The Moral Animal | Robert Wright

Summary of: The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are – The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology
By: Robert Wright

Introduction

Embark on an intriguing journey into the world of evolutionary psychology with Robert Wright’s ‘The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are.’ In this summary, you’ll uncover enlightening explanations behind human behavior, such as the roles of intelligence, attractiveness, and jealousy in finding long-term mates, the motivations behind infidelity, and the influence of social status and wealth on familial relationships. Witness how subtle hierarchies permeate even seemingly egalitarian societies and how strategic alliances play a significant role in securing long-term leadership. This book expertly demystifies complex evolutionary concepts and sheds light on the unconscious calculations that drive our actions.

The Science Behind Men’s Mate Choices

Men are less selective when it comes to casual hookups, but both sexes apply strict criteria for long-term partners. According to Robert L. Trivers, intelligence is a desirable trait in a long-term mate, as it indicates that the partner will be a good guardian of their potential children. This preference is not a conscious choice; rather, it is an unconscious calculation designed to ensure the survival of offspring. However, youth and beauty also play a significant role in mate selection, as they are reliable indicators of female fertility. These choices ultimately serve the genetic makeup of males, increasing the likelihood of the survival and triumph of their genes in the future.

The Science of Jealousy

Jealousy, a natural human emotion, is experienced differently by men and women. Evolutionary psychologists believe that male jealousy stems from the desire to ensure the propagation of their genes, while women are more distressed by close emotional bonds with their partners. The physiological responses of men and women to the hypothetical scenarios of sexual or emotional infidelity suggest that male sexual jealousy could be an evolutionary reflex that has yet to catch up with modern times where affairs are less likely to result in pregnancies.

Women, Infidelity and Evolution

Evolutionary psychologists argue that women tend to cheat for material wealth and biological benefits. Studies reveal that women often exchange sexual favors for material goods, such as money, food, or jewelry. Some anthropologists have discovered similar behavior in human communities. The !Kung people in the Kalahari Desert believed that having several lovers provides access to a diverse range of materials, including beads and money. Additionally, evolutionarily, women were traditionally drawn to the idea of having multiple partners to ensure their children received the best possible genetic and material advantage. Therefore, it was preferable to have multiple partners, one as the biological father, and another to provide a supportive environment to raise the children.

Gender, Social Status, and Evolutionary Psychology

The choice of a favorite child often reflects the potential to propagate genes in the most advantageous way, according to evolutionary psychologists. Women from poor, low-status families are more likely to marry “up,” making them the family favorite. Meanwhile, boys are more likely to be favored in high-status families due to their ability to propagate genes through wealth and power. Studies by Mildred Dickemann and anthropologists Laura Betzig and Paul Turke support this dynamic through the observation of infanticide and family life in various societies.

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