I take public transit. It isn’t something I’m proud of or do out of an environmentalist stance, I do it because I’m poor and it is cheaper. At my age, I don’t really notice it anymore, except on cold days when standing at a train station just sucks.
Yesterday on my way home, I in some way offended two gangster kids. I don’t for the life of me have a clue how, though at my best guess, I inadvertently stood between them while moving towards the doors while the train was rolling up to my stop. But again, I’m just guessing.
They got off the train behind me and proceeded to mutter about rudeness. I still had no clue they were talking about me until one of them said something about how just because I was six feet tall I figured that gave me a pass to be a rude asshole. I turned and asked if they were talking about me. They said yes and walked past me, continuing their little tirade about my rudeness. I let it slide.
I couldn’t help remembering back to my college Psychology class, when we talked about social development. I don’t recall the details, but we talked about a phase most people go through where everything that happens is about them. If someone’s laughing in class, they’re probably laughing about you. It is generally something we grow out of during our teen years, but if memory serves, it is a matter of the way our brains process information at that particular stage of development. Our brain chemistry simply cannot fathom events happening that are not related to us.
It got me to wondering about that phenomenon. Is there an evolutionary advantage to being accidentally self-absorbed? Obviously, I am just speculating here. I am not a psychologist or a fan of evolutionary psychology, I’m just a guy who wonders about stuff and tries to understand. But that’s what I do, so here we go.
Yes, I think a solid argument could be made for this. From a survival perspective, our assuming that everything is about us probably meant we stayed alive longer. There are two reasons I can put forward for this.
First, if you accept that the purpose of life is to reproduce and pass on your genes, then anything that better shepherds you through the teen years is a positive. Being acutely aware of the actions of others may mean you are unnecessarily avoiding or confronting troubles, but (particularly with the avoiding) you may well be saved from a bad situation through that paranoia. In a purely reproductive sense, other males are the enemy constantly seeking to steal our women and kill us. Being overly skeptical of their intentions could keep an early human alive and reproducing.
The other reason I came up with is related. Looking farther afield than just other humans, the behavior could be tied to an overall survival strategy. It’s one thing to hear a friend laugh and assume he is laughing at you, but if you hear a wolf howl nearby, it probably isn’t a bad thing to be on edge. If that howl is a wolf on the prowl for you, you had best be wary.
So, pretending there is a lick of truth to my argument, why does this fade? Why do we become more reasonable and able to differentiate between legitimate concerns and background noise? Well, again I am guessing, but to me it comes down to our status as a social animal. The behavior does not ingratiate itself towards a healthy society. Or more accurately, nurture of the group is also evolutionarily advantageous. So we grow to get past our distrust for the good of society.
Now the truth is probably nothing remotely like what I have envisioned here. More likely than not, this development comes from the brain chemistry that all in has been the most advantageous to our survival. We’re talking about one piece of a huge system, and it’s awfully difficult for me to accept that each individual characteristic of a person is somehow the result of selection. I think my biggest dislike with regards to evo psych is that it pretends to know what was selected for with no real basis for validation. What if, for example, the trait for teenager paranoia is simply on the same allele as the one for producing healthy sperm?
Still, it is a fun imaginary game to play.