Archive for June 7th, 2012

June 7, 2012

Laughter in Animals

laughing chimp

Laughter in animals other than humans describes animal behavior which resembles human laughter. Self awareness is conscious concomitant of the physiological processes involving laughter or smiling reflex (response) and its grades, degrees, or spectrum varies according to phylogenetic development, with no clear cut demarcation. The emotional ingredients (such as contempt, hatred, ridicule, sarcasm, love, amusement etc.) are variable and involve different neurophysiological and physiological processes.

Chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans show laughter-like vocalizations in response to physical contact, such as wrestling, play chasing, or tickling. This is documented in wild and captive chimpanzees. Chimpanzee laughter is not readily recognizable to humans as such, because it is generated by alternating inhalations and exhalations that sound more like panting or screeching. The differences between chimpanzee and human laughter may be the result of adaptations that have evolved to enable human speech. It is hard to tell, though, whether or not the chimpanzee is expressing joy.

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June 7, 2012


cheshire cat

A smile is a facial expression formed by flexing the muscles near both ends of the mouth. The smile can also be found around the eyes (‘Duchenne Smiling’). Among humans, it is an expression denoting pleasure, joy, happiness, or amusement, but can also be an involuntary expression of anxiety, in which case it is known as a grimace. Smiling is something that is understood by everyone despite culture, race, or religion; it is internationally known.

Cross-cultural studies have shown that smiling is a means of communicating emotions throughout the world. But there are large differences between different cultures. A smile can also be spontaneous or artificial. Many biologists think the smile originated as a sign of fear. Primalogist Signe Preuschoft traces the smile back over 30 million years of evolution to a ‘fear grin’ stemming from monkeys and apes who often used barely clenched teeth to portray to predators that they were harmless. Biologists believe the smile has evolved differently among species and especially among humans.

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June 7, 2012

Cultural Universal

A cultural universal is an element, pattern, trait, or institution that is common to all human cultures worldwide. Taken together, the whole body of cultural universals is known as the human condition. Evolutionary psychologists hold that behaviors or traits that occur universally in all cultures are good candidates for evolutionary adaptations. Some anthropological and sociological theorists that take a cultural relativist perspective may deny the existence of cultural universals: the extent to which these universals are ‘cultural’ in the narrow sense, or in fact biologically inherited behavior is an issue of ‘nature versus nurture.’

Anthropological universals include: Language and Cognition (e.g. language employed to manipulate others, language employed to misinform or mislead, binary cognitive distinctions, color terms for black and white, figurative speech and metaphors, taboo utterances, and units of time); Society (e.g. personal names, families, laws, moral sentiments, promises, prestige inequalities, statuses and roles, leaders, property, gender roles, male dominated public/political realm, males more aggressive and more prone to violence and theft, marriage, incest avoidance, rape prohibitions, etiquette, inheritance rules, gift giving, redress of wrongs, sexual jealousy, shame, territoriality, visiting, and trade); Myth and Ritual (e.g. magical thinking, dream interpretation, proverbs, poetry, medicine, rites of passage, music, dance, play, toys, mourning, feasting, body adornment, and hairstyles); and Technology (e.g. shelter, control of fire, tools, weapons, containers, cooking, levers, tying and weaving).

June 7, 2012

Evolutionary Psychology of Religion


evolutionary origin of religion

The evolutionary psychology of religion is the study of religious belief using evolutionary psychology principles. As with all other organs and organ functions, the brain and cognition’s functional structure have been argued to have a genetic basis, and are therefore subject to the effects of natural selection and evolution. Like other organs and tissues, this functional structure should be universally shared amongst humans and should solve important problems of survival and reproduction. Evolutionary psychologists seek to understand cognitive processes, religion in this case, by understanding the survival and reproductive functions they might serve.

There is general agreement among scientists that a propensity to engage in religious behavior evolved early in human history. However, there is disagreement on the exact mechanisms that drove the evolution of the religious mind. There are two schools of thought. One is that religion itself evolved due to natural selection and is an adaptation, in which case religion conferred some sort of evolutionary advantage. Alternatively, religious beliefs and behaviors may have emerged as by-products of other adaptive traits without initially being selected for because of their own benefits (called spandrels).

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June 7, 2012

Evolutionary Origin of Religion

god gene

The evolutionary origin of religions theorizes about the emergence of religious behavior during the course of human evolution. Humanity’s closest living relatives are common chimpanzees and bonobos. These primates share a common ancestor with humans who lived between four and six million years ago. It is for this reason that chimpanzees and bonobos are viewed as the best available surrogate for this common ancestor.

Anthropologist Barbara King argues that while non-human primates are not religious, they do exhibit some traits that would have been necessary for the evolution of religion. These traits include high intelligence, a capacity for symbolic communication, a sense of social norms, realization of ‘self’ and a concept of continuity. There is inconclusive evidence that Homo neanderthalensis may have buried their dead. Elephants are the only other species known to have any recognizable ritual surrounding death. Ecologist Marc Bekoff, however, argues that many species grieve death and loss.

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