Mealey Comm wilson

From: Chalmers Jennifer (
Date: Tue May 19 1998 - 12:11:04 BST


David Sloan Wilson


> If sociopathy is a biological adaptation, it probably evolved in
> small social groups in which individuals lack the social mobility
> that is required for a con-man strategy to work. On the other hand,
> conflicts between groups may have provided a large niche for
> sociopathy throughout human history.

> However, it seems to me that
> Mealey has implicitly assumed that sociopathy evolved in large fluid
> societies similar to those inhabited by modern humans. Since the
> ancestral human social environment consisted of small groups of
> hunter-gatherers, it is important to explore the fitness
> consequences of sociopathy in small groups.

> It is likely that small groups provided fewer opportunities for
> exploitation than the large fluid societies of today.

I agree, however this does not mean to say that sociopaths would not
have existed in small groups, it depends on the frequency ratio, if
sociopaths are manipulative enough and there is a low frequency it
may have been possible. Also secondary sociopaths may not have
existed which means that the number of possible sociopaths would have
been confined to primaries. If primary sociopaths did not exist in
small groups, and they did not have the mobility for between group
confrontations then sociopathy would have only been biologically
adaptive with larger groups or when small groups became more mobile.

> On the other hand, exploitation between groups has provided a large
> niche for sociopathy throughout human history. Primary sociopaths
> may lack the secondary emotions that are possessed by other humans,
> but most humans can facultatively turn their secondary emotions on
> and off, depending on whether they are interacting with a person who
> is categorized as 'us' or or 'them'. The behavior of men, women and
> even children toward a captured enemy can be devoid of compassion,
> guilt, or shame.

If we are all capable of sociopathic tendencies which I think we are
(anyone who has been or is married would agree) then there may have
been less contrast between sociopaths and non-sociopaths in
evolutionary history and these more apparent differences may only
have become more noticeable through evolutionary history. There
appears to be an assumption that the term sociopath which is used
today can be applied throughout evolutionary history. Therefore
sociopaths may have existed in small groups but had a variant of the
characteristics of today's primary sociopath

> The nature of secondary sociopathy may also be cast in a new light.
> Shay (1994) has recently written a remarkable analysis of combat
> trauma in Vietnam veterans and other soldiers, which can result in
> personality changes that amount to sociopathy. He claims that the
> lasting disability is caused, not by combat per se, but by the
> experience of being betrayed by one's commanders and other members
> of one's own group. It is the experience of the 'us' suddenly
> turning into the 'them', leaving the soldier alone or with only a
> very small group of trusted comrads in a life threatening situation.
> The effects of the betrayal are so massive that the soldier can
> sometimes never regain his feelings for his own family and society
> that were normal before the event. If this kind of permanent change
> can occur in an adult, imagine the consequences when a small child
> is betrayed by an abusive parent or step-parent.

I've left this in because it is interesting.

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