(The following excerpt from Pay It Back And Pay It Forward…Or The Emergence Of Positive Evolutionary Psychology by Glen Geher, Ph.D., recently appeared on psychologytoday.com. To view it in its entirety click on the link below.)
One of the single greatest advances in the evolutionary behavioral sciences in the past several decades can be described as the intellectual bursting of the “selfishness” dam. In 1976, renowned biologist, thinker, and writer, Richard Dawkins published The Selfish Gene (with Oxford University Press). This book is, essentially, a highly accessible and powerful summary of Darwin’s ideas on evolution — applied largely (but not fully) to several classes of animal behavior (such as the mating habits of the praying mantis, the murderous nature of emperor penguins, and the helpful nature of vampire bats). This book is truly awesome and you should put it near the top of your list if you have any interest in the world around you and haven’t yet read this significant work.
One intellectual consequence of Dawkins’ provocative title was a focus on the many connotations of the term selfish. Dawkins meant this term in a very specific sense, literally meaning that a “selfish gene” is a gene that codes for qualities of an organism that increase the likelihood of survival and/or reproductive success. In short, replicating genes out-exist non-replicating (or poorly replicating) genes in the future of a species. This is really all he meant. But folks who followed his work elaborated. It made sense to many to think of an animal such as a human, then, as a primarily selfish being. After all, the reasoning goes, if genes that exist are selfish, then products of genes, such as humans, must be too. And this fallacious reasoning drove much in the way of (a) how evolutionary science has progressed since the publication of The Selfish Gene and (b) how evolution (now seen by many as espousing a “red in tooth and claw” take on our kind), has taken on something of a cold angle on what it means to be any kind of organism, including a human.
There is good news and bad news that follow up on The Selfish Gene. The bad news is that this misinterpretation (or overly applied extension) of Dawkins’ metaphor has not helped work in the evolutionary sciences with PR issues. People from the outside looking in often think, “Oh, that evolution stuff – isn’t that the stuff that says we are animals and that we all want to kill each other for our own selfish gain?” Not so pleasant a portrait. I can see why someone might not like that!
The good news follows: An amazing thing about this field in the past several decades has been the landslide of research that sheds light on the positives of human nature from an evolutionary perspective. We can almost think of this as the dawn of a potential field we could call Positive Evolutionary Psychology (yup, PEP!). Here are just a few directions that the science in evolutionary psychology has taken which paints humans as loving, helpful, and self-sacrificing:
- Paying It Back: Or giving back to others who have given to you in some important way, is hugely significant from the perspective of evolutionary psychology. Trivers’ (1971) landmark work on the topic of reciprocal altruism demonstrated that in relatively long-lived species, such as our own, the tendency for altruism among-non kin may evolve – and it may take the form of people helping others, even strangers. We’ve evolved to pay it back.
- Paying It Forward: This is a term that’s been thrown around a lot in recent years, and I love it! It essentially says to give to others — not to reciprocate them for having helped you in the past, but to help them proactively so that they are on good footing moving forward.
- Loving Selflessly: An enormous body of work on the evolutionary psychology of love that has come out in the past two decades (e.g., Fisher, 1993) has demonstrated how strong our love for another can be. And this kind of love can be selfless. Further, this kind of love is an important part of our evolutionary heritage.
Did Dawkins’ juggernaut of a term, Selfish Gene, imply that all features of all organisms are selfish in the colloquial sense? Absolutely not. He simply meant that qualities of organisms that lead to gene replication are likely (mathematically) to out-exist qualities that do not facilitate such replication. In complex, socially oriented, and long-lived critters like us, it’s very often the case that selfless, other-oriented behaviors (such as paying it back, paying it forward, or loving another in a selfless manner) are exactly the highly evolved things that make us human – and these are the qualities we share with humans in all corners of the globe.
To some extent, selfish genes have, in the case of our kind, created altruistic apes who focus largely on what they can do to help others and to build strong and positive communities. This sounds a little like positive evolutionary psychology* to me!
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” – Leo Buscaglia
(The following post entitled The Power Of Touch: A Touching Moment by Samantha Smithstein recently appeared on psychologytoday.com. To view it in its original format click on the link below.)
Recently in my San Francisco psychotherapy office, while expressing her anger and frustration, a typically reserved patient caught both of us off-guard by beginning to sob. The sobbing quickly turned into hyperventilating and I found myself watching her gasp for breath, bent over, unable to regain calm.
Without thinking much about it, I ceased to do what I was trained to do (stay sitting in my chair and not touch my patients), got up, walked over to her, and placed my hand gently but firmly in the center of her back. In the same voice I might use to help my child regain composure, I told her to take slow, deep breaths that she was going to be okay, and to focus on calming her body down. I kept my hand gently and firmly in place. Within the minute her breathing slowed, her body relaxed, and she was able to go back to talking about her feelings.
While my voice and instruction may have helped, and of course she might have just calmed herself down, there is evidence which suggests my hand on her back may have been just what the situation called for. Social scientists have shown for years that supportive touch can create positive outcomes, such as increased student participation when a teacher touches them on the back or arm, athletes performing better when they hug or high-five each other, and patients liking a doctor more if they are touched.
Positive touch can also decrease a negative experience. For example, when people are given a stressful task, if they had been holding hands or hugged beforehand they have lower blood pressure, lower heart rate and experience less stress than without that touch. The hand-holding or hugging actually decreases the stress hormone cortisol and increases the release of oxytocin, which promotes feelings of devotion, trust and boding. The Touch Research Institute has conducted research on therapeutic massage and found that it can alleviate depressive symptoms, improve immune function, enhance attentiveness, and even facilitate weight gain in preterm infants. Of course, in India therapeutic touch has been used for medical, psychological, and emotional benefits for centuries, through panchakarma.
So where does that leave us? For people in contact with friends, family, and children, it gives us important information how to be there for them in a way that is so simple but so powerfully effective in reducing stress, creating calm, health, happiness, and love. For those in professions where touch is typically discouraged due to past abuse, such as teaching, psychotherapy, coaching, and others, it gives us something to ponder. Certainly we won’t start cuddling with those who we work with – important boundaries must always be respected. But it may be that there are moments when a hand on the arm or back of someone who needs it is ultimately as effective – or even more so – than anything we might say. If this is true, then it’s worth thinking about.
Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
1. They devote a great amount of time to their family and friends, nurturing and enjoying those relationships.
2. They are comfortable expressing gratitude for all they have.
3. They are often the first to offer helping hands to coworkers and passersby.
4. They practice optimism when imagining their futures.
5. They savor life’s pleasures and try to live in the present moment.
6. They make physical exercise a weekly and even daily habit.
7. They are deeply committed to lifelong goals and ambitions (e.g., fighting fraud, building cabinets, or teaching their children their deeply held values).
8. Last but not least, the happiest people do have their share of stresses, crises, and even tragedies. They may become just as distressed and emotional in such circumstances as you or I, but their secret weapon is the poise and strength they show in coping in the face of challenge. [The How of Happiness]
Technology Makes Reading Better. Here’s How.
by Terry Heick
Recently I created a quick list of apps that support close-reading.
In that post, I theorized that “close-reading is the product of a dynamic and deeply personal interaction between the reader and a text. It is an active process characterized by questioning, adjusting reading rate, judgment thinking, and dozens of other “strategies” readers use to make sense of what they’re reading.”
Most teachers know what close-reading is. The part that I found most interesting the seemingly alien idea of technology promoting patient reading. Apps, for example—how on earth can a tablet or an app or an iPad or headphones or some other gadget help with the focus, patience, curiosity, and will to sit with a text and make sense of it? It seems like the opposite would be more likely.
And that’s certainly possible. There is no “truth” here. In one setting with one student in one kind of classroom, technology could overwhelm the fragile interaction between reader and text. In others, it could catalyze the reading process like never before.
But that’s a matter of design. Of strategy. Of context. At one point, books were considered “technology” during a move from oral storytelling to written record. The same with certain kinds of binding, the printing press, and so on. Throughout history, reading has been altered by technology.
Reading is just the communication of ideas through alphanumeric symbols. I’m not sure what this represents such hallowed ground for teachers, but it does. Personally I’d be more concerned with reading habits, reasons for reading, the quality of reading materials, etc. Symbols change, forms change, media change. See the gif animations that demonstrate how a student feels when “bae won’t respond to them.” This is your audience, and these are the symbols they gravitate towards.
In the apps-for-close-reading post, I said that this “interaction” between reader and text during close reading “doesn’t require technology, but can be changed by it.” So it made sense, I thought, to guess at some ways this happens. Or should be happening, anyway.
With more personalization, more access, and more connectivity, we should be creating a generation of close-readers that can’t get enough. So if we’re not, the question is, why isn’t that happening? The pieces are there.
Technology Makes Reading Better. Here’s Exactly How.
1. Social readers are connected readers
Through apps with social components, readers can be connected through texts. Reading groups, reading contests,reasons for reading, book suggestions, building social credibility for the process of reading, and more are possible when reading is, at least on some level, a social act.
2. Adaptive learning algorithms can lead to personalization
With adaptive learning algorithms, readers can have the pace, diversity, complexity, and form of their reading materials personalized instantly.
3. Increased access & choice
Through digital storefronts, free eBooks, RSS feeds, social magazines, and more, there has never been a time where students had more content at their fingertips.
Like this book using an eReader like Kindle or iBooks? Here are 25 just like it. Also, here are 10 other authors that those who liked this book also liked. And here are 750 reviews that you can sift through to get a feel for what other people think. And please, download a free sample of any book you’d like.
And it’s easier than ever to publish, so while that means there’s more garbage out there, there’s also more variety. Fan fiction has exploded. If you can’t find something you like, you’re not trying.
4. Technology can distract, technology can focus
Technology can allow readers to annotate texts and share notes, which is physically interactive and “social.” There are also apps–white noise apps, for example–that can block out class distractions, and more. Before you blame technology for “distracting” students, make sure you’re honest with yourself about how focused they were without the tech.
5. Hyperlinking and digital mashing can diversify a text
Texts can be “layered” with links and supplemental media to compensate for reading levels of background knowledge. This isn’t a distraction–done properly, this can contextualize the text.
6. Analytics can personalize the mechanics of reading
Analytics can be, well, analyzed for the practice of reading—time spent reading, how often readers clicked on certain words, etc. I know, this is vague. I’m not a reading specialist or an app developer. The point is that data can be used to keep all readers in their “literacy sweet spot,” supporting struggling readers, challenging advanced readers, and offering choice to grade-level readers.
7. Texts can have their lexile levels adjusted instantly
Take the data from #6, and you’ve got a powerful combination. This means less or more complex sentence structure, syntax, vocab, etc. Platforms like news-o-matic already do this, as do a variety of apps and desktop programs. And using eReader apps, students can touch a word and get its definition instantly. Not that they necessarily will, mind you–close reading is still a matter of will. But they can.
8. Reading speed is more “visible”
With apps that allow the practice of sight words, others created expressly to increase reading speed, and others that measure time spent reading, words read per minute, and more, more than ever reading speed is visible, and higher reading speeds generally translates to increased comprehension.