Big Think Interview With Satoshi Kanazawa
Satoshi Kanazawa is an evolutionary psychologist and intelligence researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is Reader in Management at LSE as well as Honorary Research Fellow in Psychology at Birkbeck College University of London. He has written over 90 articles and chapters in psychology, sociology, political science, economics, anthropology, biology, and medicine. His latest book is The Intelligence Paradox: Why the Intelligent Choice Isn't Always the Smart One (Wiley, 2012).
Satoshi Kanazawa: I am Satoshi Kanazawa. I’m an evolutionary psychologist and reader in management at The London School of Economics and Political Science.
Question: Why does scientific discovery occur at a young age?
Satoshi Kanazawa: Well the basic premise of evolutionary theory is that the ultimate goal of all biological beings is reproductive success and that includes humans as well and in order to achieve reproductive success men and women have to find each other and it’s a major goal of all males, including all men to find and attract mates. In order to do that they try to achieve and obtain high status to attract mates because women are attracted to men of higher status and greater resources and in order to do that early on in their lives before they can achieve they have to put in a lot of effort to obtain higher status and that’s why early on in their lives, when they’re still young, when they’re still looking for mates they tend to achieve more than they do later on in their lives after they have found mates.
Question: Does this explain the link between genius and crime?
Satoshi Kanazawa: The basic contention of my work is that all men are essentially the same, so be they scientists, criminals, artists, musicians and writers, whatever their chosen field of work they do whatever they do in order to get laid, so they try… The reason why scientists and artists achieve more earlier in their lives is the same as the reason why criminals are young and they try to achieve more when they’re young as well.
Question: Why does getting married depress genius?
Satoshi Kanazawa: Because reproductive success is the goal. Once they get married that means they have at least one mate. True, by competing more they can acquire more mates and possibly produce more children, but there are also costs associated with continued competition, so after they get married men tend to shift their effort, reproductive effort from mating to parenting, so now that they have one mate and they have produced some children it’s better for men to stop trying to impress more mates and start investing more into children.
Question: How did you research this?
Satoshi Kanazawa: Okay, well yes, in my study I examined the biographies of 280 scientists and I tracked the age trajectory of when they made the greatest achievements and most of them achieved their highest scientific distinction early on in their life, in their late 20s and early 30s.
Question: Why do attractive people tend to have daughters?
Satoshi Kanazawa: According to the two studies I conducted it is true. The basic contention of the theory is that whenever parents have any trait that they can transmit to their children that are better for boys than for girls then they have more boys. Conversely, whenever parents have some traits that they can transmit to their children that are better for girls than for boys then they tend to have more girls. Being attractive, being physically attractive is good both for boys and girls, but it’s even better for girls to be attractive than boys and therefore physically attractive parents knowing that they can transmit that trait to their children and to biased their offspring sex toward girls.
Question: Does this mean that women are becoming more attractive?
Satoshi Kanazawa: That is the logical conclusion if more attractive people are more likely to have daughters than sons and if physical attractiveness is heritable then it follows that over time more and more women will be attractive compared to men and that’s the trend that we’re seeing.
Question: Are liberals more intelligent than conservatives?
Satoshi Kanazawa: That is the conclusion of my latest study because being liberal is evolutionarily novel. In a sense, humans are designed to be conservative and it’s unnatural for humans to be liberal, being concerned about the welfare of millions of genetically unrelated other people. So more intelligent people are more likely to acquire unnatural preferences and values and being a liberal is one of them and as a result more intelligent people tend to be more liberal than less intelligent people.
Question: Is there mathematical proof that dating in New York is difficult?
Satoshi Kanazawa: Well it’s not just New York. Dating in any large city is difficult. In 1966 two mathematicians proved a theorem that showed that if you have to pick the best candidate… This applies to anything, dating, looking for a job candidate. If you have a pool of candidates that you haven’t seen and if your job is to pick the best candidate then it’s been mathematically proven that the best strategy to do is to reject the first 37% of the candidates regardless, so you just reject the first 37% of the candidates and then choose the next candidate that is better than all the candidates that you’ve seen before. So if you apply that to a dating situation that means that you have to reject the first 30% of all the people you date regardless and then you marry the one who is better than all the ones you’ve dated before. If you live in Iowa City or even smaller town in Iowa or anywhere else then you may get to date 10 people in your life, which means that you only have to reject 4 before you start getting serious about picking your mate. If you live in New York City you may meet a thousand people before you can start getting serious about finding a mate, so the larger the pool the more people you have to reject, more people you have to date and evaluate and then reject regardless before you can get serious about dating, so that is why if you live in a larger city where there are a larger pool of candidates then it’s more time consuming. It’s not just difficult. It’s more time consuming to have to find a mate, the best mate if you want the best mate.
Question: Do certain types of people actually look different?
Satoshi Kanazawa: This is research that I took part in marginally, but other people are doing right now. That is one of the stereotypes that people tend to reject. You can’t judge a book by its cover. It turns out that you indeed can judge a book by its cover because nice people look nice and nasty people look nasty. Just by looking at people you can tell who is likely to cooperate and who is likely to defect in any social exchange situations and you can sometimes you can often tell who are criminals and who are law abiding citizens just by looking at them because they do look different. [00:12:28.05]
Question: How do they look different?
Satoshi Kanazawa: That part we don’t know yet. It’s not mannerisms because you can tell… You can judge from still pictures. You don’t have to… If you look at movements you might be able to tell better, but that’s not necessary. Most of these studies are done with still photos, so there is no voice. There is no speech. There is no mannerism. It’s just their face somehow looks different. Nobody knows exactly what are different about them, but our brain is designed to tell because there are so many costs associated with hanging out with defectors and potential criminals we are designed to sort of avoid them, so we remember their faces better and then we can sort of tell who are nice people and who are bad people just by looking at them.
Question: Has human evolution stopped?
Satoshi Kanazawa: It depends on how you define evolution. If you define evolution as frequency of genes then no, the gene frequencies tend to change over time all the time, but if you’re talking about important psychological traits then yes, probably the human evolution, directional human evolution towards certain psychological mechanisms probably stopped about 10,000 years ago because since then things change, environment has changed so quickly, so rapidly for evolution to catch up evolution of certain traits requires that the environment stay stable for many, many generations and that hasn’t happened for the last 10,000 years, so there hasn’t been any significant evolutionary trends in the last 10,000 years and we are essentially the same as we were 10,000 years ago.
Question: Can you give a specific example of this?
Satoshi Kanazawa: Most of the work in evolutionary psychology shows that we are essentially still acting as if we’re hunter/gatherers in Africa. That’s why for example we like sweet and fatty foods. When we were hunter/gatherers on the African Savannah tens of thousands of years ago food was scarce and you’d better eat when there was enough food to eat and sweet and fatty food that have more calories were good for us because we… our ancestors suffered from shortage of calories and whenever you can get you know hand on sweet and fatty food the more you eat the better and we still act like that. That is why we still have cravings for sweet and fatty food, except that now we have supermarkets and we have food stores and you can always get food. We don’t suffer from food shortage, but our brain doesn’t know that. There was no such thing as abundant food 10,000 years ago and our brains still cannot comprehend supermarkets. If our brain comprehended supermarkets there is no need for us to crave sweet and fatty food. Food is always there, but our brain doesn’t understand that.
Question: Are humans innately aggressive?
Satoshi Kanazawa: Not so much human character, but probably male character because humans have been naturally polygamist men had to compete more to get access to women than vice-versa and also most or our productive resources are held by the females, the women, so throughout human evolutionary history, throughout the evolutionary history of most mammals males have had to compete more than females to gain access to their mates. As a result men are more violent. Men are more aggressive and it’s definitely the case that aggression, violence is unfortunately a large part of human male nature.
Question: What other traits from our hunter-gatherer society are still around?
Satoshi Kanazawa: Yeah, men’s greater tendency to engage in violence and crime. What we now call interpersonal crime, stealing, beating up each other, killing each other was a routine part of male competition in the ancestor environment. There were no police. There were no courts. There were no jails, so men only had to deal with their enemies or their competitors and possibly their friends and kin. There were no third party enforcement of law in the ancestor environment, so unfortunately men still have a tendency to engage in competition violently and try to beat up each other, try to steal from each other when that might benefit their reproductive success.
Question: What does evolutionary psychology say about love?
Satoshi Kanazawa: Love and all the other emotions are designed by evolution to compel us or incline us to engage in the right behavior, the correct behavior that would lead to reproductive success in the context of the evolutionary environment, so we are designed to love certain people that would be good for us reproductively. We are designed to find people attractive and we love people who would make great mates, who would make great parents, so that would be different for men and women, but we can predict whom men and women might fall in love with and love makes us do things that would ultimately be good, not necessarily for us, but for our genes, for the spread of our genes in the next generation
Question: Why is the divorce rate so high?
Satoshi Kanazawa: Well divorce probably has been part of human society for as long as we lived. Divorce, dissolution of marriage, dissolution of pair bonds exists in all known cultures in all known societies, so for whatever reason men and women who have bonded to produce children sometimes have split up, but most of the time the divorce was caused by the failure to reproduce. When either the man or the women is infertile and they couldn’t produce children that often led to divorce. That often led to dissolution of marriage or pair bonds, but another reason; probably the major reason why divorce rate is so high in western industrial socially imposed monogamous society is that because we don’t allow polygyny. One again, as I said before humans are naturally polygamist, successful men have always acquired multiple mates, but we don’t allow that in our society, so successful men are forced to divorce their previous wives who may have been passed their reproductive age in order to marry younger wives. If we allow polygyny, if you allow some men to acquire multiple mates divorce rate would go down dramatically because men don’t have to divorce their older wives to acquire new wives.
Question: Why do intelligent people men tend to go against the grain?
Satoshi Kanazawa: My theory is that not just intelligent men, but intelligence evolved to deal with and solve evolutionarily novel problems. Human nature consists or various psychological adaptations to solve all the familiar problems that our ancestors dealt with. We have modules for mating. We have modules for parenting. All those things that our ancestors did all the time doesn’t require intelligence. We know what to do when it comes to mating. We know what to do when it comes to parenting and learning a language associated with other people. All these things our ancestors did already have readymade solutions in our brain, but occasionally there are novel problems that required our ancestors to think and that’s how intelligence evolves. Some people who could think and reason and solve these evolutionary novel problems did better occasionally, so my contention is that intelligence evolved to deal with novel problems and as a result more intelligent people are more likely to recognize evolutionarily novel entities and situations. As a result they become more likely to adopt these novel preferences and values like sexual exclusivity for men or atheism or liberalism, so what… The key part of the equation is that intelligence leads individuals to seek novel solutions and as a result they become more likely to adopt novel preferences and values, so intelligence makes people do unnatural things.
Question: Why are night owls generally more intelligent?
Question: What other unnatural activities do highly intelligent people engage in?
Satoshi Kanazawa: My last paper I also showed that more intelligent people are more likely to be atheists and it has nothing to do with whether or not God actually exists. It’s because once again believing in God in natural. Humans are designed to be religious. Humans are designed to believe in higher powers that cause natural events and as a result more intelligent people are more like to reject that natural tendency to attribute causality to natural phenomenon and then become atheist.
Question: Do intelligent people display any other unnatural behaviors?
Satoshi Kanazawa: The third part of the paper was that more intelligent men, but not more intelligent women are more likely to value sexual exclusivity because once again humans are polygynous. Humans are naturally polygynous, which means that throughout evolutionary history men had multiple mates, whereas women always had one mate in their stable relationships, so it was unnatural for ancestral men to limit their mating to one partner, whereas it was always natural for women to do so and therefore, more intelligent men today are more like to reject that natural state of polygyny and value sexual exclusivity, whereas intelligence doesn’t affect women’s tendency to value sexual exclusivity, but that does not mean as some newspaper reported, that more… men who cheat are less intelligent. My study is about values and preferences, what inside their head. It’s not about their behavior and if I have to predict, probably more intelligent men are more likely to cheat because more intelligent men tend to acquire greater status and resources and as a result more intelligent men are more desirable and when it comes to mating what men want has nothing to do with it. It’s all about what women want and if women want to have sex with a more intelligent man because they are more desirable then that is what is going to happen, so I would predict even though I have no data, I would predict that more intelligent men who have higher status and greater resources are probably more likely to have affairs than less intelligent men, despite to fact that they don’t want to.
Question: What keeps you up at night?
Satoshi Kanazawa: I don’t worry about the state of the world. As a scientist I have no… I don’t worry about the state of the world. I only worry about scientific questions. For example, my current work shows that the average level of intelligence in all western populations is going down. That worries some of my colleagues, intelligence research the fact that as populations the average intelligence is going down. That doesn’t worry me. I don’t worry about societal trends. I only worry about scientific questions and solutions, so what keeps me up at night is solving scientific problems. I don’t solve society’s problems. I don’t care about society’s problems.
Question: What are you working on now?
Satoshi Kanazawa: Essentially like I said the effect of intelligence on fertility behavior. All my research right now involves what intelligent people value and prefer and part of what intelligent people value and prefer is not having children or having fewer children than less intelligent people.
Question: Are there other results about sexual behavior that you’re finding among intelligent people?
Satoshi Kanazawa: This work hasn’t been published yet, but probably more intelligent people are more likely to be homosexual because once again it is unnatural to be homosexual in the sense that all biological beings are designed to be heterosexual, designed for heterosexual reproduction, so in that limited sense it is unnatural to be exclusively homosexual and for that reason probably more intelligent people are more like to be homosexual than less intelligent people. Pick any unnatural things that we’re not designed for more intelligent people are more likely to do it.
A conversation with the evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics.
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