Have you ever wondered why we behave the way we behave? I mean from where our habits and tendencies have originated or why our festivals and celebrations are incomplete without high-calorie food and sweets. Why do we all have a strong desire to be praised by others or Why do we want to celebrate our birthdays, weddings, and baby showers fervently. Let’s explore this.
The way we are today as humans is the result of thousands of years of an evolutionary process. In this long journey of adaptation and survival, we acquired and lost many traits. However, if we dig deeper the vestiges of our evolutionary past reside in our ancient brains. They indirectly affect our many choices, predispositions, and emotions. The traits which made us successful foragers and hunter-gatherers are still present in modified forms and they leave a strong imprint on our psychology, culture, and behavior.
A few of the examples we can focus on here. The desire for social validation is one of them. The origin of this conformity can be traced back to our tribal past where we ensured our hunting and survival success on the basis of group cohesiveness and a team effort. So though in modern times we may easily manage ourselves even in a solitary existence, societal approval and showing off still remains a dominant psychological need. That is why we seek approval from our peers and elders. The social media craze and the desire to be in the news always is part of that ancient trait to belong, to be seen as prominent and popular. It ensured our safety in a group of hunters and foragers and also enabled us to successfully pass on our genes to many through numerous mating sessions with multiple partners.
Another habit is our craving for anything sweet and full of fat. Fats and carbohydrates are the best sources of calories which was a huge and constant requirement of our ever active and running ancestors. A hunter-gatherer was always on the move and craved to gorge on calorie-rich food whenever the opportunity arose. The availability of such food was erratic and uncertain and that made our ancestors to develop a special affinity for them. That craving has remained in us. So much and so that even in these plentiful and almost certain times of availability, we gorge on them mindlessly and suffer the consequences of these excesses through lifestyle diseases of diabetes and obesity.
The third is our tendency to go towards negativity naturally. Our tendency to pay more attention to bad things and overlook good things is likely a result of evolution. Earlier in human history, paying attention to bad, dangerous, and negative threats in the world was literally a matter of life and death. Those who were more attuned to danger and who paid more attention to the bad things around them were more likely to survive.
Next is the rite of passage, ceremonial events of societies that mark the new phase in an individual’s life. In tribal societies joining the group of adults ensured many privileges and passing a tough initiation ceremony was the mandatory requirement. Some examples of rites of passage are graduation, marriage, childbirth, retirement, and so on. The French anthropologist Arnold van Gennep coined this term who observed that these ceremonies are a way to help individuals go through the difficulties of a social transition. These are celebrated for the community to create a sense of belonging, declaration of that to the society, and making that transition comfortable. The mandatory exams, competition, and eligibility requirements for any post or admission are nothing but the initiation ceremonies of modern times.
These are only a few examples of the shadows of our evolutionary past on our present lives. In fact, almost all our actions, habits, and endeavors have traces of our past, albeit in modified forms. Hence it does not matter how many advanced brains we have today in comparison to our tribal ancestors, if you connect the dots you can see some threads of past hardwired in us and still shaping our behavior even in the 21st century.