Already as infants humans are more fearful than our closest living primate relatives, the chimpanzees. Yet heightened fearfulness is mostly considered maladaptive, as it is thought to increase the risk of developing anxiety and depression. How can this human fear paradox be explained? The fearful ape hypothesis presented herein stipulates that, in the context of cooperative caregiving and provisioning unique to human great ape group life, heightened fearfulness was adaptive. This is because from early in ontogeny fearfulness expressed and perceived enhanced care-based responding and provisioning from, while concurrently increasing cooperation with, mothers and others. This explanation is based on a synthesis of existing research with human infants and children, demonstrating a link between fearfulness, greater sensitivity to and accuracy in detecting fear in others, and enhanced levels of cooperative behaviors. These insights critically advance current evolutionary theories of human cooperation by adding an early-developing affective component to the human cooperative makeup. Moreover, the current proposal has important cultural, societal and health implications, as it challenges the predominant view in WEIRD societies that commonly construe fearfulness as a maladaptive trait, potentially ignoring its evolutionary adaptive functions.
Monday, May 02, 2022
The human fear paradox: Affective origins of cooperative care
On the same morning last week that I read a NYTimes essay by Thomas Edsall "The Politics of Fear Show No Sign of Abating" I received an email from the journal Behavioral and Brain Science soliciting reviews on an upcoming article by Tobias Grossmann with an interesting hypothesis on why we humans are so fearful: "The human fear paradox: Affective origins of cooperative care." His 'fearful ape hypothesis' proposes that, in the context of the strong interdependence reflected in cooperative caregiving and provisioning unique to human great ape group life, heightened fearfulness was adaptive. Here I pass on the abstract of Grossmann's piece, and motivated readers can obtain the whole text from me.