Monitor on Psychology - June 2012 - (Page 24)

Questionnaire Our moral motivations Humans have evolved from being driven by self-interest to being team players who want their lives to count for something, argues University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt. BY KIRSTEN WEIR I n the midst of a superheated election, in which truth is hard to come by and personal attacks are commonplace, it’s hard to imagine politics having much to do with morality. However, in his new book, “The Righteous Mind,” positive psychology pioneer Jonathan Haidt, PhD, argues that even our divisive political system arose from a deepseated human need to work toward a greater good. In his search for the roots of morality, he explores our species’ evolution from our individualistic primate ancestors to deeply cooperative human beings, and describes how religious and political institutions helped enable that transformation. The Monitor spoke with Haidt about his research and how we might bring politics — and psychology — back to their moral roots. How do you define morality? I define moral systems as interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress selfinterest and make cooperative societies possible. This definition allows conservative and religious communities to qualify as moral communities. They are, after all, very good at creating and preserving moral order, and at putting restraints on selfishness. But if you start with a definition of morality that emphasizes specific content — such as compassion and justice — then you usually end up excluding most communities and vindicating your own. Morally speaking, how does our society differ from others? Western democratic societies are much more individualistic than most other cultures, and we have a morality to match. Our morality focuses on protecting individuals rather than protecting groups or social order. This has huge implications for Western societies as they welcome immigrants with very different moral ideals, and as they try to salvage welfare states that were built by previous generations that were not quite as individualistic as we are today. You write that we’re 90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee. Can you explain? I mean it as a metaphor, of course. We’re primates, and the great majority of our sociality is clearly traceable to the evolutionary forces that shaped the behavior of other primates. Those forces worked entirely at the level of the individual. Chimpanzees in particular are very good at competing with each other, but not so good at working together as a team. They can be kind, they can show sympathy, but scientists can always explain those traits in terms of how the behavior benefits the individual chimp or its kin. Like chimps, we humans were shaped by individual-level forces. But I argue that human nature was also shaped by group selection, which began to kick in only in the last halfmillion years, once we became cultural creatures. It could only get started once we began dividing labor, using language to create symbol systems and eventually living in tribes that were not composed mostly of close kin. Once intergroup competition heated up and group selection kicked in, human nature became subject to some of the same forces that have shaped bees and ants for 150 million years. We have a kind of “groupish overlay,” an ability to be good team players on top of our older primate nature. Does religion stem from the bit of us that’s bee? Exactly. The individuals in a beehive are all kin, so bees have a strong genetic incentive to help each other out. That’s not the case for humans. Our trick for binding ourselves together was the novel ability to sacralize things — a large rock, an ancestor and eventually a god. Once people circle around something together, they can trust each other. I follow the evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson in saying that religiosity evolved by multi-level selection. We are descended from 24 MONITOR ON PSYCHOLOGY • JUNE 2012

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Monitor on Psychology - June 2012

Monitor on Psychology - June 2012
President’s column
From the CEO
Give an Hour founder is one of Time magazine’s ‘most influential’
APA treatment guidelines panels are being formed
APA supports ‘Speak Up For Kids’
In Brief
Time Capsule
Random Sample
Judicial Notebook
APA honors Howell
Science Watch
Science Directions
What you should know about online education
Speaking of Education
Psychologist Profile
Redefining masculinity
Miscarriage and loss
Something for everyone
Candidates weigh in
Division Spotlight
American Psychological Foundation

Monitor on Psychology - June 2012