Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Prosociality and Humor

Human prosociality from an evolutionary perspective: Variation and
correlations at a city-wide scale

David Sloan Wilson, Daniel Tumminelli O'Brien & Artura Sesma
Evolution and Human Behavior, May 2009, Pages 190-200

Prosociality is a fundamental theme in all branches of the human behavioral sciences. Evolutionary theory sets an even broader stage by examining prosociality in all species, including the distinctive human capacity to cooperate in large groups of unrelated individuals. We use evolutionary theory to investigate human prosociality at the scale of a small city (Binghamton, NY), based on survey data and a direct measure of prosocial behavior. In a survey of public school students (Grades 6-12), individual prosociality correlates strongly with social support, which is a basic
requirement for prosociality to succeed as a behavioral strategy in Darwinian terms. The most prosocial individuals receive social support from multiple sources (e.g., family, school, neighborhood, religion and extracurricular activities). Neighborhood social support is significant as a group-level variable in addition to an individual-level variable. The median income of a neighborhood does not directly influence individual prosociality, but only indirectly through forms of social support. Variation in neighborhood quality, as measured by the survey, corresponds to the likelihood that a stamped addressed letter dropped on the sidewalk of a given neighborhood will be mailed. We discuss the results in relation to evolutionary theory, the experimental economics literature and the social capital literature in an effort to integrate the study of human prosociality across disciplines.


An Evolutionary Perspective on Humor: Sexual Selection or Interest

Norman Li, Vladas Griskevicius, Kristina Durante, Peter Jonason, Derek
Pasisz & Katherine Aumer
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming

Are people who are funny more attractive? Or does being attractive lead people to be seen as funnier? The answer may depend on the underlying evolutionary function of humor. While humor has been proposed to signal "good genes," we propose that humor also functions to indicate interest in social relationships - in initiating new relationships and in monitoring existing ones. Consistent with this interest indicator model, across three studies both sexes were more likely to initiate humor, and to respond more positively and consider the other person to be funny, when initially attracted to that person. The findings support that humor dynamics - and not just humor displays - influence romantic chemistry for both men and women,
suggesting that humor can ultimately function as a strategy to initiate and monitor social relationships.

(Nod to Kevin L)