I've speculated before about variance in psychological adaptations, presumed by many people who have my highest respect but still presumed, to be invariant in Homo sapiens. The notion is that PAs are products of natural selection and manage problems of survival and do so in an efficient, automatic manner. Given the fact of genetic recombination during gamete formation, it's supposed that PAs are invariant so it matters little whether you get Granny's or Gramp's allele. Cross away, you get the same code. (Barkun, et al, 1992)
Disagreement arises from my contrary nature, from talking to my clients, and from watching people at the local mall, perhaps the modern H&G equivalent to an oasis or savannah. Even though everyone breaths, a lot of us do it differently and sometimes with difficulty. Likewise for walking, for talking, for courtship. The "universality" of a complex mechanism such as an adaptation for, say, childcare, seems less probable than our next big meteor strike.
Challenged, I pretend that psychological adaptations are highly variable in both content and amplitude and imagine how Mother patched around the resulting noise, the error factors. There must be some redundancy, some feedback systems that compensate for a fractured psychological adaptation.
"Culture" is one possibility but culture needs psychological tools. Alliances and imitation might be the positive, internalized adaptations that build a "culture," that correct for those of us born without the mental chips for common sense, also known as the work of hunting, gathering, and reproduction. Culture allows life and even reproductive success for those of us who would die quickly if alone. The opportunities to participate in alliances is an unestablished but a likely and a powerful positive reinforcer. Absence of such reward, associated with social exclusion, may lead to helplessness, hopelessness, and one type of depression. Clinical difficulties seem most likely for people in a dispersed culture where alliances are disrupted and for people with an excessive need to live in constant groups.
Imitation, the other connector between people, is disrupted when people have little chance to watch others perform successfully. Friction and disorganization are more likely. Rapid technical changes imply that earlier habits become useless before the organism is spent. Earlier, positive memories of the "good old days" bring momentary peace in quiet times but are not much guidance for coping with new conditions. Technology also implies changes in the number of people, the needed skills, and their relations to each other. Thus, technical change shears ties within each person to his past as well as supportive working relationships. The effects are similar to those from the loss of alliances. Distress, a sense of anomie, and apathy become more likely. "Geez, I can't do anything right." To the extent that alliances and imitation are disrupted, then the shards and flaws in our psychological adaptations become more damaging. We neither hunt, gather, nor reproduce so well.
Many psychiatric disorders reduce compliance and may also be evidence of some missing psychological adaptations. Schizophrenia, ADHD, LD, developmental delay, autism, and antisocial personality disorder (with it's likely partners of oppositional defiant and conduct disorders) erode cooperation between people, decrease behavioral efficiency, and interfere with both persistence and solving adaptive problems. (Maturation may be seen as the growth and integration of various psychological adaptations whereas the pathologies of aging, like an impotent old man looking at young girls, is associated with their disconnection and failure of individual components.)
Disorders occur in a context. r-Selection in an unstable environment calls for independence, for rapid action, "drop the kids to survive on their own." The future orientation is that of "use it and move on before things collapse." "Hyperindividualism" would be advantageous in r-settings. K-selection implies a greater competitive advantage (in stable environments) for conformity, cooperation, and consistency towards each other and towards resource management. The future orientation is that of avoiding disaster by making changes slowly and with a constant eye on the fuel gauge. As population density increases in relation to resources, any given disruption in alliance formation becomes more pathological. Conversely, any fixed intensity of rejection sensitivity or anxiety becomes less so. Remaining in r-mode too far into K-conditions leads to behavioral sinks characterized by higher mutation rate, erratic infant survival, stress disorders, disrupted social patterns, and a drop in population.
Mania, superficially an r-trait, has a complex expression. The drive to dominate, reproduce often, win, gather resources, and ensure compliance from other people can increase the rate of population expansion under r-conditions. It can also enforce substantial territories, alliances, and hierarchies within alliances as the population grows. As the population moves further towards K, survival becomes more deliberative and adjustments in relationships may take generations. Under these conditions, mania can be highly divisive and attain clinical significance earlier. People have to compete for existing slots in a static organization and wait for someone to die before assuming power and responsibility. The manic personalities may become ever more dependent on enabler counterparts to survive K pressures for conformity whereas in r-conditions, the enablers survive best by "catching a ride" with a manic.(1)
It's tempting to imagine a declining gradient of resource availability as you travel from equator to the north. Cooperation, as described by Kropotkin in Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evoluely. "Geez, I can't do anything right." To the extent that alliances and imitation are disrupted, then the shards and flaws in our psychological adaptations become more damaging. We neither hunt, gather, nor reproduce so well.
Technology resets the biological counters such that an illusion of r-selection exists; other times, technology can help maintain environmental stability. Hybrid grains feed more of us per acre. Computers help us manage resources ever more efficiently in regard to meeting short term needs. Unfortunately, whether corn or computers there is both an appearance of endless resources but an exponential dependency on existing conditions and other life-forms. (As Pennington insightfully noted, newer CNS systems are more fragile because they are more dependent on underlying systems and have less redundancy.) Thus, the next big crash, the next major extinction is perhaps underway and it may be our turn. Like lobsters in slowly heated water, we don't know it.(2)
1) Tina commented that it was nice dating Hulk in school. Despite her being shy and quiet, she was always moved to the front of the line when with him. His size and tattoo foliage intimidated many of us. His gang peers made certain that she had a place to live and food during times he was in jail.
2) On the other hand, we are still in r-selection with respect to an unstable environment. We can briefly impose K conditions through technical fixes, the next big rock, unlikely moment to moment, will give us only 4 seconds warning when it appears. r-Selection motives could get us to start a Mars colony with all the supportive bioforms needed as well as duplicating the effort in several places on earth but underground. I hate to lose 3.5 billion years of investment in us because we over-reproduced into K-selection for the short term and ignored the substantial, longer term instability of our home.
Barkun J, Cosmides L, & Tooby J. (Eds.) (1992) The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. NY: Oxford.
Pennington B. (1991) Diagnosing Learning Disorders. NY: Guilford.
Wilson, EO. (1980) Sociobiology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.