Evolutionary psychology News

Yes, the long slow process of human evolution produced teenagerhood too … in only 50 years

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Arts & Letters Daily

Just when we were beginning to find Arts and Letters Daily a bore … After Denis “literary Darwinism” Dutton passed, there were fewer ridiculous “evolutionary psychology” stories that make for an easy post. But today we find this, from National Geographic – the evolution of teenagerhood:

Researchers such as Steinberg and Casey believe this risk-friendly weighing of cost versus reward has been selected for because, over the course of human evolution, the willingness to take risks during this period of life has granted an adaptive edge. Succeeding often requires moving out of the home and into less secure situations. “The more you seek novelty and take risks,” says Baird, “the better you do.” This responsiveness to reward thus works like the desire for new sensation: It gets you out of the house and into new turf.

As Steinberg’s driving game suggests, teens respond strongly to social rewards. Physiology and evolutionary theory alike offer explanations for this tendency. Physiologically, adolescence brings a peak in the brain’s sensitivity to dopamine, a neurotransmitter that appears to prime and fire reward circuits and aids in learning patterns and making decisions. This helps explain the teen’s quickness of learning and extraordinary receptivity to reward—and his keen, sometimes melodramatic reaction to success as well as defeat.

(“Teenage Brains,” September 23, 2011)

There are people alive today, in seniors’ residences, who grew up before teenagerhood even existed. It was largely a post-World War II phenomenon, driven by vast new entertainment and advertising industries. Which is pretty fast for evolution, no?

Get this one: “The more you seek novelty and take risks,” says Baird, “the better you do.” Maybe, if you are a teen today. It wouldn’t have worked so well back in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression, in the trenches in World War II, or among anyone who ever farmed, working with horses.

But we digress. That’s history. Not fiction or human evolution -hard to distinguish the two.

Denis, wherever you are, nice to hear from you again!

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