern world of space exploration and virtual realities, they do so with the ingrained mentality of Stone Age hunter-gatherers. Homo sapiens emerged on the Savannah Plain some 200,000 years ago,yet according to evolutionary psychology, people today still seek those traits that made survival possible then: an instinct to fight furiously when threatened, for instance, and a drive to trade information and share secrets. Human heings are, in other words, hardwired. You can take the person out of the Stone Age, evolutionary psychologists contend, hut you can't take the Stone Age out of theperson.

Nigel Nicholson is a professor of organizational behavior at London Business School, where he is also dean of research.

ARTWORK BY DAVID HOLMES

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HOW HARDWIRED IS HUMAN BEHAVIOR?

That said, evolutionary psychologists do not argue that all people are alike underneath. The discipline recognizes the individual differences caused hy a person's unique genetic inheritance, aswell as hy personal experiences and culture. Further, like other scientific theories-the Big Bang and glohal warming, to name two - evolutionary psychology is the suhject of fierce dehate. [See the insert "Evolutionary Psychology: A Convergence of Research and Controversy.") Indeed, proponents and opponents of the field are hecoming increasingly numerous and vocal. But evolutionary psychology is hynow well estahlished enough to merit examination. Understanding evolutionary psychology is useful to managers hecause it provides a new and provocative way to think ahout human nature; it also offers a framework for understanding why people tend to act as they do in organizational settings. Put another way, evolutionary psychology, in identifying the aspects of human hehavior that are inhorn anduniversal, can explain some familiar patterns. It sheds light on why people behave in ways that don't appear to he beneficial to themselves or to their businesses. Evolutionary psyehology goes so far as to raise the questions: How might organizations be designed to work in harmony with our biogenetic identity? and Are modern-day executives managing against the grain of human nature?

EvolutionaryPsychology: A Convergence of Research and Controversy
The central proposition of evolutionary psychologythat human beings retain the mentality of their Stone Age forebears-gathers its strength from six convergent sources of scientific research. Anthropology. By studying societies past and present, Darwinian anthropologists are identifying cultural universals with regard to gender relations, artand ritual, language and thought, and trading and competition. Patterns that recur across all societies, regardless of time and piaee, are thought to have a strong biogenetic origin. Behavioral Genetics. Scientists in this field, drawing on research in genetics and on a growing number of studies on twins and adopted children, focus their research on the hereditary components of the mind. They haveidentified, for instance, several genes thought to control human dispositions, including aspects of temperament and eognitive skills. Comparative Ethology. Comparing the mating, status-seeking, and social behaviors of monkeys, chimpanzees and other primates, seientists in this field have observed systematic patterns of behavior

Natural Selection: A Primer
One hundred and thirty-nine years...
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