Basic Concepts of Evolutionary Theory

Sociobiology came to posit at least three mechanisms to account for such altruistic behaviors: (1) kin selection, (2) kin altruism, and (3) reciprocal altruism. Kin selection proposes that survival be examined from the point of view of the gene: There are numerous examples in the animal kingdom where an organism sounds a warning call or in one way or another exposes itself to a predator. These acts are typically labeled altruistic, because it appears that the organism is unselfishly concerned with the welfare of others, even to its own detriment. Sociobiologists prefer to label it a selfish act because that organism is simply helping exact copies of its own genes to survive and propagate. Furthermore, the term kin selection implies that the organism is more likely to commit this act when the other organisms are highly related to it and less likely when they are distantly related or not related. Thus, altruistic acts are more likely when the relationships are parent-child, sibling-sibling, cousins, distant relatives, strangers, and different species, in decreasing order of probability.

When an organism sounds a warning call even if it has not yet reproduced itself, its close relatives may survive to reproduce. Thus, the gene for self-sacrifice will survive, probably in at least half, if not more, of the organism's siblings. The life of the self-sacrificial animal is short but not that much shorter (in evolutionary time) than those animals that survive. However, the gene for self-sacrifice will survive for a long time, perhaps millions of years, because this gene is ultimately selfish. By perishing at the right time, copies of itself will survive and flourish.

Evolutionary psychologists, thus distinguish between kin altruism (i.e., offering to help relatives) and true altruism, or their preferred label reciprocal altruism (i.e., helping someone unrelated). Thus, nepotism (i.e., people in power giving jobs to their relatives) has a biological basis according to evolutionary psychologists. The concept of kin altruism allows us to explain Darwin's dilemma about the sterile ants. If the sterile ants spent their time helping fertile ants to survive and reproduce (and they do), some of the genes of the sterile ants would also survive in the survival machines of the fertile ants.

Reciprocal altruism (i.e., good deeds done for nonrelatives) is viewed by evolutionary psychologists as simply another form of genetic selfishness, based on the idea that humans who cooperate with one another are more likely to survive than those who do not. In the ancestral environment, it may have meant that those humans who cooperated in a hunt were more likely to have been successful than solo hunters, and those humans who protected their families in a larger group were more likely to survive from an attack than solo families. Thus, it is no small irony that the Golden Rule is also the basis for reciprocal altruism: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Reciprocal altruism invokes doing a favor for a nonrelative because they may return the favor. Because reciprocal altruism may have played such a central role in the survival of the ancestral families in securing protection and food, it is not surprising that evolutionary psychologists have strongly emphasized its role.

Evolutionary psychologists emphasize that natural selection typically favors a predominant behavioral pattern yet allows alternative or dissimilar patterns to develop and persist. These patterns (both the predominant and alternatives) are called evolutionary stable strategies (ESS). They further purport that an optimal and stable ratio develops between the predominant and alternative patterns. In our original example, this means that the ratio of fertile ants to sterile ants develops and stabilizes over time. If the population of ants became dominated by the sterile ants, it would create an inherently unstable structure and would more than likely become extinct.

To explain further the development of ESS, British biologist John Maynard Smith coined the term frequency-dependent selection. Frequency-dependent selection states that the value of a trait will decrease as its frequency in the population increases. In practice, this means that natural selection places an upper limit on the predominance of any trait, which allows for an alternative and usually dissimilar behavioral trait. To relate this concept to personality disorders, evolutionary psychologists would posit that people with Antisocial Personality Disorder traits could persist in the gene pool as an alternative pattern to the predominant pattern of a culture's members practicing kin altruism and reciprocal altruism. However, it could not be a predominant pattern because not everyone, nor even a majority of societal members, could practice cheating and neglectful parenting and have that culture survive. From this basic foundation of evolutionary theory, we now examine clusters of personality disorders from an evolutionary psychology perspective; Recall, however, the evolutionary approach can be most useful in understanding the origins of dysfunctional personality traits in society, not the specific causes of personality disorder in any one individual.

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