On the topic of loneliness

 

The article from the Telegraph features a study where the subjects were UK males in their early 20s to late middle age. It describes findings showing that 2.5 million men have no close friends. The author, , Social (and religious) Affairs Editor of the Daily Telegraph, extrapolates and shows that 51% men in the study said they had 2 or less friends, with 12.5% saying they have no friends. Moreover, 4 in 10 men responded saying that have thought about suicide. The study also shows that as men get older, they have less close friends.

A paradox of our modern society is that one is surrounded by people, yet we are lonelier than ever. When one moves into their first white-collar job after college, life changes. The true meaning of “day-in, day-out” becomes apparent, as David Foster Wallace beautifully describes it in his commencement speech at Kenyon College. The average job leaves you in an exhausted state where all you wish to do is unwind, not exactly the state you’d choose to be in to meet new friends. There are many aspects of society that I find dysfunctional, and this is one of them.

This study shows a truth that is not often talked about, that as men we have a hard time forging close relationships. We talk about things superficial, we don’t tell each other how we feel about ourselves, nor the other. Being emotional is not a highly valued trait within the parameters a man functions. Make it big, be a provider, have a beautiful wife, or should I say several girls. None of these factors allow for emotional instability. However, the problem is that we have no support system; a lack of close friends, because we don’t talk about our feelings. It’s a self-supportive feedback loop.

I am lucky that my personal experience is not that of these 2.5 million men. I’ve always been lucky to have good friends. In High School, a good group of guys that hung out, cared for, joked around with, and partied with each other. I would call them close friends, but we never talked about our feelings. There were girls of course, but those emotions were directed elsewhere.

So came college. I put my people-skills to use, but made no close friends. Enter collapsed lung and homesickness, you’ve got the recipe for loneliness. I was lucky I found my Fraternity. Now, two years past, I imagine if I kept on the same path I might be like those 2.5 million. However, in my Fraternity it is commonplace that we talk about serious topics, our internal feelings, and our feelings about each other. This raises the question of how do males connect and develop friendships?

We do it through shared experience. Men bond over tough situations and resolving them, over shared pain, over shared joy, shared growth. As much as this is true and poetic, it is not the whole picture, because that is exactly what my high school friends and I did. Men also bond under common values, and older brothers instilled in me such values as sincerity, openness, and brotherhood. Integrating these values with the preexisting values of our culture allowed me to find refuge in strangers.

In conclusion, our society of progressive values does not accommodate for many primal needs, and one of them is the need for close friendships. Relationships are one of our primary sources of happiness, hence lacking closeness is highly toxic to our mental health. Improving upon this would require many shifts, in both collective mentality and industrial organization, among various other factors.

 

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Short Term Mating & Game Theory

Pertinent article

Pertinent Study

In my search of somewhat credible psychology articles (you’d be surprised how much clickbait there is) – actually, you probably wouldn’t – I found an article that related to our ongoing conversation in Psychology of Personality. The article’s (http://www.spring.org.uk/2015/12/these-dark-personality-traits-are-irresistibly-attractive.php) main premise is that impulsiveness and neuroticism are both correlated to sexual success. In comparison with the original article (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1090513815001075), it seems like a snippet of information, out of place. That is probably why the rest of the blog post focuses on the main findings of the study, which were strong correlations showing that compulsive males were more sexually successful.

To start, we have the facts. The author of the blog post is Dr. Jeremy Dean, who is a psychologist, and an author of PsyBlog and HealthiestBlog.com. And his latest book is “Making Habits, Breaking habits: How to make changes that stick”. [This is paraphrased, but almost word-for-word from the blog. Should I cite this?] In terms of the research article, “The study was published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior (Vall et al., 2015).”

 

Now, I want to focus on the snippet of information that was used to generate the click-bait title, and for my intents and purposes, ignore the rest.

To clarify: I’m honing in on the idea that  other less desired personality traits, like neuroticism, can be seen as attractive, if personality is affected by natural selection, and lastly, the reasons these traits are not winnowed out by evolution.

Neuroticism is defined by Wikipedia as follows: “Neuroticism is a fundamental personality trait in the study of psychology characterized by anxiety, fear, moodiness, worry, envy, frustration, jealousy, and loneliness.[1] Individuals who score high on neuroticism are more likely than the average to experience such feelings as anxiety, anger, envy, guilt, and depressed mood.” Neuroticism is included in most personality inventories.

Narcissism is an inflated self-conception, with self-centered needs, where one seeks admiration, and to be satisfied through others.

Psychopathy can be identified by: lack of emotions and guilt, being manipulative and shallow, having a superficial charm, being impulsive, and having an unrealistically heightened self-image.

Machiavellianism is being emotionally ‘cool’ and detached, and one is more likely to manipulate and deceive others.

The three often come together, and when they do, it is called ‘The Dark Triad’.

Sadly, I don’t have access to the course PowerPoints for Psychology of Personality, so I cannot give exact correlations. In terms of attractiveness, each of these traits score high in some aspects that one or both sexes find attractive. Narcissistic people can be extremely confident, people scoring high in Machiavellianism or Psychopathy can both be manipulative, be confident, and have a superficial charm. This enables people with these traits to give off an attractive first impression.

When combined, as ‘The Dark Triad’, they show a powerful .5 correlation to short-term mating behaviors, including sociosexuality (willingness to engage in sexual activity without emotional ties), number of sex partners, and seeking a short-term mate. In contrast, it is also related to lower self-control and lack of consideration of future consequences.

It is important here to consider how evolution works. Evolution is slow acting and without intent. The only mechanism is the individual’s fitness to reproduce, and the fitness of the offspring. Therefore, given enough time, many strategies disappear, and generally the ones most successful become the most common. In terms of personality, all it can do is increase the motivation of a creature to engage in behaviors that in the past were associated with higher rates of reproduction. To give the theory that evolution affects personality some credit, hundreds of studies that we inspected in Behavioral Genetics show that there is a heritable component of varying effect to all major personality traits. Moreover, stable individual differences have been shown to have important consequences for evolutionary relevant outcomes.

To extrapolate on the topic, I want to include findings from an article by Nettle, from 2006. Firstly, somewhat in contrast to the last statement, evolution can act on personality so to promote traits that enhance survival. For example, being high in neuroticism, one can be more likely to interpret an unknown stimuli as a threat, and be able to spot a threat quicker due to high alertness. On a personal anecdote, one can see the benefits of anxiety and similar behaviors in an intimate setting as that of hunter-gatherer groups. Relating to The Dark Triad, and perhaps drawing a connection to Game Theory, I want to propose a theory as to why these traits have been so far successful. Negative frequency-dependent selection is when the fitness of a phenotype becomes less successful as it becomes more prevalent. If most people are honest and high in morals and ethics, someone who does not have a concept of the emotions of others will be able to deceive their way to reproductive fitness. Now, there are two reasons I think this wouldn’t work any other way. Firstly, as it becomes more prevalent, people grow more weary, have their guard up, and will be able to identify the traits with greater ease. Secondly, it is a short-term mating with negative correlations to long-term relationships.

I could probably have stronger evidence for my theory, but it’s a theory in progress. In relation to the blog post and article, I wholeheartedly agree that “normal-range personality variation has adaptive functions rather than being random noise around a behavioral optimum” (Bergmüller and Taborsky, 2010, Buss, 2009, Kight et al., 2013, Réale et al., 2010, Sih et al., 2004 and Wolf and Weissing, 2010) and that some of those functions are to make one more attractive.