Kevin Hogan

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What happens when someone is too nice or too good to be true?


Influence, Altruism, Sex, Justice and Revenge(pt. 1 of 3)

The ability to influence others often relies on a solid understanding of how people as individuals and groups survive and even achieve. Grasping the big picture, we begin to understand just why people do what they do. Sometimes the reasons are obvious.

More often, they are surprising. You’ll see some of both today.

Influence, Altruism, Sex, Justice and Revenge

What do sex and altruism have to do with each other?

That’s one of the surprises I have in store for you. One piece you’ll look at today is just what it is that most people believe altruism to be and in what contexts some people are altruistic and how that type of behavior shifts your ability to influence others.

If you’re ready for me to tell you that being altruistic will get you the girl or the next million dollar deal for your company, it turns out that is true…in some cases…and in some cases that behavior will eliminate any chance you had of being influential today.

Altruism in some settings is a gift. In others, it is a curse. Beginning this week, you’ll see just how varied the mileage of being a “nice guy” can be.

Why Are Some People Inclined to be Altruistic?

Displays of altruism or selflessness towards others can be sexually attractive in a mate.

This is one of the findings of Dr. Tim Phillips and colleagues from the University of Nottingham. Their research findings were published in the British Journal of Psychology.

Evolutionary theory predicts competition between individuals and yet we see many examples in nature of individuals disadvantaging themselves to help others. In humans, particularly, we see individuals prepared to put themselves at considerable risk to help individuals they do not know for no obvious reward. Why?

Influence & AltruismImagine you’re out there doing your thing one afternoon and there is a confluence of two events.

Simultaneously, you see someone who has tripped & fallen and you see Lucy Pinder walking almost stride for stride with you down the sidewalk (pavement).

Your nonconscious brain does a quick computation – and you instantly help the poor person who has tripped. What happens next is important from an evolutionary perspective.

These behaviors wouldn’t have evolved over 2 million years if Lucy didn’t stop and see if she could be of additional assistance to the tripper…or to you.

Am I suggesting that people are doing nice things out there to make a good impression on Lucy?

Probably not as often as they should.

Test the idea in your mind. Imagine the same scenario, but instead of the beautiful girl there is a not so beautiful teenager walking down the sidewalk along side of you. Trip, fall, she’s fine, you carry on.

It all “feels” very different inside because it is all very different inside.

How women pick a partner …

People aren’t simply altruistic or cooperative people. People are cooperative in very specific contexts.

In three studies in the UK involving over a thousand people of different ages, participants were questioned about a range of qualities they look for in a mate, including examples of altruistic behavior such as ‘donates blood regularly’ and ‘volunteered to help out in a local hospital’.

Influence: Sexual SelectionWomen placed significantly greater importance on altruistic traits in a mate in all three studies.

Yet both sexes may consider altruistic traits when choosing a partner. Both partners in 170 couples were asked to rate how much they preferred altruistic traits in a mate and also report their own level of altruistic behavior. The strength of preference in one partner was found to correlate with the extent of altruistic behaviour typically displayed in the other, suggesting that altruistic traits may well be a factor both men and women take into account when choosing a partner.

Dr. Phillips said: ‘For many years the standard explanation for altruistic behaviour towards non-relatives has been based on reciprocity and reputation – a version of ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’. I believe we need to look elsewhere to understand the roots of human altruism. The expansion of the human brain would have greatly increased the cost of raising children so it would have been important for our ancestors to choose mates both willing and able to be good, long-term parents. Displays of altruism could well have provided accurate clues to this and genes linked to altruism would have been favoured as a result.’

Dr. Phillips concluded: ‘Sexual selection could well come to be seen as exerting a major influence on what made humans human’.

It just makes sense.

Women are often drawn to the criminal, to the tough guy and that will be the subject of another article in the series, but fact be told, the classier girl is drawn to the guy who helped the tripper.

Again, why?

Because for this specific woman, her nonconscious brain “knows” that she will be treated in some specific way by the person she ends up in a relationship with. The brain has already made, “treated well,” a criteria for mate selection. That is definitely not the case for all people. In fact, sometimes the opposite is the case.

Cooperative behavior in some settings is essential to survival. One person may not be able to reach the apple in the tree but the second person boosting the first to the branch ends up feeding both people. Cooperation generally means you eat. People who cooperate in certain settings can be seen as viable mates by both men and women. Being seen as a viable mate can be a very good thing. Cooperation it appears, can have a big pay day.

Now, you might be thinking that I’m going to say, “therefore it pays to be a nice guy, because nice guys finish first.” And there is an absolute truth in that statement, but only in specific contexts. And in the exceptional contexts, it is all but an absolute certainty that the girl on the sidewalk will not engage the nice guy. In fact, she’ll be disgusted by him.

I’ll come to this shortly.

The roots of all this interesting behavior?

Now the Sex Part

All of this is rooted in Successful Sexual Reproduction.

Women matter to the successful sexual reproduction of your genes by about 2:1 over men.

Most of your ancestors were women. In fact, 80% of women in history have given birth. Only 40% of men have fathered children. Historically in the U.S., 10% of all children born are, in actuality, another man’s child. 15% internationally. A woman wants the absolute best candidate to father her child. Her biology often tells her there is one man that would be better to father and another to raise the child and her very existence offers evidence to that.

Influence: Sexual Selection and CompetitivenessBoth men and women are going to seek out cooperative traits when possible. But unlike men who prefer altruistic women, women often seek out competitive men during ovulation and cooperative mates at other times of the month.

For two million years, women have vied for the best option they could find to father their children. A father who was healthy, attractive and smart. Someone that would keep the “family unit” safe and well fed was valuable to the woman.

Most men didn’t have the characteristics that the highest value women desired. So they created competition for the best men. “The Best” rightfully implies competition.

All things are never equal, but perhaps you and I have evolved to be both competitive and cooperative. You want to be both cooperative and competitive to gain agreement across a myriad of contexts.

I play chess with my son a few nights each week. He’s good and he is no longer 2 years old. When we play, we both play with an intensity to win. Competitive is an understatement. There is no altruism. If I forget to slap the timer after I make a move, he’ll generally let it run a half minute or as long as it takes him to make his move. In a 5 minute game, that 1/2 minute can be the whole game!

Where is the cooperation?

Where is the “altruism?”

It might be right where it belongs. Beware of how you define altruism.

A parent’s biological job is to make sure his progeny are fit and adaptive. The young man knows that he won’t be given “a handicap” by his Dad. If you give your children a handicap, they’ll take it and always anticipate similar from others in the future.

My biological directive is to make him into the most desirable, valuable and adaptable male available that has the highest probability for long-term survival. Strong, healthy, smart, but not a dare-devil.

If he is that person, then his chances of fulfilling MY genes’ mission of Reproductive Success are greatly enhanced.

The world doesn’t give handicaps and every parent knows it.

You’re preparing the children to -compete- in the real world. To compete against men for the best woman.

Women, Influence & CooperationWomen will compete against other women for the best man.

Think about a woman and her future as a Mother.

Does it make more sense to be mated with someone who she has seen is openly helpful to others in general or to someone who has shown themselves to be unkind to others? People certainly don’t always do what makes rational sense, but when it comes to offspring women do try to make the best decision in the moment.

Altruism may be a conditional magnet in relationships.

Doesn’t it make sense for you to be observed as being altruistic, at least in some contexts and settings?


A secret about a woman’s unconscious mind?

Wanna know a secret?

Your body, your brain, doesn’t “know” you’re at the office. It doesn’t have an “Off Switch” that says, “I won’t look for the best man here at the office because that would be inviting trouble.”

Influence: Mating Behavior57% of all women who had an affair that year reported that it was with a man at work. And the research is clear that when women are ovulating, they are much more likely to have sex with their lover but not their husband.

1/5 of marriages begin at work. 1/6 begin in school.

Cooperation in the “committed relationship” is crucial to the man and woman.

The mate is obliged to “hope” that the mate is monogamous.

How does this fit with all the rules about relationships at work? It doesn’t. On a large scale, men and women seeking each other, rarely invites trouble at the office, unless the seeker is a beta male. The other three scenarios tend to work out without issue while at the office, but with plenty of issues for the relationships at home.

The female is only going to have children with 40% of the men…that’s not even a coin flip. There is alpha and there is beta.

The nonconscious says, “I’m awake and I’m looking for the best man to give my children and future children their best chance at reproductive success.”

Earlier you determined that women are more choosy than men in selecting mates. It’s always been that way and always will. Mating for most women has to be for successful sexual reproduction. When that stops being the case, the human race will cease to exist.

Historically men don’t have the same downside and have more upside to sexual variety when compared with women. Biologically a man is driven to generate as many children as he possibly can. If you look back through your geneology, you’ll see that as recently as 100 years ago, your ancestors often and typically parented 8 – 12 children. To not do so would have put the family at great disadvantage.

Influence & Altruism: MatingAnd because of this, women evolved to be the choosier of the sexes. And this is why only 40% of men have Fathered children over the last 50,000 years.

A good man is hard to find…and when it turns out she believes she is wrong, she’ll go find a better man, generally at great expense.

The great driver of human behavior is successful sexual reproduction. There is a dramatic force inside of you to keep your genes in the pool. Your genes, which could be a relative’s genes by the way, must be passed on. The drive is compelling.

And this is why men are required to be far more influential than women.

How does a woman’s choosiness affect us all?

The Co-Evolution of Choosiness and Cooperation

Cooperative behaviour is common in many species, including humans. Given that cooperative individuals can often be exploited, it is not immediately clear why such behaviour has evolved.

A novel solution to this problem has been proposed by scientists at the University of Bristol and is published in Nature.

Influence: Mating Behavior and WomenProfessor John McNamara and colleagues demonstrate that when individuals in a population are choosy about their partners, cooperativeness is rewarded and tends to increase.

Professor McNamara explained: “The problem is that the process of natural selection tends to produce individuals that do the best for themselves. So why has a behaviour evolved that appears to benefit others at a cost to the individual concerned?

“In our model, an individual’s level of choosiness determines the level of cooperation demanded of its partner. If the current partner is not cooperative enough the individual stops interacting with this partner and seeks a better partner, even though finding a new partner incurs costs.”

So when is it worth leaving the current partner and seeking a more cooperative one? Two components are necessary for this to be beneficial:

1) There must be better partners out there.

2) There must also be time to exploit the relationship with the new partner, which will be true for long-lived animals like humans.

If these conditions are met, natural selection will lead to a certain degree of choosiness evolving. And once this happens, an individual that is not cooperative will be discarded by its partner and must pay the cost of finding another partner.

Thus when there is choosiness, cooperativeness is rewarded and tends to increase. In this way the level of cooperation and the degree of choosiness increase together over time, and cooperation can evolve from an initially uncooperative population.

This research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. Professor Nigel Brown, Director of Science and Technology at BBSRC.

Altruism is no simple act of helping the little old lady across the street.

Next week, you’ll see that altruism at the office is rarely a rewarded behavior by peers and the altruistic individual tends to be marginalized and ostracized.

In other settings where others aren’t pressured to live up to the same standard of altruism, the behavior is admired and found valuable.

You’ll see that the logic of natural selection is quite simple. Competitive workplaces where men and women both work have made for fertile ground for the trait of competitiveness to be viewed as valuable by the female. The size of the pool of potential future mates is dramatically larger at work than anywhere else. Thus the 57% of affairs women have being at work simply makes sense.

Biology dictates. In most other settings where a) there are fewer men grouped together and b) fewer peers – cooperation and altruistic behavior is favored and more found valuable.

Influence & AltruismIf you happen to be altruistic by nature, next week you’ll learn how to control that behavior both at home and at work so it doesn’t cost you a relationship and it enhances your perceived value.

If you aren’t altruistic by nature, you’ll find out how to sharpen your attention to others. Competitiveness and cooperation can and often do happily exist side by side in the same individual.

Ultimately, there is a very strong line of behavioral demarcation between work and almost all other settings in life. Being influential at work requires different behaviors than being influential in that vast majority of other contexts.

Altruism can be compelling to successful influence. But it can also cost you dramatically.

Finally altruism has a powerful connection with justice and revenge that are vital to understanding influencing others’ behaviors.

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