Monday, March 24, 2014

The rational animal - book overview

The rational animal: How evolution made us smarter than we think a book by D.T. Kendrick & V. Griskevicius (2013) published by Basic Books.

This book promotes an interesting concept within the discipline of evolutionary psychology. The core argument is that we have 7 personalities, driven by evolutionary ‘instinct’ sub-consciously driving the decisions we make and the ways we approach our lives.

The 7 subselves are:
Self-protection – the night watchman
Disease avoidance – the compulsive hypochondriac
Affliation – the team player
Status – the go-getter
Mate-acquisition – the swinging single
Mate-retention – the good spouse
Kin-care – the nurturing parent

The chapters than work through each subself and how our beliefs and perspectives are coloured by the way in which each subself organises the world. Each chapter has a snappy title and lays out the argument with contemporary and historical examples.

The last chapter recommends 3 lessons to cope with being a rational animal. These are:
Don’t assume other people are morons; rational self-interest is not in your self-interest; don’t leave home without consulting your other selves.

The book has notes for each chapter organised according to topics (which I really like), a comprehensive references section and index. Overall, an accessible but slightly over-hyped introduction to the concepts of evolutionary psychology. The book summarises some of the traits that have evolved through various socio-cultural and socio-material influences over the long history of humankind. Some of these traits are useful to our present lifestyles but other may impede or cause dissonance with current societal forces.

All in, an interesting read illustrating how emergent theories on evolutionary psychology is applied to explaining why and how humans react to various inputs and circumstances. There is a danger of the concepts in the book becoming enshrined in 'pop' psychology as although the authors provide compelling examples and conclusions make sense, the overall direction of the book seems to be to 'sell' the concept. So read with caution. However, the book is written in a clear, readable prose and provides a good introduction to precepts of evolutionary psychology.

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