Evolutionary Psychology, ‘The Pill’, and Happiness

On the Pill

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal came out with an article on the Pill (oddly familiar to my PsychToday article, cough cough) on how hormonal contraceptives may be disrupting the sexual attraction chemo-signals we give and receive.

The most recent research that pushed this ‘old’ news into the spotlight again was conducted by Duke University’s Primate Center with lemurs. They injected experimental subjects with depo-provera, a hormonal contraceptive, and measured their attractiveness, and their attraction to other lemurs. Their findings confirmed prior research findings, that contraceptives may cause humans and animals to seek mates who have more similar major histo-compatibility complexes (MHC). Naturally, we are designed to seek the opposite, in order to produce offspring with more varied MHC’s, and thus healthier immune systems. So, this could have implications on the health of the children produced from these hormonally-skewed relationships.

You can read the full WSJ article here.

And you can read my PT take on it here.

On Happiness

What’s more is evolutionary psychology made headlines yet again this week in a New York Times article on success. The author makes a case for both happiness and anxiety to be evolved emotions, set in place to help humans adapt to the ups and downs of life. Turns out, humans overestimate the impact of certain life experiences like, say, winning the lottery or becoming paralyzed. Though we may expect to feel happiness or sadness for a long amount of time, most people “regress to the mean,” and feel similarly to how they did six months ago, before that huge promotion, or before the loss of a loved one. But if we were that realistic, and kept in mind that we would feel the same level of happiness no matter the outcome, maybe we wouldn’t strive so hard to achieve that big promotion or accomplish that daunting task. In that way, the anxiety and lack of happiness keeps us motivated to succeed and find that happiness again, however temporary. This comes primarily out of the behavioral economics aspect of psychology, (and has thus found its way into the Business section of the NYT) but it has evolutionary roots. Perhaps this is why we find that pessimists are more realistic, and our roseate, happy-go-lucky friends are rarely the most productive.

You can read the NYT article here.

This borders a similar field called positive psychology, in which the functions and health outcomes of positive emotions are studied. At UNC, Barabara Frederickson’s Positive Emotion and Psychophysiology Lab studies this in particular. Barb is really well known for her work in the field and her book, Positivity. I’ve worked under Dr. Sara Algoe in this lab for about a year and a half, and found that this is a really exciting, burgeoning field. And if you have an interest in evolutionary psychology, it is one of the best labs at UNC to get involved with. So, I wanted to take the opportunity to plug for them when I could.

I think it’s great that the EvPsych field can pop up in Health news equally as much as it can in the Business section of the New York Times. It really seems to apply to almost all aspects of life, and that’s why I find it so fascinating.

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4 Responses to Evolutionary Psychology, ‘The Pill’, and Happiness

  1. pontiaccar says:

    It’s hard to find knowledgeable people on this topic, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

  2. Rick Moland says:

    Thank you for this wonderful source of information, keep it coming , peace

  3. tyre pump says:

    Possibly the best post I’ve read today, very well done! 🙂

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