The friendliest, not the fittest, people survive and pass on their genes, a new book argues
- Contrary to the common understanding of Darwin's evolutionary theory, people who are friendly are more likely to survive and pass on their genes than people who are just physically fit, a new book says.
- Sociability is also responsible for other species', like dogs and bonobos, ability to thrive more than their more violent relatives.
- Tapping into this aspect of our humanity can help solve "the hardest social problems," a co-author told the Washington Post.
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People who are sociable - not those who are physically dominant - are really the most likely to survive and pass on their genes, according to a new book by researchers at Duke University's Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience.
In "Survival of the Friendliest: Understanding Our Origins and Rediscovering Our Common Humanity," Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods argue that Darwin's evolutionary theory, often summed up as "survival of the fittest," is misunderstood.
"Fit," in the way research and history has supported, doesn't mean chiseled abs and a fast mile time; rather, it means being adept at communicating, cooperating, and generally playing well with others, the scientists say.
"Survival of fittest, which is what everyone has in mind as evolution and natural selection, has done the most harm of any folk theory that has penetrated society," Hare told the Washington Post.
"People think of it as strong alpha males who deserve to win. That's not what Darwin suggested, or what has been demonstrated," Hare continued. "The most successful strategy in life is friendliness and cooperation, and we see it again and again."
Dogs, for example, are the friendly descendants of wolves. While the latter are "threatened and endangered," Hare said, pups are thriving and multiplying. "Successful" bonobos - a friendly, communal species governed by females - have more offspring than "successful" chimps, their more violent, selfish relatives.
Even plants thrive when they can form a sort of friends-with-benefits relationship with the animals that spread their pollen.
Psychology research has also shown how positive social relationships are critical for survival. One 2015 meta-analysis including more than 308,000 people, for instance, found that people with weaker connections are 50% more likely to die over a given period than those with more robust (healthy) relationships.
Put another way, being lonely seems to be as deadly as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. That's why it doesn't feel good: Your body is trying to tell you to mingle so that, long-term, you stay alive.
"If we think about loneliness as this adaptive response kind of like hunger and thirst, it's this unpleasant state that motivates us to seek out social connections just like hunger motivates us to seek out food," lead study author Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, previously told Business Insider.
Tapping into that aspect of humanity is important not just for personal and evolutionary survival, but to make our world a better place while we're here.
"We win by cooperation and teamwork," Hare told the Washington Post. "Our uniquely human skills for cooperative communication can be used to solve the hardest social problems."
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