, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 165-190

Social roles, prestige, and health risk

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Abstract

Selection pressure from health risk is hypothesized to have shaped adaptations motivating individuals to attempt to become valued by other individuals by generously and recurrently providing beneficial goods and/or services to them because this strategy encouraged beneficiaries to provide costly health care to their benefactors when the latter were sick or injured. Additionally, adaptations are hypothesized to have co-evolved that motivate individuals to attend to and value those who recurrently provide them with important benefits so they are willing in turn to provide costly care when a valued person is disabled or in dire need. Individuals in egalitarian foraging bands can provide a number of valuable benefits, such as defense, diplomacy, food, healing, information, technical skill, or trading savvy. We therefore expect that humans have evolved psychological mechanisms motivating the pursuit and cultivation of a difficult-to-replace social role based on the provisioning of a benefit that confers a fitness advantage on its recipients. We call this phenomenon social niche specialization. One such niche that has been well-documented is meat-sharing. Here we present cross-cultural evidence that individuals cultivate two other niches, information and tool production, that serve (among other things) to buffer health risk.

Michelle Scalise Sugiyama studied at the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she received her Ph.D. in literature in 1997. She is currently an affiliate of the English Department and the Institute for Cognitive and Decision Sciences at the University of Oregon, Eugene, and also directs the Cognitive Cultural Studies branch of the Human Universals Project at the Center for Evolutionary Psychology. Her work attempts to understand narrative and other art behaviors in terms of the cognitive architecture that underlies them and the ancestral conditions under which they emerged; published results can be found in Human Nature, Evolution and Human Behavior, Philosophy and Literature, and Mosaic.
Lawrence Sugiyama holds a joint appointment in the Anthropology Department and the Institute for Cognitive and Decision Sciences at the University of Oregon, Eugene. He did his graduate work at the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he cofounded the Human Universals Project and the Ecuadorian Oriente Research Station, which he now directs. His research among the Shiwiar, Yora, and Yanomamo examines health risk, cooperation, reciprocity, subsistence, and life history patterns among contemporary forager-horticulturalists, with the ultimate goal of furthering our understanding of pat selection pressures and the psychology evolved to surmount them. Published results can be found in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, and Adaptation and Human Behavior: An Anthropological Perspective.