Survival of the Friendliest | Brian Hare

Summary of: Survival of the Friendliest: Understanding Our Origins and Rediscovering Our Common Humanity
By: Brian Hare


Step into the fascinating world of ‘Survival of the Friendliest’ by Brian Hare, where the power of friendliness and cooperation has shaped human evolution. This book explores the remarkable cognitive abilities that set humans apart, delving into the science of Theory of Mind, self-domestication, and the connections between our physical and social evolution. Discover intriguing studies on foxes, bonobos, and human anatomy, illustrating how sociability and communication skills have driven our species. The book masterfully reveals that our capacity for empathy and friendship has been – and still is – one of our greatest strengths.

Evolution of Human Cooperation

Humans possess a unique cognitive ability to understand and communicate, known as the theory of mind. This evolutionary trait enables us to cooperate and work together. Unlike our closest evolutionary relatives, chimpanzees, who struggle to recognize helpful gestures, humans excel in recognizing other people’s thoughts, feelings, and individual experiences that may differ from their own. This unique trait evolved due to a long history of domesticating dogs and breeding them to follow human commands, which gave humans an evolutionary advantage. This book explores how evolution provides answers to why humans have the most honed ability to understand and communicate, and work together effectively.

How a Geneticist Domesticated Foxes

In Siberia, geneticist Dmitry Belyaev attempted to domesticate foxes, breeding one group that was allowed to mate only if they were friendly towards humans, while the other group was left alone. Over time, the friendly group developed new physical and behavioral traits, including floppy ears, shorter snouts, softer fur, and better communication skills. Remarkably, the foxes retained their sociability even if raised by the control group. This experiment shows that friendliness is a genetic trait that corresponds to better communication skills. The results suggest that evolution selects for both sociability and communication skills, which are linked by the same genetic process.

Living amongst chimpanzees vs. bonobos

Chimpanzees and bonobos are both species of apes that exhibit different social behaviors. Chimpanzee society is marked by aggression, violence, and competition especially during mating season. In contrast, bonobos exhibit friendly and cooperative behavior, with no combative competition over mates. Bonobos prefer to share food and verge on being pacifists. Scientists suggest that these friendlier apes have undergone a natural process similar to domestication, but completely in the wild. The research indicates the importance of cultivating traits like friendliness and cooperative social skills for a species’ evolutionary success.

The Evolution of Friendliness

The physical features of the modern human face show evidence of self-domestication and an increase in sociability, which may have given Homo sapiens an evolutionary advantage over other hominids. The shrinking of brow ridges and jaws, the development of white sclerae, and other physical changes all suggest that friendliness was favored during human evolution and resulted in more effective communication, denser social structures, and the ability to collaborate on developing new technologies.

The Power of Human Connection

Human bonds are forged through chemicals like oxytocin, which alter the mind and allow us to form positive social relationships. Our species has evolved to create strong social bonds with strangers, allowing the creation of large communities we rely on. This bonding has a dark side, which will be explored in the next part.

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