Application to Antisocial Histrionic Narcissistic Dependent and Avoidant Personality Disorders

Evolutionary psychologists speculate that this seemingly disparate group of personality disorders might have developed in the ancestral environment because of varying ESS with regard to status hierarchies (which are characteristic of nearly all primates). A status hierarchy implies that organisms living in groups fall along a continuum from dominant to submissive. By evaluating the success of fighting or submitting, individuals maximize their outcomes for obtaining mates, food, or other resources. It is thought that some inherent genetic predispositions drive people to their natural place in a group status hierarchy. For example, inheriting an above average tendency for aggression and a below average tendency for avoiding harm might place an organism closer toward the dominant end of the status hierarchy. Those with the opposite tendencies would be closer to the submissive end of the status hierarchy. By not challenging every other organism for a place in the status hierarchy, organisms are able to maximize their resources, in part, by not wasting them on unnecessary competition.

Evolutionary psychologists propose that individuals with either Antisocial Personality Disorder or Histrionic Personality Disorder "cheat" their way into the status hierarchy. For example, the antisocial person disregards and violates the rights of others with chronic patterns of aggression, deceitfulness, irresponsibility, and a lack of remorse. The DSM-IV-TR states that its prevalence rate is 3% in males and 1% in females, and these rates are relatively invariant across the world. Evolutionary psychologists suspect that antisocial persons often steal the resources of others rather than earn them by their place in the status hierarchy. Antisocial men may fake their parental investment so as to fool women into thinking they will be stable fathers when they will not be. Antisocial women may fool men who are actually high in parental investment to impregnate them despite the women's lack of commitment to the relationship or the children. In both cases, antisocial genes are passed on.

Individuals with Histrionic Personality Disorder also "cheat" their way into the status hierarchy but by different strategies. Histrionic people are excessively emotional, flamboyant, and attention-seeking, and this pattern occurs more frequently in females. By exaggerating their sexuality, they attract spouses. By exaggerating their needs and wants through excessive emotional displays, they gain resources they would not ordinarily gain in the hierarchy.

Evolutionary psychologists propose that even in the ancestral environments (say 100,000 years ago) natural selection may have begun to favor the one man-one woman reproductive dyad. Yet, frequency-dependent selection allowed the development of some alternative forms. Some men, perhaps with natural predilections against hard work, parental investment, and faithfulness found it easier to steal resources rather than earn them. Some found it easier to force or trick women into sex: The greater their abilities to aggress against, deceive, or mislead others, the greater their success at reproduction. In the ancestral environment, abandoning a pregnant woman may not have been as successful a reproductive strategy as staying with her and providing her and the child with resources. However, abandoning 5 or 10 pregnant women may still allow a few of the resulting children to survive to reproductive age, ensuring the survival of antisocial genes. A population might never be able to support 50% of its members being antisocial, because too many children would likely be abandoned and not reach reproductive age themselves. Such a population would perish quickly. However, frequency-dependent selection would have allowed some stable percentage, such as our present 3% and 1% antisocial prevalence rates for males and females, respectively.

With regard to the Antisocial Personality Disorder, evolutionary psychologists might postulate that natural selection places a lower upper limit on women than it does on men. They base this difference on men and women's differing reproductive strategies. A woman who abandons her child shortly after birth has less chance of passing on her genes than a man who abandons his child shortly after birth. A woman's strategy of promiscuity and child abandonment must not have been successful in the ancestral environment. Nonetheless, an alternative ESS of Antisocial Personality Disorder has persisted in women but only at about one-third the prevalence rate for men.

Thus, the modern DSM Antisocial Personality Disorder criteria of deceitfulness, irresponsibility, and a lack of remorse all had useful consequences for reproduction. Deceitfulness allows antisocial men to steal others' resources, to impregnate other men's mates, and to have that man raise that child as his own. Their irresponsibility and lack of remorse allows them to abandon their children without hesitation. The latter is also true of antisocial women, although it appears to be a much less successful evolutionary strategy in women. The emotions (primarily guilt and sympathy) that evolved to prevent cheating either did not develop or were diminished to the extent that they did not prevent cheating. Women with antisocial and histrionic traits may have used their deceitfulness to deceive men high in parental investment into thinking they would be good and faithful mates and mothers. Their irresponsibility and lack of remorse would also allow them to leave their children with a man with high parental investment. Indeed, some men, but not all, may be successful at raising these abandoned children to reproductive age, thus passing on the antisocial and histrionic genes of the mothers.

People with features of Narcissistic Personality Disorder are perhaps, on the surface, more clearly related to ancestral status hierarchies than the other disorders in this group. Narcissistic persons are attracted to power, have a high need for admiration, and lack empathy. They often abuse people whom they feel are beneath them, especially if these attacks also build up the narcissist. They often exaggerate their own successes while they denigrate or greatly envy the successes of others. The basis of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder is one of status and its maintenance. They are also seen as cheaters by evolutionary psychologists because their self-centeredness and lack of empathy means that they will take advantage of others and be poor reciprocators.

The Dependent Personality Disorder and Avoidant Personality Disorder can also be viewed as disorders of the ancestral status hierarchy. Dependent persons are known to make excessive attachments to another person in the status hierarchy. Through their exceptional submissiveness, they avoid all the dangers of competition in the hierarchy. A negative consequence of this strategy, however, is that they are subject to abuse and domination by their partner. A similar pattern is seen among avoidant persons. They actively avoid social situations and competition. They should not necessarily be seen as submissive, however, because they choose not to participate in the status hierarchy. Theoretically, this means that they must maintain and survive without the benefits of the group, and although it is a low frequency solution, it survives and persists, nonetheless, in modern societies.

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