Chronicles of the Lifeworld

lifeworld–the world of everyday life; the world as experienced.

Social Constructions Have Biological Consequences

Anthropologist Peter Frost has an article in the latest issue of Evolutionary Psychology which explains how the rise of the state selected for peacefulness and submissiveness in male populations at the expense of violent predispositions. This appears to be a case in which a social construction resulted in a change in genotypes in a population. In other words, this is a case of nurture leading directly to nature.

Here’s Frost’s abstract:

Over the last 10,000 years, the human genome has changed at an accelerating rate. The change seems to reflect adaptations to new social environments, including the rise of the State and its monopoly on violence. State societies punish young men who act violently on their own initiative. In contrast, non-State societies usually reward such behavior with success, including reproductive success. Thus, given the moderate to high heritability of male aggressiveness, the State tends to remove violent predispositions from the gene pool while favoring tendencies toward peacefulness and submission.

This perspective is applied here to the Roman state, specifically its long-term effort to pacify the general population. By imperial times, this effort had succeeded so well that the Romans saw themselves as being inherently less violent than the “barbarians” beyond their borders. By creating a pacified and submissive population, the empire also became conducive to the spread of Christianity—a religion of peace and submission. In sum, the Roman state imposed a behavioral change that would over time alter the mix of genotypes, thus facilitating a subsequent ideological change.


Written by Cody

August 5, 2010 at 13:53

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