Talk title: Looming Large: The Evolutionary Underpinnings and Everyday Deployment of Representations of Relative Formidability and Social Status
Speaker: Daniel M.T. Fessler, Dept. of Anthropology & Center for Behavior, Evolution, & Culture, UCLA
Abstract: In situations of potential agonistic conflict, deciding whether to fight, flee, appease, or negotiate largely hinges on the relative formidability of the parties involved. Both phylogenetically and ontogenetically, size and strength are key dimensions of this attribute. A wide variety of experiments suggest that these dimensions form the basis for a conceptual representation that summarizes many factors contributing to relative formidability and threat assessment. In turn, probing this “mind’s-eye” representation allows us to explore a wide variety of facets of social cognition, including: elementary experiences of one’s own body; the impact of parenthood; hormonal influences on threat perception; the cognitive effects of the mere presence of friends; the conceptual personification of deities, and of coalitions; the subjective and communicative consequences of synchronized behavior; the signaling functions of displays of coalitional commitment, and of voluntary risk-taking; the insidious nature of racial stereotypes; and the intersection of political orientation and responses to perceived threats. Together, these studies illuminate multiple evolved mechanisms shaping our experiences of the contemporary social world.