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      The Evolutionary Psychology of Envy and Jealousy


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          The old dogma has always been that the most complex aspects of human emotions are driven by culture; Germans and English are thought to be straight-laced whereas Italians and Indians are effusive. Yet in the last two decades there has been a growing realization that even though culture plays a major role in the final expression of human nature, there must be a basic scaffolding specified by genes. While this is recognized to be true for simple emotions like anger, fear, and joy, the relevance of evolutionary arguments for more complex nuances of emotion have been inadequately explored. In this paper, we consider envy or jealousy as an example; the feeling evoked when someone is better off than you. Our approach is broadly consistent with traditional evolutionary psychology (EP) approaches, but takes it further by exploring the complexity and functional logic of the emotion – and the precise social triggers that elicit them – by using deliberately farfetched, and contrived “thought experiments” that the subject is asked to participate in. When common sense (e.g., we should be jealous of Bill Gates – not of our slightly richer neighbor) appears to contradict observed behavior (i.e., we are more envious of our neighbor) the paradox can often be resolved by evolutionary considerations which h predict the latter. Many – but not all – EP approaches fail because evolution and common sense do not make contradictory predictions. Finally, we briefly raise the possibility that gaining deeper insight into the evolutionary origins of certain undesirable emotions or behaviors can help shake them off, and may therefore have therapeutic utility. Such an approach would complement current therapies (such as cognitive behavior therapies, psychoanalysis, psychopharmacologies, and hypnotherapy), rather than negate them.

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          Most cited references14

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          Human Emotions

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            Evolutionary explanations of emotions.

            R Nesse (1990)
            Emotions can be explained as specialized states, shaped by natural selection, that increase fitness in specific situations. The physiological, psychological, and behavioral characteristics of a specific emotion can be analyzed as possible design features that increase the ability to cope with the threats and opportunities present in the corresponding situation. This approach to understanding the evolutionary functions of emotions is illustrated by the correspondence between (a) the subtypes of fear and the different kinds of threat; (b) the attributes of happiness and sadness and the changes that would be advantageous in propitious and unpropitious situations; and (c) the social emotions and the adaptive challenges of reciprocity relationships. In addition to addressing a core theoretical problem shared by evolutionary and cognitive psychology, explicit formulations of the evolutionary functions of specific emotions are of practical importance for understanding and treating emotional disorders.
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              On the universality of human nature and the uniqueness of the individual: the role of genetics and adaptation.

              The concept of a universal human nature, based on a species-typical collection of complex psychological adaptations, is defended as valid, despite the existence of substantial genetic variation that makes each human genetically and biochemically unique. These apparently contradictory facts can be reconciled by considering that (a) complex adaptations necessarily require many genes to regulate their development, and (b) sexual recombination makes it improbable that all the necessary genes for a complex adaptation would be together at once in the same individual, if genes coding for complex adaptations varied substantially between individuals. Selection, interacting with sexual recombination, tends to impose relative uniformity at the functional level in complex adaptive designs, suggesting that most heritable psychological differences are not themselves likely to be complex psychological adaptations. Instead, they are mostly evolutionary by-products, such as concomitants of parasite-driven selection for biochemical individuality. An evolutionary approach to psychological variation reconceptualizes traits as either the output of species-typical, adaptively designed development and psychological mechanisms, or as the result of genetic noise creating perturbations in these mechanisms.

                Author and article information

                Front Psychol
                Front Psychol
                Front. Psychol.
                Frontiers in Psychology
                Frontiers Media S.A.
                19 September 2017
                : 8
                : 1619
                [1] 1Center for Brain and Cognition, University of California, San Diego, San Diego CA, United States
                [2] 2Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge Cambridge, United Kingdom
                Author notes

                Edited by: Tiziana Zalla, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), France

                Reviewed by: Anna M. Borghi, Sapienza Università di Roma, Italy; Andrea Lavazza, Centro Universitario Internazionale, Italy

                *Correspondence: Baland Jalal, bj272@ 123456cam.ac.uk

                This article was submitted to Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, a section of the journal Frontiers in Psychology

                Copyright © 2017 Ramachandran and Jalal.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

                : 01 May 2017
                : 04 September 2017
                Page count
                Figures: 0, Tables: 0, Equations: 0, References: 18, Pages: 7, Words: 0
                Hypothesis and Theory

                Clinical Psychology & Psychiatry
                evolutionary psychology,envy,jealousy,emotion,novel thereperutic technique,thought experiments


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