Evolution calling….aquatic apes and religious chimps…..

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Atavism is a term to describe usually biological attributes which have no modern day function but are still if only partially, present as so-called ‘evolutionary throwbacks’.

These ” traits  such as ear wiggling, the appendix, the tail bone and even the ‘goosebump‘ response are all examples of such historical atavistic mechanisms that give us an insight into our past…..

But what about behaviour? To what extent are our current behavioural responses’atavistic’? How much of our ‘instinctual behaviours’ determined from our evolutionary past? The stress response is one of the most researched in terms of the ‘fight or flight‘ response, but how much more of our behaviour is influenced by such factors?

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Mammalian Diving Reflex

The mammalian diving reflex allows humans, although more prominently in young children and even babies, to hold their breath underwater for long periods of time (compared to above water).  When the face feels cold water (below 21 degrees), there is an involuntary physiological response from the body to reduce oxygen consumption as a survival mechanism.  The heart slows, blood flow is reduced to the hands and feet and at even greater depths the lungs are allowed to flood to help equalise pressure to increase survival.

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The mammalian diving reflex has caused some to examine the aquatic ape hypothesis, which says that the common ancestors of modern humans spent time adapting to life underwater. The hypothesis is based on the differences between humans and other great apes, and similarities between humans and some aquatic mammals. The theory uses many human functions to support the claims including hair loss, hair location, the subcutaneous fat on babies, the descended larynx, the hooded nose, voluntary breath control, the waxy coating on newborns, and the mammalian diving reflex.                                                                                                                              http://listverse.com/

The rise of religion in Chimpanzees

Recent footage released of chimps exhibiting what is described as ‘bizarre behaviour’ (throwing rocks at trees),  have been used to attempt to explain ritualistic behaviour in early humans that may have developed into religious activity.

This represents the first record of repeated observations of individual chimpanzees exhibiting stone tool use for a purpose other than extractive foraging at what appear to be targeted trees,” the researchers write in their abstract.

“The ritualised behavioural display and collection of artefacts at particular locations observed in chimpanzee accumulative stone throwing may have implications for the inferences that can be drawn from archaeological stone assemblages and the origins of ritual sites.

Cited from an article in the Independent  by Andrew Griffin Friday 4 March 2016

The work of Desmond Morris

Desmond Morris  explored  questions regarding the evolutionary aspects of humanity and more in his books and documentaries spanning the last decades of the twentieth century.

“Everywhere I go, I’m struck by how similar human beings are to one another in all important respects. Of course, there are many superficial differences and these are often so impressive that we pay too much attention to them and start treating one another as if we belong to different species — with disastrous results. But despite all our variations in costume, ritual and belief, biologically we’re all astonishingly close to one another — a fact that I find very reassuring.” ~ Desmond Morris

Further reading

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The truth about lies and deception…….honest.

I have read the terms and conditions. Surely the single greatest lie ever told, certainly in terms of the volume of us who have ticked that box knowing that really we haven’t.  However, deception breeds deception and with now defunct computer game shop Gamestation taking advantage of the aforementioned ‘fib’ by fiendishly incorporating into the smallprint of their online terms and conditions- that they owned the very soul of anyone whom blindly ticked the box -‘the immortal soul clause’ as it was called.  Over 7.500 people were caught out on April 1st 2010- they were refunded their soul in an email.

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However lying, deception, untruthful, false, dishonest, mendacious, perfidious, duplicitous, dissimulating, dissembling and double Janus-facedness is a normal human behaviour, not just human, animals deceive too. Koko the Gorilla had been taught sign language and ruthlessly blamed the ripping out of a sink from a wall on her pet kitten (Koko signed on the return of her keepers…..”The cat did it!”).  If we are to take an evolutionary view it is a survival mechanism, a simple smile to someone you despise or you feel threatened by is a useful tactic to hide any weaknesses that may be exploited by them and hide, deceive them of your true feelings. However false smiles can be detected if you know where to look – the muscles that generate a warm and honest smile are different to those that are created  when creating a false smile. It’s all in the eyes…you see.

Those lying eyes

real-eyesThe eyes truly are the window to the soul. However don’t be fooled by so called Neuro Linguistic Programming techniques  (a good example of pseudoscience) that if someone is looking up when telling you something then they are lying there is little evidence to support this but is something that your hear still being pedled around every now and then.

And there lies the crux of the matter…are there any reliable physical cues to deceptiouniversal-facial-expressionsn?  Maybe a more fundamental question is are there any universal responses of facial expression or body language? (The eyebrow flash for recognition of someone  is thought to be pretty universal as an involuntary response.)   Certainly classic research by Ekman into facial expression has suggested that there are a handful of truly universal expressions. However deceivingly there is a long tradition of supposed cues to deception or ‘tells’ as gamblers would say little unconscious signs of anxiety, uncertainty due to knowingly attempting to convince someone of something you know not to be true. Going red, not being able to look someone in the eye, looking at someone for too long in the eye, rubbing the back of the neck, rubbing the ear lobes, scratching the nose, excessive blinking (note that psychopaths reportedly blink less and maybe that is why they are better at deceiving people) are all ways many think they can spot a liar – but where does the truth lie?

Bad Lie detectors

Many of these are signs of anxiety not necessarily deception, blinkinghowever Polygraphs (aka lie detectors)  have been used for many years in criminal investigations in the United States (and on the Jeremy Kyle show) and provided as evidence, however it measures variations in physiological arousal (not lying) and therefore fundamentally flawed, the American Psychological Association concluded:

The development of currently used “lie detection” technologies has been based on ideas about physiological functioning but has, for the most part, been independent of systematic psychological research. Early theorists believed that deception required effort and, thus, could be assessed by monitoring physiological changes. But such propositions have not been proven and basic research remains limited on the nature of deceptiveness. Efforts to develop actual tests have always outpaced theory-based basic research. Without a better theoretical understanding of the mechanisms by which deception functions, however, development of a lie detection technology seems highly problematic.

For now, although the idea of a lie detector may be comforting, the most practical advice is to remain skeptical about any conclusion wrung from a polygraph.                                          Cited; http://www.apa.org/research/action/polygraph.aspx

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F.B.I training focusses upon a range of techniques for detection .

Good lie detectors

Where humans on average can detect lies at marginally above chance level – 54% but surely professionals such as Police officers are better?  When Samantha Mann conducted research into a new area of lie detection and found some interesting results, there seemed to be a greater emphasis on story cues rather than the historic notion  body language cues of the more experienced and stronger lie detectors used in the research.  Detecting true lies; Police officers abilities to detect true lies.  Mann and Vrij’s research supports the view that often the focus on lie detection is in behavioural cues rather than the more accurate experienced police officers who also rely on story cues as a method of detection.

There have been a number of publications integrating a range of approaches to lie  detection.

Here is an overview of  an alternative piece of research conducted by Mann and Vrij investigating high stake liars.

Professor David Canter and colleague  may be  about to turn the whole area on its head with current research taking place at the Centre for Investigative Psychology on revisiting the use of polygraph techniques in the UK. 

The BBC recently compiled a practical overview of lie detection – View it here. 

The fun of deception

However, the detection of lies can be fun……………..in a light entertainment kind of way.  The story cues on the clip below may seem so far fetched that it must be a lie…it must be………..mustn’t it?

Freewill Vs Determinism; irrational decision making…..how a warm drink can manipulate your thoughts and other priming influences.

In the previous post, a link was created to provide some information on the cognitive bias- how are thoughts tend to be irrational and not based upon cost/benefit analysis as some cognitive models hypothesise. How rational are humans? To what extent do we choose our destiny or more importantly to what extent can our behaviour be influenced  by unconscious ‘nudges’, that makes it seem like we chose something when in fact we didn’t – how do you even measure such an effect? Showmen like Derren Brown use this grey area to provide simple but high impact effects such as priming.

The following BBC documentary shows how the science of decision-making shows us free will is something more scarce than most of us think.

Freewill Vs Biological Determinism; The benefits of choosing positive stress perception…..

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As shown above the classic Yerkes Dodson inverted ‘U’ illustration of the relationship between anxiety and performance IMG_2289used in sport and a range of other areas of applied psychology -the right amount of stress at the right time can aid performance. However, if you were to ask most people about their stress levels – you will get a consistent answer regarding there being too much of it, which is difficult to argue with. Or is it? Below is a lecture that discusses how the choice of  perceiving the stress response in a psychologically healthy way has the significant influence of the body effectively following suit and minimising the physiological symptoms of stress including premature death. These are significant claims – watch the video and examine the evidence presented, is it as simple as changing your mind? If so the freewill debate just received some long needed support……….As 90’s band En Vogue sang ‘Free your mind and the rest will follow‘ maybe they were onto something.

Clever Hans…….horses for courses……

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The Clever Hans effect is wonderful example of how important it is for psychological research to be double blind if it is to truly minimise any bias from researcher or participant.  The story goes the horse – Hans was taught Maths everyday for two years was able to tap out  with his hoof the answer to difficult mathematical sums (by reading them first equally as outstanding!).  Hans was paraded around Europe as an example of animal intelligence………..when in fact Hans was only tapping his hoof after noticing small changes in his trainers (Van Ousten) body language before receiving a stick of carrot and therefore receiving an unconsciously transmitted signal from his trainer. In research methodology this is commonly referred to as the observer-expectancy effect.

Watch a dramatisation below of Hans being taught and the realisation he wasn’t the mathematical genius everyone first thought……

2D:4D Ratio…….Counting examples of biological determinism on one hand.

Palmistry…….you have to hand it to it has really nailed the art of feeding in to fortune telling and has historically been given the thumbs up from the most unlikely of sources…but now it is time to knuckle down and look at the evidence of how our hands can tells us about ourselves. Apologies for the poor puns……..I promise from now on to give it a wrist……

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Contemporary research has focussed on some links between finger length and correlations between a range of variables such as sporting prowess. Have a watch of the video below from The New Scientist…..do you agree with the conclusions drawn or is it just science getting out of hand?

Angels and demons…….

Prof Philip Zimbardo produced one of the most compelling, insightful and unethical pieces of psychological research with the Stanford Prison Experiment. Zimbardo manipulated the everyday roles that people play to prove an important point..the good people can do bad things.

I have been lucky to meet Prof Zimbardo on a number of occasions and he is truly one of the most compelling story tellers especially for a man of his age. Click on the picture below to hear Zimbardo speak about the psychology of evil…before you do take a closer look at the image…..(beware the video is quite a graphic as is the nature of his presentation).

“The decision to act heroically is a choice that many of us will be called upon to make at some point in time.”

–Dr. Philip Zimbardo

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