Evolution and Human Reasoning

Not only did evolution design our bodies, but it also designed our minds and how we think and reason.

Each day we must make countless decisions that are critical for our well-being, including decisions regarding what to eat, whom to befriend, whom to trust, whom to deceive, and so on (see Buss, Pinker, Tooby and Cosmides). And most of the decisions we make occur with little conscious awareness.

In fact, your mind is making countless decisions right now ranging from whether to wiggle your foot, decide if you are hungry, evaluating what you are reading, and maybe even deciding if you should trust your spouse, etc. Most of these decisions get made in the background – outside of our immediate experience.

human brianThe mind lets us in on some decisions and keeps others hidden from us. And even when you become aware of a decision – it has already been made and you are just now experiencing it. The mind does not work the way most people think it works. The experience of making a decision is not the same thing as actually making a decision. The mind makes decisions and lets us in on some of them, but after the fact. For readers who are interested in how the mind works, there are two excellent books on the topic – one by Damasio and the other by Gazzaniga (see references).

Not only does the mind keep many decisions hidden from us, but contrary to popular belief the mind is not a “blank slate;” like our physical body, it is equipped to deal with the never-ending, age-old problems our ancestors constantly encountered (see Pinker).

And so our relationships are heavily influenced by psychological adaptations – innate solutions to life’s problems (see Evolutionary Psychology – A Primer).

This is particularly clear when it comes to deception, love, and romance. Most of what we do in our relationships today is driven by thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that worked well for our ancestors in the past. And again, most of these decisions are kept hidden from our immediate experience.

For instance, when it comes to selecting a romantic partner today our thoughts reflect what worked the best a long time ago. Consider the following:

young attractive womanMen all over the world are attracted to women who have a relatively youthful appearance (see Buss). If you doubt this, just ask any woman over 40 or look at the billions of dollars spent by women trying to look youthful (In fact, Americans spend more money on their appearance than they spend on education, see, Etcoff). Or think about how many men leave their young wives for older women.

Now, the reason that men are attracted to youthful women is straightforward. Such preferences are not because of our "culture" or the "media" – rather in the game of life, such preferences were useful to the men who just happened to be attracted to youthful looking women.

old ugly womanTake two men, one who is naturally attracted to older women (40+) and one who is naturally attracted to younger women (18 to 25). Who do you think is going to have a reproductive advantage in this situation?

Clearly, being attracted to someone who is probably fertile (youthful and healthy) is beneficial when it comes to getting ahead (i.e., having children – and in the past, it was all about getting your genes into the next generation. Differences that helped an individual survive and/or reproduce were selected over than traits and characteristics that were less useful).

Accordingly, men all over the world today are the descendents of men who preferred youthful looking women in the past. Men who were naturally drawn to older women, lost out in the game of life – the preference for older women died out over the course of time along with the men who happened to prefer such women.