On Human Nature  – and, Evolutionary Psychology ! 

Note the dialog, in this trailer for Kaufman’s Anomalisa (2015):

(Namely, the first line is: “What is it, to be human?“)

A cool Kaufman interview, is here.

So: one of the aims of drama, and of cinema – and of much of literature and art in general – is to depict, illuminate, and explore: Human Nature…

Epistemology - How do we know what we know?

What is Human Nature ?

So – then, what is: Human Nature?

…In On Human Nature (1978), E. O. Wilson describes human nature as follows:

`The elements of human nature are the learning rules, emotional reinforcers, and hormonal feedback loops that guide the development of social behaviour into certain channels as opposed to others… Human nature is, moreover, a hodgepodge of special genetic adaptations to an environment largely vanished, the world of the Ice-Age hunter-gatherer.’

(Edward O. Wilson, 1978, p. 196).

This description above is a great starting point, as a definition of Human Nature. (Human nature is: complex. But we have to start somewhere.)

Here is a great debate between evolutionary philosopher Helena Cronin and academic and feminist writer Germaine Greer, on Feminism.

And here is a great Edge conversation – on human nature – with Darwinian philosopher, Helena Cronin.

Here is an excerpt:

`The ‘implication’ that seems to worry people most of all is so-called ‘genetic determinism’. It’s the notion that, if human nature was shaped by evolution, then it’s fixed and so we’re simply stuck with it — there’s nothing we can do about it. We can never change the world to be the way we want, we can never institute fairer societies; policy-making and politics are pointless.

Now, that’s a complete misunderstanding. It doesn’t distinguish between human nature — our evolved psychology — and the behavior that results from it.

Certainly, human nature is fixed. It’s universal and unchanging — common to every baby that’s born, down through the history of our species. But human behavior — which is generated by that nature — is endlessly variable and diverse. After all, fixed rules can give rise to an inexhaustible range of outcomes. Natural selection equipped us with the fixed rules — the rules that constitute our human nature. And it designed those rules to generate behavior that’s sensitive to the environment.

So, the answer to ‘genetic determinism’ is simple.

If you want to change behavior, just change the environment.

And, of course, to know which changes would be appropriate and effective, you have to know those Darwinian rules.

You need only to understand human nature, not to change it.’

(Cronin, 2000, online, bold emphasis mine)

If you want to be an effective creative (fiction) writer, you need to know: human nature.

And, presented below are some models of Human Nature, from Tooby & Cosmides, and also Joseph Carroll.

But – first…

Handbook of Ev Psych (ed. Buss 2005)

The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology (ed: David Buss 2005)

In the `Conceptual Foundations of Evolutionary Psychology’ chapter of Buss (2005) (which you can read online, for scholarly use, at Publication List for Leda Cosmides and John Tooby), Tooby and Cosmides detail the core tenets of Evolutionary Psychology, as developed since 1992,[1] stipulating that:

`The long-term scientific goal towards which evolutionary psychologists are working is the mapping of our universal human nature.’

(Tooby & Cosmides, 2005, p. 5, bold emphasis mine).

And in fact there’s now a second edition, in 2 parts(!)

Evolutionary Psychology 2nd Edn (2015)

The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology (2nd Edn) Vol. 1 – Foundation (ed: Buss 2015)

And Volume 2: (Integrations)

Evolutionary Psychology 2nd Edn Part 2 Integrations (2015)

The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology (2nd Edn) Volume 2 – Integrations (ed: Buss 2015)

And – definitely, see also:

Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind (Buss 2012)

Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind (Buss 2012)

`The quest for understanding the human mind is a noble undertaking. As the field of evolutionary psychology matures, we are beginning to gain answers to the mysteries that have probably intrigued humans for hundreds of thousands of years: Where did we come from? What is our connection with other life forms? And what are the mechanisms of mind that define what it means to be a human being?’

(Buss 2012, p. xiv, bold emphasis mine)

Below is a diagram from the excellent book Evolutionary Psychology (Buss 2012). Buss explains Evolved Psychological Mechanisms as systems:

`The input of an evolved psychological mechanism is transformed through decision rules into output. Upon seeing a snake, you can decide to attack it, run away from it, or freeze. Upon smelling a pizza just out of the oven, you can choose to devour it or walk away from it (perhaps if you are on a diet). The decision rules are a set of procedures – “If, then” statements – for channeling an organism down one path or another. When publicly confronting an angry rival, for example, humans might have “if, then” decision rules such as “If the angry rival is larger and stronger, then avoid a physical fight; If the angry rival is smaller and weaker, then accept the public challenge and fight”. In this example, inputs (a confrontation by an angry rival of particular size) are transformed through decision rules (“if, then” procedures) into output (behaviour to either fight or flee).’

(Buss 2012, p. 49)

Evolved Psychological Mechanisms - (Buss 2012, p.49)

Joseph Carroll states:

`Adaptationist literary theorists argue that literature is produced by human nature, is shaped by human nature, and takes human nature as its primary subject.’

(Carroll, 2005, p. 940, bold emphasis mine)

And, also:

`As a distinct school within Darwinian social science, evolutionary psychology, narrowly defined, has tended to discount the significance of domain-general intelligence and of individual differences. It has instead attributed predominating significance to domain-specific cognitive modules and to human universals (see Bailey, 1997, 1998; Chiappe & MacDonald, 2003; Cosmides & Tooby, 1994; Crawford, 1998; Foley, 1996; Geary, 1998; Geary & Huffman, 2002; Irons, 1998; MacDonald, 1990, 1995b, 1997, 1998a, 1998b; Mithen, 1996, 2001; Potts, 1998; Richerson & Boyd, 2000; Segal & MacDonald, 1998; Tooby & Cosmides, 1990, 1992; D. S. Wilson, 1994, 1999, in press).’

(Carroll, 2005, p. 940)

And – here are three models of Human Nature, via Evocriticism and Evolutionary Psychology from evocritic (Literary Darwinist) Professor Joseph Carroll.

A model of Human Nature (Carroll in Buss 2005, p. 941)

A model of Human Nature (Carroll in Buss 2005, p. 941)

Human Nature; Specific Cultures; Individual Artists; Particular works of Art (Carroll 2012)

Human Nature; Specific Cultures; Individual Artists; Particular works of Art (Carroll 2012)

As Carroll (2012) notes, these 3 sets of Evolutionary Psychology (Humanist, Broad-school and Narrow-school) correlate with the triune brain.

A disciplinary doll (Carroll, Style 2012, p. 135)

A disciplinary doll (Carroll, Style 2012, p. 135)

Three versions of Evolutionary Psychology (Carroll 2012, p. 133)

Three versions of Evolutionary Psychology (Carroll, Style 2012, p. 133)

And here are some earlier models, from the brilliant Evolution and Literary Theory (Carroll 1995).


Hierarchy of Regulative Principles in Human Activity (Carroll 1995, p294)

Hierarchy of Regulative Principles in Human Activity (ELT, Carroll 1995, p. 294)

Table of Thematic Elements ELT p266

Table of Thematic Elements – Evolution and Literary Theory (Carroll 1996, p. 266)

The Big 5 personality traits are one way to measure personality and psychology. it is also known as OCEAN, an acronym for: Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.

You can take the `Big 5′ test here.

As an aside, creativity expert Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi studied the traits of highly creative individuals.

My own illustration of the above (antithetical personality traits) is in diagram form below.

The Creative Personality - and their `variable' Traits (Velikovsky 2013)

The Creative Personality – and just some of their `variable’ Traits (Velikovsky 2013)

In the article Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (2013). `Evolutionary Psychology: New Perspectives on Cognition and Motivation.’ in the Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 201-229. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.121208.131628, the Abstract reads:

`Evolutionary psychology is the second wave of the cognitive revolution. The first wave focused on computational processes that generate knowledge about the world: perception, attention, categorization, reasoning, learning, and memory. The second wave views the brain as composed of evolved computational systems, engineered by natural selection to use information to adaptively regulate physiology and behavior. This shift in focus—from knowledge acquisition to the adaptive regulation of behavior—provides new ways of thinking about every topic in psychology. It suggests a mind populated by a large number of adaptive specializations, each equipped with content-rich representations, concepts, inference systems, and regulatory variables, which are functionally organized to solve the complex problems of survival and reproduction encountered by the ancestral hunter-gatherers from whom we are descended. We present recent empirical examples that illustrate how this approach has been used to discover new features of attention, categorization, reasoning, learning, emotion, and motivation.’

(Tooby & Cosmides 2013)

And, the following diagram appears:

Architecture of a Kin Detection System - (Tooby & Cosmides 2013, p 220)

Architecture of a Kin Detection System – (Tooby & Cosmides 2013, p 220)

So, this shows how Evolutionary Psychology is working on mapping a model of Human Nature.

Introducing Evolutionary Psychology (Evans & Zarate 1999)

Introducing Evolutionary Psychology (Evans & Zarate 1999)

In Evans, D., & Zarate, O. (1999). Introducing Evolutionary Psychology, the following diagram appears, showing Tooby and Cosmides talking about the evolved modules in the brain, and there may be hundreds – or possibly even, thousands – of these modules:

Introducing Evolutionary Psychology (1999 pp. 40-1)

Introducing Evolutionary Psychology (1999 pp. 40-1)

Anyway, so Human Nature is complex. So is the human mind.

And if for some reason you can’t get ahold of Introducing Evolutionary Psychology (1999), here is a great (in fact, the best) primer.

Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer

by Leda Cosmides & John Tooby


Center for Evolutionary Psychology.png

Another great book on Evolutionary Psychology is Pinker, S. (1997/2009). How the Mind Works (Norton pbk. ed.). New York: Norton.

How The Mind Works (Pinker 1997/2009)

How The Mind Works (Pinker 1997/2009)

There is a great documentary on Kanopy (for educational purposes), an excellent  1-hour lecture of Pinker (2002) on How The Mind Works.

There is also a great list of Brown’s Human Universals in the Appendix to The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (Pinker 2002).

The Blank Slate (Pinker 2003)

The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature  (Pinker 2003)

The list of Human Universals is here.

Or you can read the full book:

Human Universals (Brown 1991)

Human Universals (Brown 1991)

Also, David J Buller has an interesting chapter, `Varieties of Evolutionary Psychology’ in this book: Hull, D. L., & Ruse, M. (2007). The Cambridge Companion to the Philosophy of Biology. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press (pp. 255-74).

Cambridge Companion to the Philosophy of Biology - 2007

Buller (2007) notes:

`In a narrower sense, the term ‘‘evolutionary psychology’’ often designates just a specific research program within the field of evolutionary psychology, the foremost theoreticians of which are the anthropologists John Tooby and Donald Symons and the psychologists Leda Cosmides and David Buss.

This group of researchers is united in the belief that adoption of an evolutionary perspective on human psychology immediately entails a number of very specific theoretical and methodological doctrines, and often the term ‘‘evolutionary psychology’’ specifically refers to this set of doctrines.

So as to clearly distinguish the field of inquiry from the specific research program, I will refer to the field of inquiry as ‘‘evolutionary psychology’’ (in lowercase) and the research program as ‘‘Evolutionary Psychology’’ (capitalized).’

(Buller in Hull & Ruse, 2007, p. 256, bold emphasis mine)

And Buller (2007) also notes:

`Evolutionary Psychologists argue, each adaptive problem would have selected for its own dedicated problem-solving psychological mechanism (Symons 1992).

Moreover, since our Pleistocene ancestors faced such an enormous variety of adaptive problems, Cosmides and Tooby conclude that ‘‘the brain must be composed of a large collection of circuits, with different circuits specialized for solving different problems. One can think of each specialized circuit as a minicomputer that is dedicated to solving one problem. Such dedicated minicomputers are sometimes called modules’’ (1997, 81).

Indeed, Cosmides and Tooby estimate that the human mind contains hundreds or thousands of such modules, and this view has accordingly been dubbed the massive modularity thesis. According to Evolutionary Psychologists, evolved modules have the following properties (Cosmides and Tooby 1997, Tooby and Cosmides 1992).

First, they are domain specific, specialized to deal only with a restricted task domain. As such, their information-processing procedures are activated by, and sensitive to, only information about a particular aspect of the world, in much the way the ear is responsive only to specific vibratory frequencies.

Second, they are equipped with substantial innate knowledge about their proprietary problem domains and with a set of innate procedures specialized in employing that knowledge to solve problems in their domains.

And, third, they develop reliably, and without formal instruction in their problem domains, in every ‘‘normal’’ member of our species.

(Buller in Hull & Ruse, 2007, pp. 259-260)

Buller (2007) also distinguishes Evolutionary Psychology from Human Behavioural Ecology:

`Human behavioral ecology is simply the application of these ideas to humans, and it thereby involves several theoretical commitments regarding human behavior.

First, human behavioral ecology assumes that human decision making is flexibly responsive to current environmental conditions, resulting in the choice of behavioral strategies that will optimize the allocation of effort among competing life demands and maximize lifetime reproductive output relative to the constraints imposed by the environment (Borgerhoff Mulder 1991, 70).

As a result, second, human behavioral ecology sees behavioral differences between individuals as adaptive responses to differing environmental conditions. Human behavioral ecology thus seeks ‘‘to determine how ecological and social factors affect behavioural variability within and between populations’’ (Borgerhoff Mulder 1991, 69).

Accordingly, human behavioral ecologists often interpret human behavior as the result of conditional strategies, behavioral strategies of the form ‘‘In environmental conditions A, do x; in conditions B, do y; in conditions C, do z’’  (Smith et al. 2001, 128).

Third, human behavioral ecologists assume that human behavior is adaptive across a very wide range of environmental conditions, including many environmental conditions to which our species was never exposed during its evolutionary history.

Thus, whereas Evolutionary Psychology expects human behavior to be frequently maladaptive in contemporary environments (because evolution in our psychological adaptations is lagging behind the rapid changes in post-Pleistocene human environments), human behavioral ecology expects human behavior ‘‘to be well-adapted to most features of contemporary environments, and to exhibit relatively little adaptive lag’’ (Smith 2000, 30).

(Buller in Hull & Ruse, 2007, pp. 266-267)

So – both Ev Psych, and Human Behavioural Ecology, are fascinating… and I commend that (Buller 2007) chapter to you.

On Human Nature and Movies

…Interestingly, the second produced movie that was written by Charlie Kaufman, often known as “the screenwriters’ screenwriter”, (Kaufman was the writer of: Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Synecdoche New York, and Annomalisa) was actually called: Human Nature (Kaufman & Gondry, 2001).

HUMAN NATURE theatrical movie poster - by Wikipedia, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9019598

HUMAN NATURE (Kaufman & Gondry 2001) – theatrical movie poster – Source –  Wikipedia, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9019598

As an aside, there is a pretty-brutal review of the movie Human Nature (2001) online, here.

So — to re-emphasize that movie screenwriting is (usually) about exploring, depicting and illuminating Human Nature (as well as doing Philosophy about it), note again the dialog, in this trailer for Kaufman’s Anomalisa (2015): Namely, that first line is: “What is it, to be human?


You’ve been reading a long time.

Okay Intermission is over.

So, Evolutionary Psychology as a scientific domain of knowledge examines, exactly: What it means, to be human.

Epistemology - How do we know what we know?

What does it mean, to be Human ?

And, for more articles on Human Nature by Tooby & Cosmides, and other researchers in Ev Psych (or, EP), see: http://www.cep.ucsb.edu/publist.htm

So – if you want to be a good movie screenwriter, it probably helps to know more (in fact, as much as you can) about: Human Nature.

Of course – most people already have `folk psychology’ wisdom, about: Human Nature, via: Life Experience…!

But the scientific view is helpful, too.

Creators of the Top 20 RoI Movies also demonstrate an extensive knowledge of Human Nature.

And – for more consilient (or, science meets the arts) books, see: StoryAlity #71On Consilience in the Arts / Humanities / Communication

Stanley Kubrick – on Human Nature

Kubrick is pretty much regarded as the genius of cinema… (and Terence Malick is probably the living one… if there’s only allowed to be one, for some odd reason.)

Here is another great book on some geniuses of cinema:

Great Flicks - Simonton 2011

Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics (D K Simonton 2011)

And – there’s some fabulous information on A Clockwork Orange, here (including Kubrick’s own – radical, inverted – screenplay formatting) – ! Kubrick: ever the independent critical thinker. He questioned everything. What a mind…

Why was Kubrick such a genius of cinema? Lots of reasons, here are just a few:

Kubrick and One-Point Perspective

Another was: his use of colour theory. (And see: Ev Psych, for more on colour theory.)

Kubrick in Colour

Another was: his all-round genius.

His use of shot composition. Of wide-angle lenses. Of mise en scéne. Of music. Of six kinds of light. Of tracking shots. Of editing. Of locked-off shots. Of dialogue. Of sound design. Of costume design. Of actor performance. Of the human face.

Check this out.


…Were you not awed? Were you not entertained? (Also late in the piece… did you not get goosebumps?)

In terms of the key `problem-situation’ for screenwriters, and for movie-story creation, with regard to the orthodoxy (or, doxa) about storytelling, as Brian Boyd (2010) suggests in his essay on `Art and Evolution: The avant-garde as test case: Spiegelman in The Narrative Corpse (Boyd 2008/2010) :

`I suggest that we redefine artists’ primary problem not as expressing themselves or their times, or as trying to convey meanings, but as creating works to maximize audience attention and response – and hence their own status – within the current economy of attention, given their position within this art mode.’

(Boyd in Boyd, Carroll and Gottschall, 2010, p. 438)

In terms of attracting and maintaining audience attention and response, note what Steven Spielberg says in the documentary, Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures (2001):

`Kubrick films tend to grow on you; you have to see them more than once… but, the wild thing is: I defy you to name me one Kubrick film, you can turn off, once you start it – it’s impossible!

(Steven Spielberg, interviewed on “Remembering Stanley Kubrick”,

in Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures (2001)

Steven Spielberg is a top 20 RoI filmmaker (i.e. E.T., 1982) and he said that.

Note just how that matches with what Brian Boyd says about ” creating works to maximize audience attention and response“…

Kubrick nailed it. In so many movies.

Spielberg also says this:

`Well I think the first thing that made Stanley Kubrick so amazing was: he was a chameleon. He never made the same picture twice!Every single picture is a different genre; a different period; a different story; a different risk.

The only thing that bonded all of his films together was the incredible virtuoso he was with craft. And – with editing – and with performance – and with camera placement – with composition.

But every single story was different. And every single story was – somehow – so mysterious, in the way the story was told; it so kept you guessing: How’s this gonna turn out? What’s gonna happen next-? I can’t even imagine-!

And all his films are so filled with hairpin-turns; and story surprises; and character surprises; that you must see his films more than once; because you yearn for those same surprises…and the genius of Stanley is, you could look at a movie of his, fifteen times, and even though you know what’s right around the corner – you’ll still, give up – give it up – and you’ll be surprised, all over again.

And I don’t know anybody else who possesses that kind of magic.’

(Steven Spielberg, interviewed on “Remembering Stanley Kubrick”,

in Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures (2001)

And one more quote from a master cinema storyteller (talking about, who he considers to be the master of cinema…)

`When you look at all of his films, even though… they all have one thing in common, for me, anyway: the craft is impeccable. Every film he’s ever made, the craft is impeccable.

The lighting, the dolly-shots, the crane-moves, the zoom-ins on Barry Lyndon, the framing, the lighting, the `hot’ windows as back-light. You know… There’s the compositions. The exact compositions; you had to hit your mark precisely to please Stanley – so he’d get his `painting’-! The `painting’ he was putting on `canvas’ – for you – to appreciate-! …It had to be perfect.

His choice of lenses, his Steadicam-work in latter year films – impeccable!

The best – in history. Nobody could shoot a movie better than Stanley Kubrick, in history.

(Steven Spielberg, interviewed on “Remembering Stanley Kubrick”,

in Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures (2001)

In conclusion:

We are not worthy… Kubrick was: a genius.

If you understand, how many cinematic elements he’s getting right, all at once, and also not getting a single one of them wrong, it’s: simply mind-boggling.

You can watch his films, endlessly, and get something new from them, every time.

Post-Spartacus (1960), Kubrick’s movies are all masterpieces… And part of the explanation, is the `ten-year rule’ in creativity (Hayes 1989, DK Simonton 2011). (Kubrick’s first feature-length movie, Fear and Desire (1953), wasn’t so wonderful…!)

You can also see some of Kubrick’s early short films, here. **

Also – Kubrick knew how to pay homages-! (e.g., compare The Phantom Carriage, 1921 to Kubrick’s The Shining, 1980):

…Can you spot the diff in the two gifs, above?

Hey that reminds me.

Q: What’s the difference between a duck?

A: One of its legs is the same as the other one.

…but, creativity is just: combining things… (but they have to be the right things, and combined in a [not `the‘] right way.)

A Nuther Intermission

You’re still reading… Wow.

Okay, the 2nd Intermission is over now.

Obviously, one of the themes (and subject-matters) of A Clockwork Orange (both the novel, and the movie) is… human nature.

Here’s a few quotes – on human nature – from Kubrick’s Ciment interviews (Ciment, M. (1999). Kubrick: The Definitive Edition. New York: Faber & Faber):

Ciment: Since so many different interpretations have been offered about A Clockwork Orange, how do you see your own film?
Kubrick: The central idea of the film has to do with the question of free-will. Do we lose our humanity if we are deprived of the choice between good and evil? Do we become, as the title suggests, A Clockwork Orange? Recent experiments in conditioning and mind control on volunteer prisoners in America have taken this question out of the realm of science-fiction. At the same time, I think the dramatic impact of the film has principally to do with the extraordinary character of Alex, as conceived by Anthony Burgess in his brilliant and original novel. Aaron Stern, the former head of the MPAA rating board in America, who is also a practising psychiatrist, has suggested that Alex represents the unconscious: man in his natural state. After he is given the Ludovico ‘cure’ he has been ‘civilized’, and the sickness that follows may be viewed as the neurosis imposed by society.

Ciment: In A Clockwork Orange, Alex is an evil character, as Strangelove was, but Alex somehow seems less repellent.
Kubrick: Alex has vitality, courage and intelligence, but you cannot fail to see that he is thoroughly evil. At the same time, there is a strange kind of psychological identification with him which gradually occurs, however much you may be repelled by his behaviour. I think this happens for a couple of reasons. First of all, Alex is always completely honest in his first-person narrative, perhaps even painfully so. Secondly, because on the unconscious level I suspect we all share certain aspects of Alex’s personality.

Ciment: Are you attracted by evil characters?
Kubrick: Of course I’m not, but they are good for stories. More people read books about the Nazis than about the UN. Newspapers headline bad news. The bad characters in a story can often be more interesting than the good ones.

As an aside: in the chapter `News As Reality-Inducing, Survival-Relevant, and Gender-Specific Stimuli’ by Maria Elizabeth Grabe, in the book Applied Evolutionary Psychology (ed: S C Roberts, 2012) :

Applied Evolutionary Psychology (ed. S C Roberts 2012)

Applied Evolutionary Psychology (ed: S C Roberts 2012)

Grabe (2012) states:

`…as Pinker (1997, p. 29) puts it, “Even in a lifelong couch potato, the visual system never `learns’ that television is a pane of glowing phosphor dots.” This explains why humans have an automatic response to threatening mediated messages as if they represent bona fide danger – a scenario which media producers eagerly take advantage of… Thus during the initial seconds of exposure to a negatively-compelling media message, the brain treats it as real and prepares the body for an approach or avoidance response – even when higher-order cognitive processes are at work discounting the message as representational in nature.’

(Grabe in Roberts, 2012, p. 362)

And Grabe (2012) also notes:


The media equation perspective is well-suited for explaining the human propensity for paying attention to negatively-compelling news. The minds and bodies of contemporary humans treat the physical and mediated worlds, in large part, as if they are equally real. Thus, full motion video of an approaching tornado spells threat – during the initial seconds of exposure – every bit as much as it does in the physical world. In response, the human brain automatically mobilizes cognitive resources to attend to this mediated threat (Newhagen and Reeves 1992).

Research in the information processing area shows support for this argument. It is well documented that the brain has an automated attentive response to negatively-compelling stimuli – in mediated and non-mediated form (Blake et al. 2001; Brosius 1993; Canli et al, 2002; Plutchik 1984; Wrase et al. 2003; Zald 2003). Several studies have confirmed this point in particular reference to television news (Grabe et al. 2003; Hsu and Price 1993; Newhagen 1998). Impose the why question to this evidence of an automatic attention response to negative stimuli and one enters evolutionary psychology proper.’

(Grabe in Roberts, 2012, p. 362)

At any rate, back to Kubrick, set in Ciment:

Ciment: How do you explain the kind of fascination that Alex exercises on the audience?
Kubrick: I think that it’s probably because we can identify with Alex on the unconscious level. The psychiatrists tell us the unconscious has no conscience—and perhaps in our unconscious we are all potential Alexes. It may be that only as a result of morality, the law and sometimes our own innate character that we do not become like him. Perhaps this makes some people feel uncomfortable and partly explains some of the controversy which has arisen over the film. Perhaps they are unable to accept this view of human nature. But I think you find much the same psychological phenomena at work in Shakespeare’s Richard III. You should feel nothing but dislike towards Richard, and yet when the role is well played, with a bit of humour and charm, you find yourself gradually making a similar kind of identification with him. Not because you sympathize with Richard’s ambition or his actions, or that you like him or think people should behave like him but, as you watch the play, because he gradually works himself into your unconscious, and recognition occurs in the recesses of the mind. At the same time, I don’t believe anyone leaves the theatre thinking Richard III or Alex are the sort of people one admires and would wish to be like.

More of this wisdom from the genius who may well be the all-time master of cinema, i.e. Stanley Kubrick, at: http://www.cinephiliabeyond.org/clockwork-orange-kubrick-burgess-vision-modern-world/

Actually – the point Kubrick makes (above) about newspapers is also obvious, from common sense. Bad news is compelling, due to: human nature. We have a Nagativity Bias, as a survival mechanism. We remember the threats, the dangers, and the painful and scary (read: traumatic) experiences better than `the happy times’, which we tend to take for granted. Evolution designed us that way.

But back to the news. In Evolutionary Psychology (Buss 2012), it is (quite rightly) noted that:

`A fascinating study of 736 front-page newspaper stories from eight countries over a 300-year time period (1700 to 2001) revealed remarkable uniformity of content (Davis & McLeod, 2003)…

The content across time and cultures revealed attention to these key themes: death (accidental or natural), murder or physical assault, robbery, reputation, heroism or altruism, suicide, marital problems such as infidelity, harm or injury to offspring, abandoned or destitute family, taking a stand or fighting back, and rape or sexual assault.

The fact that these historically and cross-culturally recurrent themes correspond precisely to the topics covered throughout this textbook provides naturalistic evidence that human attention is specially targeted toward information content of maximal relevance for solving adaptive problems that have occurred for humans over deep time.’

(Buss 2012, pp. 393-4, emphasis mine)

And there is more on the human Negativity Bias in this book:

Hardwiring Happiness (Hanson 2013)

Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence (Hanson 2013)

At any rate, Kubrick certainly understood: Human Nature.

But – Kubrick was also a genius.

For the rest of us, (storytellers, filmmakers, artists, fiction writers, and so on) thankfully, there is: Evolutionary Psychology, to read and learn about: human nature-!

Mainly, thanks to: Tooby & Cosmides, Steven Pinker, E O Wilson, Robin Dunbar, Joseph carroll, Brian Boyd, Michelle Scalise Sugiyama, Ellen Dissanayake, John Gottschall, David Bordwell, and many many many more… (for more, see this post, on: Consilience)

There is actually also a very interesting interview with Oxford Professor of Evolutionary Psychology, Robin Dunbar, here:

ABC Radio National: The Science Show – `The role of singing and dancing in human evolution’ (You can listen to the 18-minute interview, online, here.)

In the interview, Dunbar notes that we share the phenomenon of laughter with, the great apes.

Here is one I prepared earlier:

Orangutan finds magic trick hilarious (40 secs)

We also share: tool-use. With some of the great apes, at least.

New evidence on the tool-assisted hunting exhibited by chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) in a savannah habitat at Fongoli, Sénégal (J. D. Pruetz, P. Bertolani, K. Boyer Ontl, S. Lindshield, M. Shelley, E. G. Wessling – Published 15 April 2015.DOI: 10.1098/rsos.140507)

For more interesting reading along these same (evolutionary) lines, see the monumental:

And then there is the superb:

Guns Germs and Steel (Diamond 1997).png

Guns, Germs and Steel (Diamond 1997)

This is a review of the book, The Third Chimpanzee (Diamond 1992) :

Jared Diamond states the theme of his book up-front: “How the human species changed, within a short time, from just another species of big mammal to a world conqueror; and how we acquired the capacity to reverse all that progress overnight.” The Third Chimpanzee is, in many ways, a prequel to Diamond’s prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel. While Guns examines “the fates of human societies,” this work surveys the longer sweep of human evolution, from our origin as just another chimpanzee a few million years ago. Diamond writes:

It’s obvious that humans are unlike all animals. It’s also obvious that we’re a species of big mammal down to the minutest details of our anatomy and our molecules. That contradiction is the most fascinating feature of the human species.

The chapters in The Third Chimpanzee on the oddities of human reproductive biology were later expanded in Why Is Sex Fun? Here, they’re linked to Diamond’s views of human psychology and history.

Diamond is officially a physiologist at UCLA medical school, but he’s also one of the best birdwatchers in the world. The current scientific consensus that “primitive” humans created ecological catastrophes in the Pacific islands, Australia, and the New World owes a great deal to his fieldwork and insight. In Diamond’s view, the current global ecological crisis isn’t due to modern technology per se, but to basic weaknesses in human nature. But, he says, “I’m cautiously optimistic. If we will learn from our past that I have traced, our own future may yet prove brighter than that of the other two chimpanzees.” –Mary Ellen Curtin (Amazon review)

Also – this interesting:

20 New Lines from The Epic of Gilgamesh Discovered in Iraq, Adding New Details to the Story …And, it’s almost, like, a `transmedia narrative extension‘ to the (epic) story  of Gilgamesh… As: in the new `lost episode’, Gilgamesh and his buddy meet a monkey. (Who doesn’t love meeting new monkeys?) But, I suppose it’s more of a “Director’s Cut” than transmedia, really)…  I use evolutionary theory to explain transmedia, in the post: Why Transmedia Is Destiny.

And, I also use the Anna Karenina evolutionary principle, from Guns, Germs and Steel (Diamond 1997) to explain: success (and failure) in the movies, here.

Another terrific Evocriticism book (which also of course draws on Evolutionary Psychology) is, this one:

On The Origin of Stories (Boyd 2009)

On The Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, Fiction (Boyd 2009)

There is also a review of this book, (and of Evocriticism in general) here.

Also, these 2 articles are interesting:

Hear the World’s Oldest Instrument, the “Neanderthal Flute,” Dating Back Over 43,000 Years

And, this:

Listen to the Oldest Song in the World: A Sumerian Hymn Written 3,400 Years Ago
(To me, it sounds like a messed-up version of Good King Wenceslas… but, whatever.)

Steven Pinker (1997/2010) notes the mind is a neural computer:

`The mind is a neural computer, fitted by natural selection with combinatorial algorithms for causal and probabilistic reasoning about plants, animals, objects and people.

It is driven by goal states that served biological fitness in ancestral environments such as food, sex, safety, parenthood, friendship, status and knowledge.

That toolbox, however, can be used to assemble Sunday afternoon projects of dubious adaptive value.

Some parts of the mind register attainments of increments of fitness by giving us a sensation of pleasure. Other parts use a knowledge of cause and effect to bring about goals.

Put them together and you get a mind that rises to a biologically pointless challenge: figuring out how to get at the pleasure circuits of the brain and deliver little jolts of enjoyment without the inconvenience of wringing bona fide fitness increments from the harsh world.’

(Pinker in Boyd, Carroll & Gottschall 2010, p. 128)

For more on all that, see this post.

Since the mind is a neural computer, it’s also exciting where we’re up to with: computing and robots (I find bipedal locomotion in robots: amazing)

Latest generation Atlas robot (3 mins)

And then there’s this: The robot band, Compressorhead, live at the Big Day Out music festival, Adelaide 2013.

Dan C Dennett has done amazing work on consciousness, considering the brain as a neural computer in:  Dennett, D. C. (1995). Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. New York: Simon & Schuster…

Darwins Dangerous Idea - Dennett 1995

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (Dennett 1995)

Dan Dennett (2008) has a wonderful 1-hour lecture on Darwin’s Dangerous Idea on Kanopy.

Also here’s a clip from Coldplay: Adventure of a Lifetime.

And this is interesting:

Meet the world’s Mrs Averages: Scientists blend thousands of faces together to reveal what the typical woman’s face looks like in 41 different countries from around the globe


See also Face Research Lab.

And Meet Florence Colgate, Who Scientists Consider The Most “Beautiful Girl Alive”

So – those are some thoughts on:

Human Nature (and Evolutionary Psychology, and Evocriticism, and Movies).

And for more detail on the evolutionary systems (or, complexity) view of narrative and bioculture in general, see this book chapter:

StoryAlity #132The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture – and the narreme, or unit of story – book chapter (Velikovsky 2016)

And for a consilience & creativity & evolution reading list, see:

StoryAlity #71On Consilience in the Arts / Humanities / Communication

Also there is the documentary, HUMAN (2015) by  Yann Arthus-Bertrand.


And, here’s a podcast of Alice Roberts, on “What makes us human”:


  • Comments and feedback, always welcome.


JT Velikovsky

High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher

The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky

JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/



[1] For an extensive list of Evolutionary Psychology publications by its key founders, Tooby and Cosmides, and others, see: http://www.cep.ucsb.edu/publist.htm


Brown, D. E. (1991). Human Universals. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Buss, D. M. (2005). The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons.

Buss, D. M. (2012). Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.

Carroll, J. (1995). Evolution and Literary Theory. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.

Carroll, J. (2005). Literature and Evolutionary Psychology. In D. Buss (Ed.), The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology (pp. 931-952). Hobokon, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Carroll, J. (2012). The Truth About Fiction: Biological Reality And Imaginary Lives. Style, 46(2).

Carroll, J. (2013). Teaching Literary Darwinism. Style, 47(2), 206-238.

Ciment, M. (1999). Kubrick: The Definitive Edition. New York: Faber & Faber.

Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (2013). Evolutionary Psychology: New Perspectives on Cognition and Motivation. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 201-229. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.121208.131628

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). The Creative Personality. Psychology Today (Jul-Aug 1996), 36-40.

Evans, D., & Zarate, O. (1999). Introducing Evolutionary Psychology. Trumpington: Icon.

Hanson, R. (2013). Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence (First edition.). New York: Random House.

Pinker, S. (2009). How the Mind Works (Norton pbk. ed.). New York: Norton.

Pinker, S. (2002). The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. New York: Viking.

Pinker in (eds) Boyd, B., Carroll, J., & Gottschall, J. (2010). Evolution, Literature and Film: A Reader. New York: Columbia University Press.

Roberts, S. C. (2012). Applied Evolutionary Psychology (1st ed.). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (2005). Conceptual Foundations of Evolutionary Pyschology. In D. Buss (Ed.), The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology. Hoboken, New Jersey: John WIley & Sons.

Velikovsky, J. T. (2016). `The Holon/Parton Theory of the Unit of Culture (or the Meme, and Narreme): In Science, Media, Entertainment and the Arts.‘ In A. Connor & S. Marks (Eds.), Creative Technologies for Multidisciplinary Applications. New York: IGI Global.

P.S. – If you want more stuff on the evolution of sound and listening, maybe also listen to: `Listening To Nature’ on Big Ideas with Paul Barclay on Radio National. Lots of natural sounds… if you like that sort of thing. e.g.: “15 species of bird, one frog, and some insects…” and their sonic signatures – and, why nature sounds like it does.


** Or, here: Taste of Cinema’s `The 24 Best Short Films of Famous Directors You Can Watch Online’. Read (and, Watch) more at: http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2015/the-24-best-short-films-of-famous-directors-you-can-watch-online/#ixzz3qCHN91b8

P.P.S. – Thanks to Tim Peterson for helpful feedback on this post!

And if evolutionary theory is totally new to you, maybe try this book:

Introducing Evolution 2011

Introducing Evolution: A Graphic Guide (Evans and Selina 2010)

And see the short videos at:

  1. StoryAlity #78 – On `the war of nature’ (from Origin of Species) by Charles Darwin
  2. StoryAlity #79 – `These instincts are highly complex…’ (The Descent of Man) by Charles Darwin

Suggested citation for this weblog post:

Velikovsky, J. T., (2016) `StoryAlity #70E – On Human Nature – and Evolutionary Psychology’, StoryAlity weblog, https://storyality.wordpress.com/ Sydney, Australia. https://storyality.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/storyality70e-models-of-human-nature-and-ev-psych/


23 thoughts on “StoryAlity#70E – Models of Human Nature – and Ev Psych

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