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By Mark Lundegren
Do you marvel at the new internet-enabled social networks we all now have, or at least all now can have? And do you feel that your network, electronic or otherwise, reflects conscious decisions and preferences on your part?
A new study of modern-day hunter-gatherers by Harvard University and The University of California encourages a broader view on both points. It suggests: 1) that modern-day online social networks are more closely linked to earlier natural human social dynamics than we may realize, and 2) that our personal social networking preferences may be much more predictable than we believe.
The new study examines how human social networks are structured in our natural hunter-gatherer setting, focusing on how people with varying propensities for cooperation and individualism naturally mix and adjust to one another. This structuring of high and low cooperators is important, since in a predominantly cooperative species like Homo sapiens, incentives naturally exist for people who are more self-interested to take advantage of our generally cooperative social setting.
But highly individualistic “free-riders” must be naturally limited and made exceptional, since excessive or normalized individualism risks threatening essential cooperation and the entire society. This problem has been with us since the beginning of social life itself, and remains one of the most important social policy issues today.
The linked LA Times summary and full Nature article detail the innovative research methodology used to study social networking among the Hadza, a group of roughly 200 Tanzanian hunter-gatherers, who live in small nomadic bands and are still largely unchanged by the Agrarian and Industrial Revolutions. The study specifically identified each individual’s most likely future close social contacts and then the individual’s relative bias toward cooperation or individualism.
The researchers found that the Hadza, much like people in the modern age, strongly organize or network based on comparable propensity for cooperation and mutualism, and thus naturally segregate the more individualistic in their midst into distinct bands (ones, presumably, that are to be avoided or dealt with more warily than others). The findings are a breakthrough piece of research for anthropology and evolutionary science, and have enormous implications for the way we think about and study modern-day human affiliations of all kinds – local communities, political parties, vocations, interest groups, and yes, even our own online (and offline) social networks.
Learn more about the Hadza at National Geographic’s The Hadza. Explore evolutionary theory – and its prediction of natural “beta cycle” cooperation and the control of more primitive “alpha cycle” competitiveness in advanced species like humans – via the popular HumanaNatura article Understanding Evolution. And if you want to use the many lessons of earlier natural life to better master modern technological life, you can begin HumanaNatura’s comprehensive, lifelong, and lifewide Personal Health Program anytime.
Photo courtesy of Hadza Montage.
Mark Lundegren is the founder of HumanaNatura.
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