Psychology in the News

February 9, 2010

The benefits of crying

Filed under: attachment, emotions, evolution — Tags: , , , , — intro2psych @ 7:58 am

by Rachel Anspach

Been Crying (2)

Been Crying (2) by Toni Blay

Crying is often the result of feelings of sadness and frustration, but after crying many people experience a feeling of release and catharsis (Byslma, 2008).  Humans are the only species that shed tears emotionally.  Crying is something that all people of all ages and cultures do (Hendriks, 2008).  Since crying is a trait that has evolved solely in humans, there must be some sort of evolutionary advantage to emotional crying.  Many studies have been done which examine the effect that crying has on the body, and most of them have actually found that crying actually has a negative impact physiologically (Hendriks, 2008).  However, many people including psychologists have always believed that crying is good for you (Hendriks, 2008).  Perhaps crying  developed evolutionarily for a non-physiological reason.  “Attachment Theory” suggests that crying is a behavior that is natural to humans from birth.  As an infant, babies learn that crying will result in comforting, which creates a relationship bond.  This behavior is continued to create attachments in life (Hendriks, 2008).

Dr. Oren Hasson, a professor at Tel Aviv University, recently conducted a study in which he studied different types of crying and the benefits of crying.  He speculated that the evolutionary advantage of crying comes from crying with your peers.  When you cry, you show vulnerability because your vision is blurred.  This allows someone who cares about you to take care of you while you are in a weakened state. According to Hasson, this is beneficial to both the caretaker and receiver because it creates a stronger relationship bond.  This means that a positive comes out of the negative situation which caused the crying in the first place.


May 18, 2009

The evolution of ADHD

Filed under: ADHD, culture, dopamine, genes — Tags: , , , , — intro2psych @ 8:59 pm

by Eric Schuman

Photo by by Ptit@l

Photo by by Ptit@l

Research has shown that ADHD (Attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder)  is strongly influenced by genes. It seems as if it is related to a problem within the dopamine reward system of the brain. Difficulties with this system could be the  reason that people with ADHD and ADD (attention deficit disorder) seem to have trouble staying focused.

The bad side of  ADHD is pretty obvious: It makes people seem unfocused, hyperactive. But new research proposes that it has benefits. Why else would the genes associated with ADHD still be in the gene pool?  Researchers Dan Eisenberg of Northwestern University and Ben Campbell of the University of Wisconson, Milwakee, think they have an answer. In a study published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, they posit that the sort of activities associated with ADHD—a want of novelty, behavioral flexibility, being hyper-aware in environments—were in fact advantageous to nomadic herdsman. They  go on to link ADHD to obesity. In the modern world where a scarcity of food (for many but clearly not all) no longer exists, dis-inhibition of seeking pleasure from things like food become exaggerated, leading to obesity. Many  children with ADHD have higher BMI’s (body mass index) than their peers, before they go on  medications that often lead to weight loss, they point out.

Campbell, Eisenberg and their collegues (2008) studied a tribe in Kenya. One half had stayed nomadic, and the other had become agricultural. They  explain that within a nomadic context, the ADHD genes are beneficiary. When in a more sedentary context, those same genes result in increased weight and malnutrition. This allele that contains these genes is, of course, connected with ADHD. Therefore, it seems ADHD is both positive and negative. (more…)

May 13, 2009

The evolution of a kiss

Filed under: evolution, homones, social relations, stress — Tags: , , , — intro2psych @ 5:00 pm

by Julia Ding

Lips, Eyes, Kiss! by Carlo Nicora

Lips, Eyes, Kiss! by Carlo Nicora

Watching a romantic comedy with my friends, my reflex to say “aww” after every deep and passionate kiss was dangerously unchecked throughout the film. When I realized what I was doing, it made me wonder why exactly humans choose kissing as a means to convey feelings of affection to one another, as opposed to any other act of physical contact (a pat on the head, or perhaps a pinch on the cheek). As it turns out, recent research indicates that underneath a person’s desire to kiss someone are a slew of other motives believed to be developed as evolutionary advantages.

Kissing is believed to have originated from mothers feeding their child by mouth, and over time expanding to signify affection past parent-child relationships (Walter, 2008).  The notion of expressing affection in such a way has been noted throughout nature, with the habit of kissing seen in such animals as chimpanzees, bonobos, and elephants.It then evolved to aid both men and women in choosing a compatible mate. When two people kiss romantically, information is passed between them about each other. With their faces so close together, people are able to gain an impression of the person they are kissing through their sensing of smell, taste, movement, and temperature. From an evolutionary standpoint, analysis of a person’s breath, scent, and the appearance of their teeth can give indications about their general health.  A previous post on the importance of kissing explored the work of Gallup, Hughes, and Harrison (2007)  Studying over 1,000 college students, they found that women are most concerned with kissing as an assessment of possible mates, while men are less selective about kissing, and often kiss with the notion that it is a precursor to sex.  One of the authors noted that women were more likely to screen potential sexual partners on the basis of their kisses (Stein, 2008). All this agrees with the belief that women have more invested in a sexual relationship, with the prospect of producing and caring for children.

All these factors encourage romantic kissing, but there may also be further chemical benefits in sharing an enjoyable kiss. In a new study, psychologist Wendy L. Hill monitored the levels of oxytocin, a hormone that influences bonding, trust, and male and female orgasm, and cortisol, a stress hormone, before and after kissing and other intimate acts such as hand-holding between 15 college male-female couples (Walter, 2008). Although the results showed an increase in oxytocin only in males, cortisol levels dropped for both males and females after kissing, supporting their hypothesis that kissing is a stress reliever. (more…)

May 12, 2009

Love, obsession, and chemistry

by Dan Schwarzman

May 22nd (Dont Say That You Love Me) by Phoney Nickle

May 22nd (Don't Say That You Love Me) by Phoney Nickle

What is love, and why does it exist? Chemical similarities have been found linking love to OCD and depression. Anthropologist Helen Fisher PhD of Rutgers University has been doing research on love, which she has divided into three chemically separate states. Fisher says that lust is driven by androgens and estrogen, while romantic love, characterized by intensely emotional mood swings and obsessive craving, is driven by high dopamine and norepinephrine levels, along with low serotonin. The third state, of stable attachment, is driven by the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin.

An evolutionary anthropologist, Fisher explains the evolutionary value of these three states. According to evolutionary theory, adaptations show up in species if they lead to increased survival and reproduction. Fisher says that lust evolved as a mechanism for people to be interested on a basic level in reproduction with others, while romantic love developed to focus one’s mating energy on just one individual. Stable attachment works to tolerate this individual long enough to raise children as a team. The obsessive energy output of being in love might seem illogical in the context of evolutionary theory, especially since love is often not reciprocated, but this ability to forgo short term efficiency in favor of greater long term reproductive success makes sense as an important adaptation for the continuation of the human race. (more…)

November 9, 2008

Where do religious beliefs come from?

Filed under: evolution — Tags: , , — intro2psych @ 6:18 pm

by Matt Libassi

Photo by Minifig

Photo by Minifig

Life after death has forever been a mystery among living peoples. Although this mystery may never be concluded from a scientific perspective, the causes and effects of these beliefs can be analyzed. There are many instances where our own spirituality may define our actions, philosophies, and sense of self, but where does this abstract belief come from? It seems like supernatural beliefs span across many time periods, from hunter and gatherers to modern societies, as well as across many cultural divides. Is it an innate characteristic of human beings to believe in the supernatural? Are these beliefs healthy to human societies? I wonder if animals also believe in these metaphysical states of being. It is interesting to think about how these beliefs affect our everyday actions, i.e. our respect for the dead, our morals (perhaps?), and our justifications to live a life.

Jesse M. Bering (2006) suggests that the belief in the supernatural may provide an evolutionary advantage that allows people to be more sympathetic. Bering conducted an experiment where children were shown a puppet show where an alligator eats a mouse and then asked questions about the mouse’s state of being. The youngest children of around five years old reasoned that the mouse didn’t need to eat or drink, but it was hungry and thirsty. The children believed that it still had psychological needs and carried emotions despite not having a body. I can’t help but wonder how much of the children’s reasoning is due to their innocence and naivety. Is this an innate belief in the afterlife or is it the simple, unique state of childhood.

I’d like to believe that all humans are born with compassion, but sometimes fear may drive these compassions to lead to desperate thinking and I question whether this is evolutionarily beneficial to the human race. An analysis conducted by Ara Norenzayan and Azim Shariff examined the “Belief in God’s” role on social behavior.  Interpreting data collected by anthropologists, sociologist, economists and psychologists, the authors argued that throughout history (up until modern times), there has been more cooperative behavior among religious societies then non-religious societies. This may sound evolutionary beneficial, especially regarding the survival of a group of a particular species, but this cooperative behavior may also run rampant, as seen in the many religious wars. Perhaps non-religious people have lived peacefully, yet unorganized, whilst religious groups are very organized and may combine forces to violently impose belief in others. To me, this scenario sounds counterproductive to a sustainable evolution process, but rather social-Darwinistic in nature.


Bering, J. M. (2006). The Cognitive Psychology of Belief in the Supernatural. American
94, 821, pp. 142-149 [Electronic version]. Retrieved October 17, 2008, from,90224,en.pdf

MedIndia. (2008). Conducive Conditions in Belief in God Makes Us More Pro-Social.
MedIndia, Latest Health News. Retrieved October 17, 2008, from

September 3, 2008

social networks

Filed under: evolution, social influence — Tags: , , — intro2psych @ 10:32 am

by Clare Cene-Kush

Chances are, at one point or another, you’ve logged onto Facebook, scrolled down someone’s wall and seen that a person has over 300 friends at Vassar or some other school. Did you stop and think, is that even possible? If you did then you’re not alone. Evolutionary psychologists are asking the same question. Two recent studies suggest that humans only have the capacity for about 150 people in their social network (Dunbar, 2003) and that face-to-face contact is crucial for forming substantial, lasting friendships (Reader 2007). Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist, suggests that social networking is a cognitive strategy that’s so important that natural selection has built it into our brains. It might sound ridiculous, but Dunbar believes that grooming amongst our primate ancestors was actually the first social networking application. It wasn’t exactly MySpace for monkeys, but it did allow primates to create and sustain friendships and a social hierarchy. Dunbar argues that language actually evolved as a faster way to construct and foster social relationships.
So is gossip in our genes? Maybe not, but it seems plausible when you consider how much we love to gossip on both a personal and societal level. Its no secret that we’re obsessed not just with the personal lives of celebrities from what Paris Hilton is wearing to what coffee Britney Spears is drinking. A recent article questions whether the Facebook phenomenon, like language was for our ancestors, is our way of expanding the maximum size of our social networks, something we haven’t accomplished in about 10,000 years. I’m skeptical as to whether social networking applications can actually increase the number of “real” friends people have, one scroll down my total list of friends on Facebook reveals that I don’t even know who some of them are. Then again, Reader’s study, which claims that people can only maintain about 5 truly close friends because of the time and emotional investment that these friendships require, never actually defines “close friends.” In my personal experience, the most meaningful friendships are the ones that occur offline. It’s much easier to tell if someone’s acting genuinely when you’re talking to him or her than if your simply reading what they wrote on your Facebook wall.

October 21, 2007

Gossip through the ages

Filed under: evolution, language, social influence — Tags: , , , , — intro2psych @ 7:10 am

by Brittany Bell

Why did spoken language first emerge? The traditional explanation for the development of spoken language is that males started to need a way to communicate when hunting. A British anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, proposes instead that speech was an entirely social evolution. The original social interactions between the earliest humans was by mutual grooming, this grooming was actually a way to establish and maintain friendships and other social connections.

Two macaques grooming

September 24, 2007

Sick and Lonely, a perfect match?

Filed under: depression, evolution, genes — Tags: , , , , — intro2psych @ 9:21 pm

by Sean Boley

A group of scientists at the University of California Los Angeles and
the University of Chicago has recently set out to determine the what
causes the correlation chronically lonely individuals and a high rates
of sickness and death (“Sick? Lonely? Genes tell the tale.”). There are two theories
attempting to explain the reported (House, J. S., Landis, K. R. &
Umberson, D. (1988). Social relationships and health. /Science, /241,
540-545.) correlation between lonely people and rates of sickness. Some
scientists argue that the higher rates are due to a lack of friends and
neighbors to urge the lonely person to see a doctor. Others, the
scientists in the aforementioned study included, think that there is
something intrinsically different in the bodies of lonely people.

By studying the genome of very lonely individuals (volunteers who said
they have not felt close to someone for four years), the researchers
found that a certain subset (about 200) of the 22,000 human genes varied
in this population from normal people. It turned out that many genes in
this subset regulate immune system function, such as the response to
tissue damage and antibody production.

The question that arises is the age old, ‘which came first’ dilemma. Did
the chronic loneliness of the participants lead to a change in the genes
for immunity, or did the lack of certain immune functions cause a change
in the social behavior of the individual. This change in social behavior
could be the cause of either an internal aversion to social contact, or
an aversion by other people to contact the chronically sick person. This
could be a great example of adaptive evolution, as it would be
evolutionarily advantageous to stay away from people who always are
catching infections diseases.

I am of the opinion that any one of these explanations could be playing
a role in the observed correlation. Most likely, they are all playing a
minor role. This certainly presents itself as a promising area of
gene-behavior research. For example, one could study individuals who
have already have depressed immune systems, and observe their level of
loneliness. Alternatively, one could also study the behavior of normal
individuals toward individuals who are chronically sick.

Anecdotally, when I am sick, I don’t really feel like going out and
making friends. Could the explanation to this complex gene-behavior
relationship be as simple as that?

The Silver is the New Black Theme. Blog at


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