Why do we go through the trouble of constructing elaborate scenarios in our minds in the form of counterfactual thinking? In some cases, It can help us learn from our mistakes and make proper adjustments to thrive in the future. In other cases it may serve as a defensive mechanism, gaurding us against thoughts that reflect a truer (and often harsher) picture of reality. Could it be that counterfactual thought can provide us with a means of re-evauluating our social relationships? This concept may not be a far off-shoot from the others but I believe it is an interesting point to make as it highlights its relavance to social cognition. Take for example, the following thought: “What if I had said “x” to my friend?” This re-imagining of a verbal social interaction can serve to provide valuable feedback that could affect the future of a relationship. In the sense, when we have a counterfactual thought like this, we use it to re-evaluate the parameters,strength, and nature of our relationships. The infromation ascertained through these ficticious scenarios can help guide how we view and maintain our relationships. This would have been important in our evolutionary past as social interactions could more readily be linked to survival. If the species had those capabilities or not, I’m not sure as they require higher level, refined thought proccesing capability. Regradless, even in current times, these frequent evaluations are helpful and insightful tools in maintaining social order.
Over the weekend, I met someone who said to me “If you’re not weird, you’re weird”. Although it seems to be a self-violating phrase, I understood what she meant. Perhaps it could be explained by claiming that there is no “real” normal or by saying that everyone is weird in some way. What does this statement really reflect about our society? Are people these days more accepting of the vast individual differences exhibited by each unique person? How would this phrase be approached in a different time period? If we as a people are more accepting of other people currently, it may be because of an increase in the availability of communication. New technology has allowed us to reach out to more people in different circumstances, promoting a heightened familiarity with the individualities that mark the human experience. The social environment has altered and shaped how we think about people and how we interact with them.
How will the current social environment affect the path of human evolution? By definition, evolution results from the thriving of the advantageously adapted. Those better suited to the environment survive and pass on their genes, while the less advantageously adapted pass away and don’t reproduce. Has the social environment altered what is considered advantageous?
Like in the past, certain disease will decrease in likelihood as they fail to remain in the gene pool. An example of this mechanism still in action can be seen in diseases like Tay-Sachs, where those with it often don’t reach sexual maturity. Other previously devastating ailments like infections are easily treated by inexpensive medication. Even those who can’t afford the medication can utilize social programs to get the treatment. This social atmosphere levels the playing field so that those with a stronger immune system aren’t at such a significant advantage. Will this in slow the progress of human evolution? Perhaps it will, but by no means would I favor a system that denies basic healthcare to those who can’t afford it. I theorize that compassion may a product of evolution as well. In our more primitive form, cooperation/compassion was essential for survival. They may have roots in the expectation of reciprocation. It’s just an interesting thought about the evolutionary path our species will blaze and the effect that the social environment has on it.