Friday, March 25, 2005

Fear, aggression and social intelligence

Experimental domestication of foxes yields clues to cognitive evolution

Fear is the enemy of understanding ...
To better understand how dogs evolved their unusual social cognitive ability, the researchers studied an experimental population of foxes that have been bred in Siberia, Russia, over the last 45 years to exhibit, over generations, increasingly friendly behavior toward humans. After dozens of generations, these foxes now behave toward people much as pet dogs do--they even bark and wag their tails at the sight of a human. Critically, these foxes were not specifically selected during breeding for their social intelligence. However, the current study found that although the foxes were not intentionally selected to be more skillful at solving social problems, they are in fact just as skillful as domestic dogs at reading human social cues. The current study therefore suggests that social intelligence can increase simply as a result of an animal becoming less fearful and aggressive towards potential social partners.
Suprising and puzzling. In 45 years it was possible to breed a very different animal, with far less aggression and fear. That animal had new and powerful capabilities.

I assume a fox generation is about 1.8 years. A human generation is about 10 times as long. So in 450 years could one go from a rather nasty, aggressive, fearful and viscious primate to an interactive, socially intelligent primate? What if the selection were not so perfect, but was rather an 20% advantage with a socially cooperative animal? How long would evolution take to change that primate -- maybe a few thousands years?

Of humans alive today, what percent are throwbacks to another era?

For children with poor social skills, what role does focal "fear management" have in social skills training?

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