the local environment radically influences our behavior

There are just 30 or 40,000 people lost in the ituri forest, northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo; but the mbuti They have achieved something remarkable: they have resisted, tooth and nail, civilizational pressures and continue, as best they can, making their lives on the fringes of the outside world. As they always have. For this very reason, in those small bands of hunters and gatherers, there is much to learn about the origin of human behavior.

Something curious, at least from our perspective, is that although they live in groups of up to 60 people, the mbuti do not store foodThey do not have pantries. Beyond the technological leap, few things in modern life should be more Martian for them than a refrigerator. And no, it’s not because it’s something own hunter-gatherer communities: in the Arctic, traditional Inuit communities stored as much food as they could. A simple matter of living in a resource-rich environment or one of the most inhospitable on Earth? Probably.

In fact, most of the species that live in the same region as the Mbuti do not accumulate food. Most species that live in the Arctic do. However, this does not solve the problem because, as a group of German and British researchers asked themselves, if the environment can cause such radical changes in the behavior of the same species in this … What else can change? What part of our behavior is due to where we live?

When we look like our animals see

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Deep down, as I hinted above, these researchers wondered why the origin and evolution of human behavior. It has been somewhat disputed. “While some suggest that cultural belief systems […] are the source of behavioral variation, others argue that it is more a product of adaptation to local ecological conditions. ”To find out, they selected more than 300 hunter-gatherer populations and compared them with each other (and with mammalian and native species). birds they had nearby).

The results they put in evidence what Humans, mammals, and birds are very alike in various behavioral traits, from the composition of the diet and the parenting model to the community organization. For example, in places where humans are organized by social class, birds and mammals display remarkable social hierarchies. This occurs in practically all the traits studied.

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“So far, we do not have a complete theory that predicts when culture will override the ability to maximize ecological adaptation and vice versa,” explained Kim Hall and Robert Boyd when reflecting on the work. But as studies of this type become more powerful, “we are moving towards a fully integrated evolutionary theory of human behavior“.

However, this type of work has a reading that goes further and is projected onto the future. Above all, in societies and environments in which the local environment is fully controlled by human beings, in which we can develop behavioral engineering very elaborate that substantially change the way people live (or that they already are). After all, not only the genetic and artificial intelligence they were going to have moral dilemmas.

Image | Joanne Turner


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