The trend of tuning into our primal instincts can help explain some modern emotions
By Kristine Keller
New York City is chock-a-block with evanescent fads. While quinoa is the reining queen of menus from Canal Street to Meatpacking, it could be replaced tomorrow by another obscure South American grain-like substance. And though trampoline jumping was dominating gyms a few months ago, now classes like “Animal Flow” at Equinox gyms are devoted to unearthing our inner primal animals. And to match the current workout craze devoted to our primal past, dinner menus and cookbooks have caught wind of the trend and have implored us to eat like a Paleolithic caveman.
So while we’re on a current primal-instinct binge we might as well embrace the fact that several of our emotions are derived from our ancestral past too. And like hunting and gathering wild animals, some of these emotions are dangerous, ugly, and at times unpalatable. Romantic jealousy in particular is a phenomenon that that can be observed anywhere in a city where competitiveness is virtually carved into the sidewalks. If it’s true as Darwin ascertained, that advantageous traits are passed on to generations because they contain evolutionary value, then jealousy as it’s seen today should serve some purpose.
Evolutionary psychologists maintain that there are two types of jealousy: emotional and sexual. Psychological research demonstrates that while women are more inclined to feel jealous and betrayed when their significant other flirts emotionally with another, men are more prone to jealous outbursts at the threat of a sexual affair. The fact that jealousy might be different for both genders has been attributed to the differing evolutionary pressures faced in our ancestral past.
Evolutionary theorists argue that back then, in order to prolong one’s genetic line, men had to shack up with as many ladies as possible in order to maximize their chances at producing offspring. Conversely, women were most concerned with a partner who could invest time, energy, and resources in their offspring. This might be one reason today that some women are more attracted to successful and powerful men—people who possess the “provider” quality for their children.
So, while men inherited the desire for spreading their seed, they also inherited the unwanted consequence of possibly fathering several children from different women. And if a man is going to invest all he’s got in his children, he wants to be sure as hell that they belong to him. Paternity uncertainty is the prime reason attributed to the evolution of sexual jealousy—and might also be one reason a guy goes off the rails when he thinks you’ve crossed a physical boundary with your cheetah-teaching fitness instructor. And while paternity uncertainty isn’t something people are consciously concerned about, it may be a subconscious thought left over from a time when our ancestors had to worry about it most. Raising another’s child is the kiss of death to one’s genetic line and research has actually demonstrated that nearly two percent of men in the United States today are unknowingly raising another man’s child.
But while men are concerned about physical swindles, evolutionary theorists argue that women’s jealousy stems from emotional cheating. In line with the aforementioned theories, women are attracted to men who can provide for their children and provide a consistent foundation for a stable upbringing. A man who cheats emotionally with another might neglect in his commitment duties for his child and possibly put the child’s successful upbringing at risk. This is why studies maintain that women are more likely to forgive and forget a sexual affair before they would an emotional affair. You might have been fine with your boyfriend eyeing the waitress at lunch, but both feet were out the door the second he put those looks into words and started sexting her under the table.
While paleo-fad diets and ancient animalistic high-jumps might be beneficial to our health, jealousy can take its toll. Darwin might have his reasons for why you experience jealous rage, but if you can help it, check yourself before you wreck yourself. Channel your energy into examining why you’re jealous and assessing what you can do to combat the green-eyed monster. Maybe then you can improve your strength, resilience, and health without ever even signing up for an “Animal Flow” class.
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