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We Haven’t Evolved in Over 10,000 Years

QuestionHas 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. 

QuestionCan 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. 

QuestionAre 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. 

QuestionWhat 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. 

In a number of fundamental ways, human psychology hasn’t budged in a very long time.

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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
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  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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