You have 4 summaries left

80,000 Hours Podcast

#179 – Randy Nesse on why evolution left us so vulnerable to depression and anxiety

Mon Feb 12 2024
evolutionary psychiatrymental healthanxietydepressionevolutionary biologymood regulationgeneticsevolutionary psychologyevolutionary medicine


This episode explores the field of evolutionary psychiatry and its application to understanding mental health challenges. It discusses the evolutionary origins of anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders, as well as the impact of modern life on mental health. The episode also delves into the influence of genes on mental health and the complexities of mood regulation. Additionally, it examines the role of evolution in shaping human behavior and the potential applications of evolutionary medicine in psychiatry. Overall, the episode provides insights into the intersection of evolution and mental health.


Evolutionary psychiatry offers valuable insights into understanding mental health challenges from an evolutionary perspective.

By examining the evolutionary origins of anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders, we can gain a deeper understanding of their underlying mechanisms and potential treatment approaches.

The impact of modern life on mental health is a complex issue that requires further research.

Factors such as social media use, lifestyle habits, and societal pressures may contribute to the increasing prevalence of mental health problems. Understanding these influences can inform strategies for prevention and treatment.

Genetic and environmental factors interact to shape mental health outcomes.

While genes play a role in predisposing individuals to certain mental disorders, environmental factors also contribute significantly. A comprehensive understanding of these interactions is crucial for effective treatment.

Mood regulation is a complex process influenced by evolutionary trade-offs.

Low mood and depression can serve adaptive functions in certain situations, but dysregulation can lead to severe mental health problems. Balancing the benefits and downsides of different mood states is essential for overall well-being.

Evolutionary psychology provides insights into the motivations and behaviors of individuals.

Understanding the evolutionary roots of human behavior can shed light on topics such as partner choice, moral sense, and the pursuit of ambitious goals. It helps us appreciate the complexities of human nature.


  1. Evolutionary Psychiatry and the Brain
  2. Psychiatry and the Medical Approach
  3. Anxiety and its Evolutionary Origin
  4. Sadness, Depression, and Anxiety
  5. Understanding Anxiety and Panic Attacks
  6. The Role of Anxiety in Society
  7. Understanding Mental Disorders
  8. The Complexity of Depression
  9. The Evolutionary Origins of Depression
  10. The Influence of Genes on Mental Health
  11. The Impact of Modern Life on Mental Health
  12. The Complexity of Emotions and Mood
  13. The Role of Inflammation in Mental Health
  14. The Influence of Genes on Mental Health
  15. The Impact of Modern Life on Mental Health
  16. Evolutionary Medicine and Mental Health
  17. The Influence of Evolution on Mental Health
  18. Evolutionary Psychology and Human Behavior
  19. The Influence of Evolution on Human Behavior
  20. The Complexity of Evolutionary Medicine
  21. The Influence of Evolution on Medicine
  22. The Complexity of Evolutionary Psychiatry
  23. The Influence of Evolution on Human Behavior
  24. The Influence of Evolution on Human Behavior
  25. The Influence of Evolution on Human Behavior
  26. The Influence of Evolution on Human Behavior
  27. The Influence of Evolution on Human Behavior

Evolutionary Psychiatry and the Brain

00:00 - 06:54

  • People have social anxiety because being sensitive is beneficial for their genes, even if it may not be beneficial for them personally.
  • Having a moral sense is important because people without it have fewer friends who genuinely care for them.
  • Evolutionary psychology hasn't gained more popularity because people have a simplistic understanding of self-reging theory that implies cynicism and excessive focus on sex.
  • Mental health problems like depression and anxiety affect many people, but physical ill health is less prevalent among young individuals.
  • The brain seems to have been neglected by evolution, as basic problems like social anxiety or panic attacks still exist.
  • Understanding the evolutionary perspective on mental health challenges can provide relief and help individuals appreciate the usefulness of their experiences.
  • Evolutionary pressures lead to a wide range of personalities, behaviors, and strategies in humans.
  • Dr. Randolph Nesse is a leader in the field of evolutionary psychiatry and has written a popular book called "Good Reasons for Bad Feelings."
  • He believes that an evolutionary approach can make psychiatry more similar to the rest of medicine.
  • In the 70s, psychiatry was transitioning from psychoanalytical to biological approaches, causing confusion and disagreements among practitioners.
  • Dr. Nesse turned to evolutionary biology to find a broader understanding of mental health.

Psychiatry and the Medical Approach

06:41 - 13:20

  • An evolutionary approach can make psychiatry more like the rest of medicine.
  • A medical approach to psychiatry separates symptoms from disease.
  • The hope was to define specific disorders in psychiatry with specific brain causes, but this hasn't worked so far.
  • Some mental disorders may be more similar to medical disorders like congestive heart failure, which have multiple causes that interact.
  • Mental health problems are often defined as clusters of symptoms, unlike how respiratory illnesses are approached in medicine.
  • Depression is a symptom, not a disease, and it's unclear why most low mood isn't useful or why we all have more anxiety than necessary.
  • Understanding mental disorders requires understanding why natural selection didn't better protect us from various medical disorders.
  • Responses from psychiatrists about the purpose of moods varied greatly, unlike responses about other bodily functions like coughing or vomiting.

Anxiety and its Evolutionary Origin

12:59 - 19:19

  • Pain is useful at a younger age as it indicates something is wrong and prompts change.
  • The concept of mental pain and its usefulness in evolutionary psychiatry is explored.
  • The book "Good Reasons for Bad Feelings" delves into applying evolutionary thinking to mental health symptoms and syndromes.
  • The evolutionary origin of anxiety is discussed, with the understanding that emotions are suites of coordinated responses to cope with specific situations.
  • Anxiety serves as a special mode of operation that alerts individuals to possible losses, prompting preventive action.
  • Different types of anxiety have evolved to cope with various potential losses.

Sadness, Depression, and Anxiety

19:14 - 25:28

  • Sadness and depression are different emotions from an evolutionary viewpoint. Sadness occurs when something is lost, but it eventually goes away. Low mood and pursuing unreachable goals can escalate into depression.
  • Anxiety can be useful as it protects against dangers and problems. Hypo-anxiety, or having too little anxiety, can lead to problems like car crashes or getting fired for speaking one's mind.
  • Having an appropriate level of coughing and vomiting reflexes is important for physical health. Lack of coughing can lead to pneumonia, while lack of vomiting reflexes can be fatal.
  • Hypophobia is a serious mental disorder characterized by a lack of anxiety. It is not commonly recognized by psychiatrists.
  • Clinical judgment is difficult when deciding whether to prescribe medication to reduce anxiety in certain situations, such as professional daredevil competitions.
  • Many people experience excessive levels of anxiety, constantly thinking about unlikely things that could go wrong.
  • The sensitivity of the brain's locus coeruleus, which influences anxiety levels, may be shaped by natural selection based on the costs and benefits of having a high or low anxiety threshold.
  • Signal detection theory helps explain why some individuals have an overactive sense of anxiety. It involves determining whether a signal (e.g., threat) is present or just noise.

Understanding Anxiety and Panic Attacks

24:58 - 31:40

  • Signal detection theory is used by electrical engineers to determine if a signal is present or just noise.
  • Setting the threshold for detecting signals depends on the consequences of making the wrong decision.
  • In certain situations, like walking down a dark street, the cost of avoiding potential danger may outweigh the actual risk.
  • Our anxiety systems are shaped by natural selection and tend to give off many false alarms.
  • Understanding this can help patients with anxiety realize that their reactions are influenced by their own anxiety symptoms.
  • The Smoke Alarm Principle refers to the need for a system to detect real dangers while minimizing false alarms.
  • Newer smoke alarms are better at detecting real fires and reducing false alarms.
  • The goal in treating anxiety is to rewire the brain so that it appropriately detects real dangers and down-regulates responses to non-threatening situations.
  • From an evolutionary perspective, there are greater downsides than upsides to most decisions due to the potential for immediate loss of fitness or life.
  • Humans have a strong aversion to death because it threatens our survival and reproductive success.

The Role of Anxiety in Society

31:21 - 37:43

  • Anxiety has both costs and benefits, and not everyone experiences extreme levels of anxiety.
  • Social anxiety is important because what others think about us is significant, but too much social anxiety can be detrimental to social relationships.
  • Spending mental energy on worrying about potential dangers can prevent us from focusing on useful and interesting tasks.
  • Natural selection has shaped mechanisms that regulate the threshold for anxiety based on experience.
  • Exposure therapy, where individuals face their fears repeatedly, can help down-regulate anxiety.
  • The appropriate level of anxiety varies depending on the likelihood of a threat being present.
  • Panic disorder can be created or exacerbated by medical professionals inadvertently reinforcing fear responses.
  • Many mental disorders are caused by vicious cycles that escalate out of control.

Understanding Mental Disorders

37:20 - 43:50

  • Mental disorders often involve vicious cycles that escalate and spiral out of control.
  • Patients with panic disorder may mistake physical symptoms for a heart problem, but understanding that these symptoms are part of a normal response to danger can be helpful.
  • Anxiety can be caused by fear of anxiety itself, creating a vicious cycle.
  • Without stabilization mechanisms, individuals can become trapped in sensitization spirals and avoid leaving their homes.
  • Medications can help reset the anxiety threshold and break the positive feedback cycle in treating anxiety disorders.
  • Exposure therapy is effective for extreme phobias, but guidance is often needed for successful treatment.
  • Mood regulation is complex and can fail in various ways, such as having baseline levels too high or too low, inappropriate responses to stimuli, or prolonged responses.
  • Understanding control system failures in mental health is crucial for effective treatment.
  • Design trade-offs play a central role in shaping human behavior and mental health.

The Complexity of Depression

43:28 - 50:04

  • Curiosity can be both beneficial and risky, as it can lead to learning important things or consuming poisonous substances.
  • Having a bigger brain allows for solving more problems but requires a significant amount of energy, potentially leading to starvation or limited energy for other bodily functions.
  • An active immune system helps fight off infections but can also result in false alarms and attack healthy tissue.
  • Design involves navigating tricky trade-offs, whether in engineering or human biology.
  • Mistakes in evolutionary medicine include viewing symptoms as diseases and diseases as adaptations.
  • Anxiety is a normal response in certain situations and should not be viewed as abnormal. Low mood is more complex to evaluate since it depends on the individual's life situation.
  • Some ideas in evolutionary psychiatry, such as schizophrenia being advantageous for shamans or color blindness aiding motion detection, are flawed and not supported by evidence.
  • Personality disorders like narcissism or psychopathy may be seen as social strategies that benefit individuals genetically but are detrimental to society. Other diseases might also have adaptive explanations.
  • The persistence of sociopathic traits could be explained by frequency-dependent strategies, but evidence is inconclusive. Sociopaths face challenges in small groups and modern societies tend to punish excessive lying.
  • Social abilities are subtle and evolving, so some

The Evolutionary Origins of Depression

56:15 - 1:03:17

  • Depression and anxiety are mental health problems that are prevalent in society, but their evolutionary origins remain mysterious.
  • Anxiety serves as a protective mechanism against potential losses, while sadness arises from actual losses and motivates actions to prevent further losses.
  • Grief after the loss of a loved one is complex, with some individuals experiencing immediate grief while others may delay or suppress it. Memory of grief can also be subjective and inaccurate.
  • The purpose of grief is debated, with some suggesting it helps locate lost loved ones or prevents future losses.
  • Sadness has multiple functions, including motivating us to address current negative situations, learn from negative experiences, and move away from sources of sadness.
  • Low mood and lack of enthusiasm can be adaptive in certain situations where taking risks or being overly positive may not be beneficial.
  • There is a need for more research to understand the different functions and balance between sadness and other emotions.
  • The distinction between personal enjoyment and reproductive success highlights the difference between what is good for an individual's well-being versus what benefits their genes.

The Influence of Genes on Mental Health

56:53 - 1:09:25

  • The distinction between something being good for a person in terms of enjoying their life and something being good for someone's genes in terms of reproducing themselves is important.
  • Natural selection doesn't care about individuals, it only cares about genes that benefit transmitting more genes and having more children.
  • Our bad feelings are often related to reproduction, as we are wired to feel bad if our kids are not doing well.
  • Striving for status is another area that affects our mood, and it can be challenging to figure out how grand a goal to set and what to do when not making progress towards it.
  • Low mood and depression can be beneficial in certain situations, such as hibernation or when losing a status competition.
  • Involuntary yielding after losing a competition can lead to depression, as continuing to fight would only result in more harm.
  • Severe depression occurs when ordinary low mood is dysregulated, and there may be brain changes associated with it.
  • Kindling, where episodes of depression make future episodes more likely with fewer losses or lower stimuli, could be an explanation for severe depression.
  • Modern life exacerbates the problem of becoming more depressed due to positive feedback processes.

The Impact of Modern Life on Mental Health

1:08:55 - 1:15:44

  • Low mood and depression can be exacerbated by modern lifestyle factors such as isolation, sedentary behavior, and unhealthy habits.
  • Research suggests that when individuals are unable to make progress towards a goal, they may experience a sequence of emotions including waiting, trying different strategies, giving up temporarily, avoiding the issue, and ultimately changing the goal altogether.
  • Pursuing unreachable goals can lead to worsening depression, as seen in studies on women approaching menopause who desired to have children but were unsuccessful.
  • The traditional approach of encouraging patients to keep trying and never give up may not always be effective. It is important for therapists to empathize with their patients' pursuits and engage in discussions about alternative paths that may be more beneficial for their well-being.
  • Depression is a complex condition with multiple underlying causes or independent pathways that contribute to extreme unhappiness.
  • Extended low mood can serve as a signal for individuals to reassess fundamental life goals. This process involves rumination, reevaluation, and potentially replacing unattainable goals with new ones in order to reconstruct identity.
  • However, some individuals may become stuck in a state of depression when they are torn between pursuing an essential goal (e.g., taking care of a sick child) that cannot be abandoned and facing

The Complexity of Emotions and Mood

1:15:31 - 1:22:28

  • Social traps occur when individuals have to give up one goal in order to pursue another. This can create dilemmas in relationships and life choices.
  • Understanding the motivational structure of each individual's life, including their values, goals, and expectations of the future, is crucial for understanding emotions and mood.
  • Emotions are based on our interpretation of events and their meaning for our personal goals.
  • Psychiatry needs to balance statistical generalizations with understanding individual narratives and causes of depression.
  • There are two types of explanations for events: ideographic narrative explanations that focus on specific sequences, and nomothetic generalizations that seek to find general laws or patterns.
  • An evolutionary framework can help integrate individualized data into a broader understanding of causation in emotions.
  • Depression can also be caused by the difficulty of giving up on a goal or by sickness behavior, where low mood and lack of motivation serve as adaptive responses to conserve energy when ill.

The Role of Inflammation in Mental Health

1:22:07 - 1:28:58

  • According to evolutionary medicine, feeling tired and staying in bed when you're ill is an adaptive response to conserve energy and avoid spreading the illness.
  • Sickness behavior, including depression, can be triggered by viral infections and inflammation.
  • Some medications used to treat viral infections can cause severe depression as a side effect.
  • The body's response to infection may be related to the same system that regulates competition and social status.
  • Anti-inflammatories do not effectively treat depression associated with sickness behavior.
  • Depression is a complex condition involving multiple neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain.
  • Antidepressants may work by blocking the actions of a normal system rather than replenishing missing substances.
  • It is difficult to determine the exact causes of depression, but it likely involves a combination of genetic, environmental, and social factors.
  • There are different subtypes of depression arising from various situations, but there may also be a global situation that ties all low mood and depression together.

The Influence of Genes on Mental Health

1:28:32 - 1:35:43

  • Low mood and depression can be seen as a global situation that ties all instances together, where it is best to pull back, be pessimistic, and inhibit enthusiasm.
  • Various situations, such as infection, losing a battle, being in unfavorable environments like a cave or dry period, or being in an unhappy marriage, can contribute to different kinds of depression.
  • In modern environments, it is difficult to understand the need for pulling back because there are always opportunities available.
  • Modeling reproductive success shows that having big mood swings can be advantageous in certain circumstances where small efforts yield significant results.
  • Humans vary in their mood swings, with some individuals experiencing no variation while others have wild swings depending on events.
  • Adjusting levels of effort based on the situation is optimal for putting in more effort when it is propitious and not wasting effort when it is unpropitious.
  • Falling in love is an example of a situation where ramping up enthusiasm and not seeing any faults can be beneficial but also has disadvantages if taken to extremes.
  • The long-term success of psychological strategies depends on the cycle of food availability and whether past success predicts future propitiousness.
  • There is large variation between people due to the constantly changing circumstances and the lack of clarity on which strategy

The Impact of Modern Life on Mental Health

1:41:31 - 1:48:36

  • Increased rates of severe disorders and mild problems deserve further study.
  • Young people who use social media a lot may have increased rates of problems.
  • The cocaine epidemic in the '80s and early '90s may have led to increases in disorders.
  • Television advertisements for antidepressants and outreach programs sponsored by drug companies can help identify people with depression, but they also contribute to the perception that depression and anxiety are increasing.
  • Anxiety and depression cause medical morbidity, affecting work productivity and leading to early death.
  • Mental health is a massive problem that deserves attention, regardless of whether it's getting worse or not.
  • Our minds naturally focus on problems, even when we try to stop thinking about them.
  • Humans reproduce sexually to keep up with pathogens, which leads to constant recombination of genes that can result in compatibility issues or extreme traits.
  • Constant mutations in our DNA create potential ways for important mechanisms in the body to break down.
  • Stabilizing selection helps maintain variation by weeding out individuals who are too extreme on any super important characteristic.
  • Ill health and mental health problems can be partially explained by this evolutionary model of variation and natural selection.

Evolutionary Medicine and Mental Health

1:48:24 - 1:55:03

  • Evolutionary biologists have been studying why variation persists for about 100 years.
  • Natural selection creates a range of individuals that maximize gene transmission, regardless of individual well-being.
  • "Cliff edge effects" occur when natural selection shapes traits to a level where maximum benefits are achieved, but going one step further can lead to system collapse.
  • Strong selection for cognitive and social abilities in the past few hundred thousand years may have caused other traits to be negatively impacted.
  • Genetic variations that increase the risk of schizophrenia are ancestral, while those that decrease the risk are new, suggesting strong selection for cognitive and social abilities recently.
  • Humans evolving to have bigger heads and brains presents a challenge due to childbirth risks. Genes find an optimal level but accept a high maternal mortality rate for larger heads.
  • The idea of cliff edge fitness functions is not widely accepted but has gained some attention in relation to obstetric dilemmas.
  • Difficulty in childbirth is not solely due to head size; factors like diet and anatomy changes also play a role.
  • Natural selection has limitations and cannot reroute the baby's exit from the womb. Caesarean sections provide an alternative solution.

The Influence of Evolution on Mental Health

1:54:36 - 2:01:37

  • The podcast discusses a partial defense of Freudian psychoanalysis, which is stigmatized these days.
  • One core important idea of Freudian psychoanalysis is repressed beliefs and motives.
  • The transcript shares a story about a middle-aged woman with a paralyzed arm, which was thought to have a psychological cause.
  • Psychotherapy that brings unconscious ideas and emotions to consciousness can be helpful.
  • The power of psychoanalytic understanding can help uncover motives that we may not be aware of.
  • Distortions in our cognition, such as believing we made the right decision, can be useful in adjusting our goals and avoiding unnecessary misery.
  • Self-serving motives are evolutionary advantageous but may not be salient to us consciously for social reasons.

Evolutionary Psychology and Human Behavior

2:01:16 - 2:08:01

  • The idea that there are self-serving motives that drive our behavior from an evolutionary standpoint, but it is best if these motives are not salient to us from a social perspective.
  • Some biologists suggest that the unconscious exists so we can pursue selfish motives without knowing it and deceive others to accomplish our goals.
  • However, this simplistic view of selfish gene thinking can make people cynical, and many individuals experience feelings of moral obligation and guilt even towards unrelated people.
  • Most people have a moral sense and loyalty to their friends, which is beneficial from an evolutionary viewpoint.
  • Partner choice plays a significant role in shaping our capacities for morality and genuine relationships.
  • We constantly strive to be the kind of person others want to be with, leading to competition for being more altruistic than others.
  • Social anxiety and guilt are prevalent because sensitivity and having a moral sense are advantageous for genes, even if not necessarily for individuals themselves.
  • Evolutionary psychology has been misunderstood due to simplistic interpretations of selfish gene theory, which implies cynicism and excessive focus on sex. However, understanding how natural selection shapes our capacities for morality and loving relationships can counteract this misconception.

The Influence of Evolution on Human Behavior

2:07:44 - 2:14:31

  • Partner choice is an important factor in shaping human morality and guilt.
  • Richard Wrangham has a different view on the origins of morality, emphasizing the consequences for those who don't do the right things.
  • Partner choice can create unfairness and limit opportunities for good relationships, particularly for individuals without empathy or resources.
  • Evolutionary medicine has made advancements in cancer treatment by understanding the evolution of cancer cells.
  • Understanding the evolution of bacteria and viruses has helped shape defenses against infectious diseases and autoimmune diseases.
  • Every trait in the body is a trade-off between advantages and disadvantages.
  • New approaches to antibiotic use have been developed, such as making it more expensive for antibiotic-resistant bacteria to replicate.
  • Triple drug therapy has become routine in cancer treatment to prevent resistance from developing.
  • Mathematical modeling has been used to determine optimal antibiotic usage and challenge traditional practices of taking all antibiotics in a bottle.

The Complexity of Evolutionary Medicine

2:14:07 - 2:21:03

  • Antibiotic resistance is a major problem, and additional antibiotics can contribute to the spread of antibiotic-resistant organisms.
  • There is a disconnect between antibiotic use and evolutionary biology in the medical field.
  • Clinicians generally have a positive attitude towards evolutionary medicine when it is explained sensibly.
  • Bilirubin, which makes eyes yellow when the liver isn't working properly, has antioxidant properties and may have therapeutic potential.
  • The cause of nearsightedness is not fully understood, but it is believed to be related to modern environmental factors rather than genetics alone.
  • Autoimmune disorders can result from an overactive immune system that mistakenly attacks healthy tissues.
  • Rates of inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and asthma have been increasing in recent years, suggesting environmental factors are at play.
  • Multiple antibiotic doses in early childhood may increase the risk of asthma and other allergic diseases later in life.
  • The hygiene hypothesis suggests that reduced exposure to pathogens due to cleanliness and vaccinations may affect immune responses.

The Influence of Evolution on Medicine

2:20:40 - 2:27:32

  • The UK is the architect of the hygiene hypothesis, which suggests that our reduced exposure to pathogens and increased vaccinations have affected our immune system.
  • In ancestral times, everyone had worms in their gut, which stimulated substances in the immune system that down-regulated the whole system and prevented immune diseases.
  • Research sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease focuses on understanding the mechanisms behind disorders like multiple sclerosis and skin abnormalities.
  • Genetic quirks that cause harm in modern environments were neutral back then, indicating that these disorders are not solely genetic but influenced by environmental factors.
  • Evolutionary medicine has significant opportunities in psychiatry to better understand mental disorders from an evolutionary perspective and improve patient care.
  • There is a sophisticated objection to evolutionary psychology based on the assumption that all beneficial instincts would necessarily evolve, but there are practical limitations to this process.
  • The human genome has limited data for brain development compared to other organs, making it challenging for certain psychological tendencies to evolve.
  • Simplistic views about evolutionary psychology are unproductive; instead, specific hypotheses should be examined with evidence-based discussions.
  • Evaluating specific hypotheses in evolutionary psychology can still be challenging as experts often take sides and defend their positions without reaching a consensus.

The Complexity of Evolutionary Psychiatry

2:27:06 - 2:33:51

  • People tend to take sides and defend their positions, even when it comes to evolutionary psychiatry.
  • Evolution has shaped our minds and character, as evidenced by our desire for food and our ability to do complex tasks like calculus.
  • The argument that there aren't enough genes for mental disorders is not valid, as most of the alleles that influence mental disorders are found in non-coding DNA.
  • Natural selection may not have enough selection power to program for behaviors that are not beneficial in a significant fraction of cases.
  • There is a lot of genetic and phenotypic variation due to different selection forces acting on different people in different environments.
  • Genomic data is providing exciting opportunities to assess evolutionary ideas.
  • Weeding out correct evolutionary explanations from red herrings can be challenging, but asking specific questions can help evaluate hypotheses.
  • Facultative adaptations play a role in shaping behavior based on specific circumstances, but there may not be simple discrete mechanisms for each situation.
  • The hypothesis of differences in risk-taking between sexes has some basis in evidence, as men tend to die younger than women.
  • In the UK, for every 100 women who die between ages 20 and 25, there are around 300 to 400 men who die.

The Influence of Evolution on Human Behavior

2:33:31 - 2:40:03

  • In every culture and decade, men die more than women, with a 50% higher death rate. This difference gradually evens out at age 90, except for Alzheimer's disease which affects more women.
  • Risk-taking and wild behaviors account for a significant portion (30-40%) of the higher male mortality rate, but other factors like infectious diseases and toxins also contribute.
  • Men have the same amount of anxiety as women on average, but women are often perceived to have too much anxiety because men don't have enough for their own benefit in terms of reproduction.
  • The early death rate compared to females is greater in species where males compete more for mates, suggesting an evolutionary connection.
  • Men dominating society has disadvantaged women, but it's important to recognize cognitive and emotional differences between men and women without using them to discourage certain career paths for women.
  • Striving for grand goals beyond what is accomplishable may lead to depression and feelings of inadequacy. However, this tendency might provide certain individuals with an advantage even though it makes most people miserable.
  • Many people strive for greatness in various fields despite the high likelihood of failure. It is essential to find a balance between aiming high and not setting unrealistic expectations.
  • There is an evolutionary psychology

The Influence of Evolution on Human Behavior

2:39:43 - 2:46:31

  • Many people in modern Western cultures tend to stray off in a strange direction, focusing on ambitious goals that may never pay off.
  • There is a debate about whether having a big ambitious goal is bad for mental health or not. Some argue that it makes people more vulnerable to anxiety and depression, while others believe it is motivating and exhilarating.
  • Research shows that mood is determined by the rate of progress towards current goals, rather than achieving them.
  • Pursuing goals that allow for steady progress can lead to a satisfying life, even if the ultimate goal is not achieved.
  • However, setting unrealistic goals like becoming a billionaire by age 30 is unlikely to bring happiness and often leads to failure.
  • Understanding a person's motivational structure is crucial for treating anxiety and depression effectively.
  • Some people remain cheerful and motivated despite uncertain outcomes because they focus on making progress towards their goals rather than accomplishing them.
  • People have multiple goals in life, which can interfere with each other and create dilemmas.
  • Providing glib advice won't solve these complex issues; understanding individuals on an individual basis is necessary.

The Influence of Evolution on Human Behavior

2:46:01 - 2:52:57

  • Having very big goals and ambitions in life may come at a cost to mental health, as the imagined accomplishments are often out of one's control.
  • Angloculture, particularly American culture, strongly encourages individuals to have ambitious goals and accomplish great things for the world.
  • Pursuing a shared goal within a community can create a sense of progress and meaning in life.
  • The group mentioned in the transcript encourages people to find positions where they can pursue goals that make the world a better place.
  • Meaning comes from striving for goals larger than oneself and trying to pursue them.
  • Devoting working hours to something meaningful and fulfilling is a luxury not everyone can afford.
  • Jobs where people are not appreciated by others can cause problems and dissatisfaction.
  • Material scarcity often prevents people from focusing on meaning and purpose in their work.
  • Some individuals become unhappy or anxious because they lack a goal or framework that gives purpose to their lives.
  • Depression can affect motivation and make individuals feel worthless or that nothing is worthwhile.

The Influence of Evolution on Human Behavior

2:52:31 - 2:56:24

  • The podcast discusses the importance of focusing on day-to-day tasks and working with people to achieve a sense of accomplishment.
  • The guest shares his career experience in trying to bring evolutionary biology to medicine, but acknowledges that his goal may not be achieved in his lifetime.
  • The guest talks about the slow progress in encouraging psychiatrists to learn and apply evolutionary principles in their work.
  • Evolutionary biology is seen as a framework for understanding disorders and providing a biopsychosocial model, rather than an instant cure.
  • The guest reflects on the historical reception of Darwin's ideas and emphasizes the necessity of patience when pursuing grand goals.
  • Aging is discussed from an evolutionary perspective, highlighting how organisms can replace parts and adapt to changing environments.
  • The guest shares his early exploration into why aging exists and how it shaped his career after reading George Williams' article.

The Influence of Evolution on Human Behavior

2:52:53 - 2:56:24

  • Aging exists because the same genes that make you age may also provide benefits early in life.
  • Antagonistic pleiotropy is one explanation for aging, where mutations can creep in and natural selection cannot eliminate them.
  • Research found strong evidence of aging in certain species in the wild that could not be accounted for by mutations alone.
  • Collaborated with George Williams to write a paper and a book about evolutionary medicine.
  • Aging is not a disease and cannot be fought against, but should be appreciated as a result of natural selection.
  • Some people believe it would be possible to design a human species with longer lives or no aging through modifications.
  • Michael Rose believes human lifespan can be expanded by controlling oxidative radicals generated by mitochondria.
  • The speaker's expertise is not in this area, and it may be too late for their lifespan to make significant progress.
  • The podcast episode features Radiness as the guest.