david_m_buss's picture
Professor of Psychology, University of Texas, Austin; Author, When Men Behave Badly

Game-changing scientific breakthroughs will come with the discovery of evolved psychological circuits for exploiting other humans—through cheating, free-riding, mugging, robbing, sexually deceiving, sexually assaulting, physically abusing, cuckolding, mate poaching, stalking, and murdering.  Scientists will discover that these exploitative resource acquisition adaptations contain specific design features that monitor statistically reliable cues to exploitable victims and opportunities. 

Convicted muggers who are shown videotapes of people walking down a New York City street show strong consensus about who they would choose as a mugging victim.  Chosen victims emit nonverbal cues, such as an uncoordinated gait or a stride too short or long for their height, indicative of ease of victimization.  These potential victims are high on muggability. Similarly, short stride length, shyness, and physical attractiveness provide reliable cues to sexual assaultability.  Future scientific breakthroughs will identify the psychological circuits of exploiters sensitive to victims who give off cues to cheatability, deceivability, rapeability, abusability, mate poachability,cuckoldability, stalkability, and killability; and to groups that emanate cues tofree-ridability and vanquishability.

This knowledge will offer the potential for developing novel defenses that reduce cheating, mugging, raping, robbing, stalking, mate poaching, murdering, and warfare.  On the other hand, because adaptations for exploitation co-evolve in response to defenses against exploitation, selection may favor the evolution of additional adaptations that circumvent these defenses.

Because evolution by selection is a relatively slow process, the acquisition of scientific knowledge about adaptations for exploitation may enable staying one step ahead of exploiters, and effectively short-circuit their strategies.  Some classes of crime will be curtailed. Cultural evolution, however, being fleeter than organic evolution, may enable the rapid circumvention of anti-exploitation defenses.  Defenses, in turn, favor novel strategies of exploitation.  Dissemination of discoveries about adaptations for exploitation and co-evolved defenses may change permanently the nature of social interaction.  Or perhaps, like some co-evolutionary arms races, these discoveries ultimately may change nothing at all.