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Thread: Evolutionary role of anger.

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    Evolutionary role of anger.

    Why do we still have anger? It seems pretty destructive, and a hindrance, so what purpose does it serve? It seems to me that if it were totally useless, whatever genes responsible for it would have died out, especially given how much injury it causes, both to the self and others. So why do we have it still? What's the point of it?

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    Member El D.'s Avatar
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    I would say there would be an evolutionary purpose for destruction. If you equate anger to a motivator for destruction, it would make sense that anger is responsible for "clearing the path".

    I wonder though if animals in the wild assert aggression through instinct, logic, or anger. It seems humans have a particularly large capacity to commit violent acts through sheer logic. I'm not sure animals are so capable of that. I think the reasons behind human violence are different from the reasons behind the violence of a domestic feline for example. Its interesting to wonder about mountain lions for example though in that they're extremely territorial. Are they logically processing the reasons why they do not want other mountain lions in their vicinity, or are they just wired not to like each other as adults. Maybe its that they instinctively become angry around others. If that's true then it's useful.

    Roosters also seem visually angry around other roosters, and its in the interest of their genetic legacy to extinguish their competition.

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    凸(ಠ_ರೃ )凸 stuck's Avatar
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    Anatomically modern humans are about 2 million years old, according to my cutting edge 1990s liberal arts education. Agriculture is some 100,000 years old, civilization as we know it is something like 10,000 years old. We're not evolving fast enough to keep up with our society. Bring on the AI!

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    Quote Originally Posted by stuck View Post
    Anatomically modern humans are about 2 million years old, according to my cutting edge 1990s liberal arts education. Agriculture is some 100,000 years old, civilization as we know it is something like 10,000 years old. We're not evolving fast enough to keep up with our society. Bring on the AI!
    This is one perspective I've considered.... but the other one I entertain is that maybe we need anger still. Maybe it can be useful as a way to let us know what is really important to us.

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    Behind this snarl, that would scare a dog, is a man many regard as the best coach in Basketball and you'd be extremely hard-pressed to find someone with something unflattering to say about him.

    In 2011 he surpassed his former coach (Bobby Knight) as the winningest coach in NCAA Div I Men's Basketball.

    I'm sure coach K would tell you what a shrink dealing with mood disorders would tell you:

    There is no such thing as good or bad emotions. We need all our emotions.

    After leaving the guidance of Bobby Knight, Coach K enrolled at West-point and would later coach for Army before finding his home at Duke.

    These experiences have taught him that you can harness the physical & mental advantages anger can offer in a competitive situation,
    and win.
    Creativity is the residue of time wasted. ~ Albert Einstein

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    It is a powerful driving force, and can be chanelled in pragmatic way. It's connected with high adrenaline levels, which translates into less awareness of pain.

    Rage is considered the most extreme form of anger:

    Rage can sometimes lead to a state of mind where the individual experiencing it believes, and often is capable of doing things that may normally seem physically impossible. Those experiencing rage usually feel the effects of high adrenaline levels in the body. This increase in adrenal output raises the physical strength and endurance levels of the person and sharpens their senses, while dulling the sensation of pain. Temporal perspective is also affected: people in a rage have described experiencing events in slow-motion. An explanation of this "time dilation" effect is that instead of actually slowing our perception of time, high levels of adrenaline increase our ability to recall specific minutiae of an event after it occurs.Since humans gauge time based on the amount of things they can remember, high-adrenaline events such as those experienced during periods of rage seem to unfold more slowly.[2]
    Spoiler:


    Ok, we can't do that, but back when only sticks were available, it served a great purpose.


    A person in a state of rage may also lose much of his or her capacity for rational thought and reasoning, and may act, usually violently, on his or her impulses to the point that they may attack until they themselves have been incapacitated or the source of their rage has been destroyed.

    A person in rage may also experience tunnel vision, muffled hearing, increased heart rate, and hyperventilation. Their vision may also become "rose-tinted" (hence "seeing red"). They often focus only on the source of their anger.The large amounts of adrenaline and oxygen in the bloodstream may cause a person's extremities to shake.
    Psychiatrists consider rage to be at one end of the spectrum of anger, and annoyance to be at the other side.[3]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rage_(emotion)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Slab_Bulkhead View Post
    Why do we still have anger? It seems pretty destructive, and a hindrance, so what purpose does it serve? It seems to me that if it were totally useless, whatever genes responsible for it would have died out, especially given how much injury it causes, both to the self and others. So why do we have it still? What's the point of it?
    This is a very good question, but a reasonable answer is very complex. I'll try to give a sketch of where my thoughts are. I can give additional details on any points that are particularly interesting. These factors can all interact.

    1) Genetic evolution moves more slowly than cultural evolution. It's a question of dimensions of freedom and plasticity, but the short of it is that ideas can change more quickly and easily than genes.

    2) People aren't rational actors - our thoughts and behaviors are driven by intuition more often than reason, which creates an avenue of action for things like predisposition and hormonally induced (or otherwise relatively automatic) responses. Intuition can be trained, but because it usually operates without conscious action it tends to rely on stereotyped responses, which may be both culturally informed and genetically biased.

    3) Ingroup altruism may be evolutionarily favored, but outgroup hostility isn't disfavored (and can be selected for). Creating schema that pigeonhole others into outgroups make suspicion and hostility much easier. A lot of anger involves a dehumanizing of the opponent using a caricature of the other actor. It's easier to be angry at an idea than a person, and we're not generally encouraged to conceptualize outgroup people as people. Semantically, they're often referred to as "animals." This can potentially reinforce ungroup identification and altruistic behaviors.

    4. Ingroup altruistic punishment can significantly contribute to the maintenance of within group altruistic behaviors, and can be selected for. This might be more easily achieved via individuals becoming angry (e.g., at cheaters). Ingroup cheaters receive a lower payoff function due to punishment, and altruistic punishment (incurring a cost to punish someone) can help to maintain ingroup focused behaviors. Altruistic punishment is often rewarded by a feeling of pleasure, but the initial motivation can be a feeling of anger.

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    Quote Originally Posted by HilbertSpace View Post
    This is a very good question, but a reasonable answer is very complex. I'll try to give a sketch of where my thoughts are. I can give additional details on any points that are particularly interesting. These factors can all interact.

    1) Genetic evolution moves more slowly than cultural evolution. It's a question of dimensions of freedom and plasticity, but the short of it is that ideas can change more quickly and easily than genes.

    2) People aren't rational actors - our thoughts and behaviors are driven by intuition more often than reason, which creates an avenue of action for things like predisposition and hormonally induced (or otherwise relatively automatic) responses. Intuition can be trained, but because it usually operates without conscious action it tends to rely on stereotyped responses, which may be both culturally informed and genetically biased.

    3) Ingroup altruism may be evolutionarily favored, but outgroup hostility isn't disfavored (and can be selected for). Creating schema that pigeonhole others into outgroups make suspicion and hostility much easier. A lot of anger involves a dehumanizing of the opponent using a caricature of the other actor. It's easier to be angry at an idea than a person, and we're not generally encouraged to conceptualize outgroup people as people. Semantically, they're often referred to as "animals." This can potentially reinforce ungroup identification and altruistic behaviors.

    4. Ingroup altruistic punishment can significantly contribute to the maintenance of within group altruistic behaviors, and can be selected for. This might be more easily achieved via individuals becoming angry (e.g., at cheaters). Ingroup cheaters receive a lower payoff function due to punishment, and altruistic punishment (incurring a cost to punish someone) can help to maintain ingroup focused behaviors. Altruistic punishment is often rewarded by a feeling of pleasure, but the initial motivation can be a feeling of anger.
    So, group cohesion, both through keeping people in line and uniting against an external enemy?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Slab_Bulkhead View Post
    So, group cohesion, both through keeping people in line and uniting against an external enemy?
    Yes, that's one role that anger can play. There's a number of people who study the evolutionary dynamics of altruistic behaviors, and holding the defection rates down via altruistic punishment is a strong way of keeping cheaters in check (thus allowing the altruistic behaviors to be maintained).

    At the same time, it's important not to fall into the naturalistic fallacy - that just because something is natural means it's moral or desirable. Anger can also be very maladaptive, as you observed. The question to be asked is "what is being selected for?" The whole outgroup dynamic, ultimately culminating in things like xenophobia, can be very bad if what we'd like to achieve is a peaceful and open human society. But I think that understanding and explaining a phenomenon is a necessary first step to dealing with it.

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    Theory I've heard that makes the most sense to me:

    Anger has stuck around in our evolution because it (like any trait that's hung around to that degree for this long) continues to serve us well. It serves us by energizing us to take action against a certain thing that we think disrupts our lives and/or society.

    It seems like a negative trait because people don't take the time to harness their anger in a healthy way.

    Good anger = activism
    Bad anger = people beating the shit out of each other because someone looked at someone

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