Sexual Selection and Other Forms of Social Selection

In the 1990s evolutionary psychologists reached a consensus that human intelligence evolved largely in response to social rather than ecological or technological challenges. Some primate researchers have suggested that the transition from monkey brains to ape brains was driven by selection for "Machiavellian intelligence" to outsmart, deceive, and manipulate one's social competitors. Anthropologist Robin Dunbar has suggested that large primate brains evolved to cope with large numbers of primate social relationships. He views human language, especially gossip, as an extension of primate grooming behavior. Many researchers have suggested that acquiring our ability to attribute beliefs and desires to others, which they call our "Theory of Mind," was a key stage in human evolution.

Scientists became excited about social competition because they realized that it could have become an endless arms race, requiring ever more sophisticated minds to understand and influence the minds of others. An arms race for social intelligence looks a promising way to explain the human brain's rapid expansion and the human mind's rapid evolution.

The human mind is clearly socially oriented, and it seems likely that it evolved through some sort of social selection. But what kind of social selection, exactly? Sexual selection is the best-

understood, most powerful, most creative, most direct, and most fundamental form of social selection. From an evolutionary perspective, social competition centers around reproduction. Animals compete socially to acquire the food, territory, alliances, and status that lead to reproduction. Sexual selection is the most direct form of social selection because mate choice directly favors some traits over others, and immediately produces offspring that are likely to inherit the desired traits.

In other forms of social selection, the link between behavior and reproduction is much less direct. For example, the ability to form and maintain social alliances leads to easier foraging, better protection against predators, and better sexual access to desired mates. This in turn may lead to higher reproductive success, if the desired mates are willing. Other forms of social selection are important, but mostly because they change the social scenery behind sexual selection. Social selection is like the political tension between the Montagues and Capulets. It matters largely because it influences the sexual prospects of Romeo and Juliet.

Sexual selection is the premier example of social selection, and courtship is the premier example of social behavior. Theories of human evolution through social selection without explicit attention to sexual selection are like dramas without romance. Prehistoric social competition was not like a power struggle between crafty Chinese eunuchs or horticulturally competitive nuns: it was a complex social game in which real males and real females played for real sexual stakes. They played sometimes with homicidal or rapacious violence, and sometimes with Machiavellian strategizing, but more often with forms of psychological warfare never before seen in the natural world: conversation, charm, and wit.

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