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Psychology Colloquium to Address Evolutionary Computational Model of Human Anger

Posted on 4/27/2010 2:03:12 PM
Aaron Sell

The Psychology Department presents Dr. Aaron Sell from the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He will present “An Evolutionary-Computational Model of Human Anger” on Thursday, April 29, 2010, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. in Uhler Hall, Room 114.

In this lecture, Dr. Sell will apply the methods of the adaptationist program to human anger and argue that anger is the output of a cognitive mechanism designed by natural selection to negotiate conflicts of interest. The causes of anger, the behavior it produces, the factors that mitigate it, and its effects on physiology, perception, and cognition can all be explained by reference to this adaptive function. Using this framework, one can ask under what conditions aggression is mobilized by the anger system and predict individual differences in thresholds for aggression. For example, because physical aggression was frequently used by men during our evolutionary history to negotiate conflicts of interest, it was predicted and found across several cultures that physically stronger men were much more prone to aggression.

Dr. Sell’s research focuses on an evolutionary-computational model of anger called the Recalibrational Theory. According to this theory, anger is an adaptation designed by natural selection that functions to regulate conflicts of interest. He and his colleagues have used anthropometric measurements, vignette studies, argument analyses, studies of aggression, computerized facial tomography, and vocal analyses to demonstrate that many features of anger are functionally designed to respond to indications of a low Welfare Tradeoff Ratio (WTR)—i.e., an index of the weight another places on your welfare relative to their own when making decisions that impact you both.

Dr. Sell has tested the various predictions of the recalibrational theory in seven diverse cultures: the Tsimane (Bolivia), the Colla of the Andes (Argentina), the BiAka (African Congo), the Shuar (Ecuador), the Danes (Denmark), and American and Romanian college students.