Our fascination with celebrity is a product of the modern era but its explanation may have roots deep within the biology of our brain. Culturally, it has benefited our species to imitate the behavior of the most successful members of society. Speaking in evolutionary terms, this meant the best hunter, fisher, homemaker, etc. The irony of modern celebrity worship is that we often seek to imitate behavior that has little or nothing to do with how the celebrity became well known in the first place, e.g. drinking a coffee brand an actor is paid to advertise or wearing a perfume created by a pop star.
What’s the Big Idea?
Humans are unique in the way we imitate other members of society in that we judge prestige to be the quality most worthy of imitation. Other species, such as primates, choose their leaders based on dominance, which is closely tied to the threat of physical violence. The most convincing theory of how such a system arose suggests that prestige evolved as part of a package of psychological adaptations for cultural learning. “It allowed our ancestors to recognise and reward individuals with superior skills and knowledge, and learn from them.” This behavior allowed the innovations of one individual to spread across the entire society.
A new study of the brain’s biology completed at Columbia University has overturned the accepted theory for how humans process higher-order thoughts, such as reflecting on the past and planning for the future.