Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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Human behavior in an evolutionary perspective


This page saw work being done during the end of 2009/beginning of 2010. Through lack of judgment on my part, it was published while still being half-content, half-todos; and through a mixture of forgetfulness, other tasks feeling more urgent, and reluctance to put in the considerable work still needed (in particular, as there is a plenitude of interesting topics not yet added), it remained in this regrettable state for several years.

In order to reduce the embarrassment, 2013 saw a clean-up, where some half-done content was thrown out (in particular, when I could not myself follow the text) and some briefly tidied up (without the intended, somewhat more in-depth, completion). The structuring was not touched (and might still be in need of improvement).

For now, the page will be left in this semi-finished state. It may or may not be revisited in the future.

I stress that the presence of a particular topic or idea here does not necessarily represent importance or probability, but simply that it was among the first issues addressed when this page was born.


I have found that taking an evolutionary perspective on various issues relating to human characteristics and behaviors, group dynamics, and similar, is the best way to gain an understanding of these issues.

This article contains a number of thoughts on the matter that are not present elsewhere, e.g. in Women as seekers of helpers.

I stress, however, that the important thing is to learn the right kind of thinking—and that if just a few readers do so, this will be well worth the page. Making even a semi-complete listing of conclusions, however, is an impossibility, because such insights, possible explanations, whatnot, come and are forgotten again during daily life.


The below deals with averages, the typical, or even just strong tendencies that fail to reach the typical. Individual variation implies that the situation can be very different for any given individual.

There is seldom one single explanation for a certain phenomenon; in particular, evolution can be seen as a tug-of-war between various factors that have positive and negative effects and side-effects. Correspondingly, many of the thoughts given here and elsewhere will be supplementary or contradictory. This is a near unavoidable part of the game. Consider, as an analogy, the effects of a man growing an additional ten inches. On the one hand greater strength, reach, and (likely) running speed would follow. The more impressive physique would intimidate other men and impress women. Etc. OTOH, he would require more energy to survive (implying that more food must be procured and that risks are greater if supplies are scarce), he would have less opportunities to hide when he feared attacks by an animal or another human, growth at a faster rate or for a longer time could make him uncoordinated in his youth, his speed of reaction might diminish, ... Thus, the additional height brings both advantages and disadvantages, and which will outweigh the other will depend on the exact circumstances. Nevertheless, it is entirely correct, if simplistic, to say that being taller is an evolutionary advantage through greater strength—and that it is an evolutionary disadvantage through greater energy demands.

Further note that evolution is not the only explanatory factor (if, IMO, the most important). Culture, religion, education, external pressures, whatnot, can all affect human behaviors. Even here, however, it is noteworthy that these, themselves, follow principles of human behavior ultimately rooted in evolution. In the end, they can be considered memes which have interacted with genes as time went by.

It is important to beware that what evolution has ingrained is not always something that humans can exercise control over—or even are conscious of. Correspondingly, statements like “women [men] choose XXX” need not reflect a deliberate choice, but is very often a short-hand for “Through evolutionary forces over eons, women [men] who have chosen XXX have had reproductive advantages, which has effectively bred humanity to make women [men] prone to, consciously or unconsciously, choose or prefer XXX.” (or similar). For natural reasons, I will typically not spell this out.

A further complication is that some behaviors may be side-effects of sensible evolutionary developments put into a new or unusual context—where they may well turn out to be of negative value. Several examples are discussed below.


For those who have problems grasping such evolutionary concepts (and they are surprisingly many, unfortunately), I recommend reading up on the early books of Dawkinsw, and to study some elementary game theoryw.

The unnatural modern life

Not adhering to natural roles can lead to unhappiness

Emotions are powerful motivators, arguably far stronger than reason in most people: Fear leads us to avoid risky situations, anger leads us to attack, love and lust leads us to pursue members of the opposite sex, ... Conversely, happiness makes us less prone to affect changes.

These emotions and their influence on behavior have evolved to make humans well-adapted for a life that is, to a large part, no longer relevant. The world of today is very different than even a hundred years ago, and very, very different from in neolithic times. Old behaviors are often inappropriate, or even illegal; new ones are required. The intellectual challenges are far greater than before; physical accomplishment less important. Men’s and women’s roles have changed drastically. The life of a child, with 9–13 years of mandatory schooling instead of play or work (depending on era and context), is completely unnatural. ...

This leads to a conflict between what humans “should” do (according to modern norms, in order to be successful in today’s society, whatnot) and what evolution has dictated them to do. In this conflict unhappiness, dissatisfaction, frustration, undue fears or angers, can ensue—sometimes even lead to health problems, be they mental or physical.

Chances are that a young boy sitting in a school-bench, listening to a teacher drone on, will be bored to tearse—no matter how much he could benefit from the education provided. Chances are that a woman who hits her thirties without husband and children will have “baby urges”e, feel that somethings is amiss, long for marriage—no matter how well her career is going. Etc.


I stress that there are other sides to these issues: Schooling is largely an inefficient waste of time, not the education it should be (cf. my thoughts on education). Many people who have children end up regretting it. And so on.

Trying to deliberately force people away from their natural roles, like e.g. some feminists do, is a recipe for unhappiness. Indeed, even own voluntary choices can come with a dire unforeseen cost of unhappiness.

Environmental factors affect happiness

This also applies to changes in the surrounding environment, e.g. in that humans were made to have a certain amount of exposure to sun-light, fresh air, green trees, ..., and that a modern life in the city with most of the actual day spent in an office will have negative effects.

An unnatural life-style affects health

In a very similar manner, the human body is adapted to certain conditions, and leaving these conditions behind can have negative consequences. The obvious example is food intake, where many humans become dangerously obese for no good reason—rationally speaking. However, in the days of yore, energy rich foods were rare (and energy expenditure higher) and the human taste buds developed a strong preferences for just these. Further, humans were trained to eat when they had the opportunity, not necessarily when they were hungry. Further yet, the human body was made to be energy efficient and store fat, not to build muscles that could be a long term liability, ... From another angle, fat had less time to build up during a typical life-time of the stone age than it does today (something which applies even more to some indirectly related issues, e.g. clogged arteries).

Interesting observations include that the typical McDonald’s meal is a nutritional dream—in a historical perspective. This explains its popularity and success.


This is just one example of how humans can be “played” by appealing to instincts of various kinds, not unlike an ethologist playing a stickleback.

The alpha–woman–beta hierarchy

A fundamental paradox of the current world is that many women perceive themselves as of significantly higher value than men with regard to relationships, sex, and similar, and that many men implicitly agree—while, rationally speaking, it is entirely the other way around.


Disturbingly, I have the impression that some extend this evaluation to more general areas, where it is entirely misplaced. This could be caused by very many women taking an attitude that life is about reproduction (one way or the other), and by many of either sex measuring their success by popularity with the other sex.


In some contrast to the above, I have over the years seen more and more signs of women being void of self-confidence, in many cases clearly under-estimating their own value.

Some speculation on the reasons for this paradoxical situation:

  1. Both types of women exist in considerable quantities and are comparatively easy to notice, but the one dominates among the more attractive women, the other among the less attractive.

  2. The “princess-mentality” of the U.S. is simply not as prevalent in Europe, leading to differences between geographic areas.

  3. Some of the projected belief in own superiority could be a form of bravado actually intended to hide or deny (to others or to themselves) the underlying insecurity. (Somewhat similarly, but less generically: In the specific case of bars and similar settings, “bitch shields” have become almost proverbial, i.e. that the more attractive women behave in an artificially “bitchy” manner in order to the limit number of men who make passes.)

  4. There is variation with age, with women being overconfident from (in a guesstimate) their mid-teens to their mid-twenties and lacking in confidence outside that interval. (Speaking specifically of confidence with regard to the their own attractiveness. In other areas it could be the other way around.)

  5. Women could be underconfident with what they perceive as alphas and overconfident with the perceived betas, leaving a given woman with a feeling both that most men are not “good enough” and that she herself is lacking in worth.

  6. The self-confidence and -perception of any given individual in general and woman in particular can vary considerably depending on the circumstances. It is further likely that there is some correlation between the circumstances that lead to certain “messages”, e.g. that women are more likely to write in online diaries when they are low in confidence, respectively are likely to be high in confidence when they are if full uniform for a party night.

In the days of yore, however, this was natural: For one thing, polygamy was comparatively common in many cultures (and, I speculate, more so the further back we go), meaning that a smaller group of powerful men tended to have most of the women, while the majority of men went without or only had casual encounters. For another, even where polygamy was not actively practiced, it was quite common for the same small group of men to have sexual encounters with a greater variety of women—including those married to others.

Correspondingly, a natural three-level hierarchy was present, with the top men (notably a minority) being more valuable in the eyes of both themselves and the women than the women were—and the majority of men being below the women, because they were forced to in various ways supplicate themselves in order to have reproductive chances. Notably, today, even the most aloof and self-overestimating women tend to turn to instant mush with a small minority of men.

Back then, this made sense, because women were interested in reproducing with men with the best genes and to form alliances with powerful caretakers.


These caretakers were not always the best gene providers (although their power certainly correlated with good genes), and it is quite possible that a woman chose a caretaker more for his ability to provide than for his genes—and she may very well have enjoyed other men with good genes on the side. The caretakers still had a strong reproductive advantage because they had regular sexual access, in turn, giving them a strong chance of fertilization.

An interesting twist is that the chance of impregnation varies with the strength of a woman’s orgasm—which tends to be strong both during casual encounters and with men with a good gene match. By this indirect mean, it was possible for a woman to control the probabilities of impregnation with both the caretaker and the men on the side.

Today, this no longer makes sense, because the end to most sexual encounters is to have sex, not to procreate. Still, the habits of old prevail and determine modern behaviors, with the unfortunate side-effect that many men tend to position themselves as betas, as a consequence of media portrayals, lack of male role-models, and early experiences (with women preferring older men, men preferring younger women, and there being more men than women for at least the first several decades of life, men become used to being rejected and women to being pursued).

Interestingly, much of PUA is based on men simply re-framing themselves from a beta role to an alpha role (which, as far as convincing women is concerned, is more a matter of superficial impressions than of inner substance). This will likely have very far-going consequences on sexual dynamics, ideally resulting in a balance where men and women can approach sex on equal terms, and sex can no longer be used as an effective means of barter with or extortion against men. Other developments are conceivable, however, including that we end up with an all-alpha world, were women must supplicate themselves for sex, relationships, whatnot (a lesser problem than today, because it is unlikely that women will be taxed financially in the same way, and because “chivalry” towards women is sufficiently ingrained in men as to off-set this to some degree); or that women simply raise the bars further and further, in particular through becoming jaded to alpha behaviors, resulting in more or less the same unfortunate situation that we have today.

Mid-life crisis

The stereotypical male mid-life crisis (i.e. chasing after younger women—which is not necessarily what a true mid-life crisis entails) could possibly be explained by this being a time when a successful man historically would have gone for a second wife (seeing that the fertility of even a somewhat younger wife would be dangerously low), or he, with typical life-expectancies, had to consider last chances.


More generally and likely unrelated to evolution, the “mid-life” is simply a good time to re-evaluate ones life and situation: The kids have left home, the house is paid off, most men have reached the eventual plateau of their careers, etc., which means that there are considerations that have long been important that have now fallen away. At the same time, waiting for significantly longer with a re-evaluation could mean that one is too old to explore the existing opportunities fully—or even has suffered a pre-mature death in the interim. Correspondingly, the mid-life crisis, so often deplored by women, is quite often a constructive and positive phase that should be welcomed and lauded—not ridiculed.


It is highly note-worthy that this chasing of younger women tends to coincide with a roughly same-aged wife dropping of the attractiveness scale entirely (and even a noticeably younger will typically have lost much in appearances). The common female scorn for the man’s preference for younger women, in turn, is entirely unfounded: Men’s physical preferences for women tend to remain roughly the same at all ages, and the “younger” merely reflects this consistency in preference—why should a 45 y.o. man chase after 45 y.o. women, when he has chances with a 25 y.o.? (If he has no such chances, which for many will be the case, there are still the 35 y.o. women, who will be far more accommodating.)

Ganging up

An evolutionary reason for the human tendency to “gang up” on others, could simply be that doing so gains good-will with the rest of the gang, in exchange for hostility from the victim. In a setting where the same constellations occur over and over again, this can make great (Machiavellian) sense; in particular, as it reduces the risk of becoming the victim. Obviously, when this behavior is extended to e.g. work-place discussions, the results can be very negative.

More generally, there seems to be considerably indications that many (most?) men and most (almost all?) women agree with others based on a wish for allies, rather than based on what is factually correct. This poses a major stumbling block for us few who by nature try to go by facts and reasoning.

Evolutionary roles affect current behavior

It is notable that when women go shopping, they tend to buy things that they hope will make them physically attractive (shoes, clothes, makeup); whereas men buy things that they hope will increase their abilities (power tools, computer gadgets). This reflects the evolutionary roles in a striking manner: Men bring the abilities and strive to improve them; women are focused on catching men, and try to improve their ability in this regard.

Similar effects are common, and explain e.g. why men like action movies and women romance, or why the biker is typically male and the pillion rider female. An interesting issue is the common female complaint that a man would be childish when he engages in playing behaviors: These would in the past often have constituted training and skill-honing for real-life situation (play, in general, is a form of training, as is very noticeable in animals). When women, in turn, engage in their play/training they seem to have a blind spot: What other purpose does reading Cosmo, prancing for the mirror, or flirting (without serious intentions) serve?


Helplessness (and similar) appears to have considerable sympathy-gaining effect. This could be partially explained by a perception of an easy ally: If someone is helpless, he is also likely to be very keen on forming an alliance, which will typically be beneficial for the other party too. This explanation also plays well with how different groups of people react to helplessness, e.g. in that women are more likely to be attracted to it, that men are less positive, that people with a weaker own standing are more likely to be sympathetic, etc.

In contrast, accomplishment and independence tends to have a negative effect on liking, unless compensated for by sufficient friendliness: Not only do such people tend not to see a great need in gathering allies, but they can also be a threat or a competition.


An interesting twist on leadership in an evolutionary perspective could be that it went to those brave/stupid/reckless enough to go first, be the ones to check something out, take certain risks, whatnot. It makes sense to give these people a certain amount of authority, because a) they are the ones taking the risks b) they will become more experienced with the corresponding situations. Further, as long as they, themselves, take the risks there is little reason for others to disobey—unless too poor decisions are made. Notably, however, this is a tactical command that should not necessarily be extended to bigger issues. Further, the needed qualities do include a certain recklessness (to take on the task); however, not necessarily intelligence or good judgment (although these, together with physical prowess, will be beneficial for success and survival).

While this type of leader would have been very valuable in the past, and while it is still natural that such people are followed, they are typically not good leaders today, when the decisions to be taken in an organization are of a different character. Apart from the increasing complexity, the greater demands on knowledge and intelligence, etc., the danger of too great risk-taking must not underestimated—in particular, as the leaders of today tend not to take risks personally, but instead endanger their organizations and/or team.

Male variation in ability/Greater evolutionary pressure on men

As is well-know, men have a larger standard deviation than women when it comes to e.g. intelligence. A suggested explanation is that having an XY-chromosome pair, instead of an XX, makes men more “volatile” in some regards.

Let us look at this in a stone-age scenario:

Men are exposed to greater evolutionary forces in form of e.g. hunting accidents. The corresponding filtering will remove more men with unsuitable genes than with suitable genes. (This may be the reason for the higher birth rate of men.)

This leads to fewer men being around than women; and the men that are around are pre-selected for survival. Interestingly, the older a man is, the greater the dangers that he has survived, which indicates that (on average) his genes are even more suitable—which could partially explain why women prefer older men (within some limits) even today.

Further, while more-or-less all (non-sterile) women will be impregnated by someone, the men may undergo further selection by the women.

This amounts to a considerably stronger evolutionary pressure on men than on women.

The current relation that (at least younger) men and women have, with many men desperately grasping for the attention of women that are objectively inferior, while both these and the high-value women grasp for the attention of a smaller group of men, can be explained by looking at a traditional tribal setting where women tried to get the attentions of the most powerful and genetically valuable men (often even in harem-like institutions), while most men had to compete for scraps and seconds. In today’s society, such behaviors are largely anachronistic (and certainly not compatible with the “family and commitment” view that women ostensibly take); however, humans are more like animals than they want to believe.

This can also largely explain the “power” that women have over men: Any man who perceives himself to be in the “beta” group of old, as opposed to the “alpha” group, and fails to realize that he is being played by evolutionary forces that do no longer match reality, will be fooled into sucking up and obeying, because once-upon-a-time this would have been his only chance of reproduction. It will be quite interesting to see what happens, if the PUA community manages to make the majority of all men take an alpha stance...

Stage freight

In modern society, stage-freight is not only wasteful, but positively harmful: What an actor, speech-maker, whatnot, needs is to be relaxed, confident, and in possession of a clear head.

Consider, however, a neolithic man confronted by fifty strangers... It is far from unlikely that he would be involved in running or desperate self-defense shortly after—both the ability and the wish to run or hide is entirely natural, and having a body geared up for physical activity certainly was an advantage.

Even in more recent times, crowds have posed a danger, as exemplified in e.g. Google answerse.

Also note that groups tend to be more aggressive and less rational than individuals, which further increases the risk.


More generally, investigations has shown that the presence of others and various forms of stress tends to improve performance on tasks that require strength or speed, but tends to reduce it on tasks that involve thinking or fine motor skills—well in line with more primitive, in particularly pre-human, times.

Obedience of rules and authority

One of the main problems with today’s world is an undue respect for authority (instead of argument) and arbitrary rules. In the past, however, this made great sense, e.g. in that there were many situations where orders had to be obeyed quickly and blindly (cf. today’s military) or experimental breaking of rules was dangerous (“do not eat that particular mushroom”).