Friday, 27 September 2019

Greta Thunberg - explaining a phenomenon

Greta Thunberg is a somewhat puzzling phenomenon if you consider how many different kinds of opinions exist about her, dividing society in two camps. I have been an early fan of that great girl called Greta Thunberg. I am obviously biased in one direction whereas many people are biased in the other direction, calling her mentally unstable and being manipulated by the media and the left.
How come people have such divergent opinions about her? The answer lies in different personality types. Here is what each personality type thinks about her:
Farmer types: these people are not quite sure what to make of her. They have an uneasy feeling of a little girl trying to tell the world where it should go. Farmers do think in hierarchical terms and in terms of duty.  A teenager SHOULD be at school and not out in the streets protesting against the establishment. At the same time, a lot of them realise that Greta does have a point.

Pastoralist types: even though they can be on both sides of the divide, it is here that you find the people who straightforwardly offend Greta, claiming she is mentally ill or controlled by the left. These people often belong to the far right and have a low standard of education. That shows in calling ASD people mentally unstable - obviously, they have no idea what ASD means. These are also often people whose spelling and English as a foreign language is much worse than Greta’s while at the same time pointing out that she should be sitting in school.
Hunter-gatherer types: these people mostly embrace Greta and her activism. They value education, but they prioritize our future and the future of our children. Greta is a hunter-gatherer personality herself. If you think about it she even sacrifices a part of her education to everyone’s future. I call that an act of altruism. Some people would call her a liar or hypocrites or that she just enjoys the attention, but this is only because that is HOW THEY WOULD FEEL in Greta’s shoes! People generally extrapolate from themselves!

Here is why Greta is very much authentic and not manipulated by anybody: her personality profile in Myers-Briggs is INTJ.
Anybody who has only the faintest clue about Myers-Briggs knows how much being authentic means to N types. As an introvert Greta does not enjoy being at the centre of attention per se. In fact, she most likely finds it strenuous to be among crowds and speak to them. Introverted intuitives are generally humble people, they tend to speak up only when they really have to say something. What is more, introverts find changing places and people all the time very stressful. There is not much she enjoys in her mission, the one thing that drives her is the hope of being able to make a change.
When she claims that Asperger’s helps her see through people’s lies, she does not exaggerate or lie in any way. Perhaps she can’t explain herself well enough, but she does see things differently from neurotypicals. She understands intuitively that some people are climate-change deniers because they would feel uncomfortable as they pollute the environment with their huge gas-guzzling cars. Rather than giving up their luxuries they prefer not to believe in climate change.This is a phenomenon is known as “cognitive dissonance” in psychology.
Finally, as a hunter-gatherer she does not acknowledge hierarchy. She faced Donald Trump without being intimidated by him. She knows that Trump wouldn’t concede much to environmentalists as this would go both against his personal convictions as well as against the conviction of many of his voters.
People who deride this girl, only reveal their own pettiness. They should be aware of that before they open their mouths the next time they make unfounded statements about her.
Read more about the personality types mentioned here.
Dedicated to Greta Thunberg, a girl who I truly admire. Keep on fighting hunter-gatherer girl!

Saturday, 21 September 2019

The Myers-Briggs - a possible validation through our evolutionary past

While the Myers-Briggs personality test has become unfashionable in scientific circles it is booming on the internet on sites like Quora and Reddit and even on dedicated YouTube channels. A lot of young people turn to online tests and sites and are generally relieved when they learn that they are not “weirdos” or “aliens” but have a rare personality type like “INTJ” or “INFP” instead. I do the tests with my students, and students as young as 16 tell me that they already have found out their MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) in their quest to understand themselves.
While only 30 years ago great scientists like Stephen J. Gould had no qualms about using the MBTI for scientific research, nowadays most psychologists and scientists will only recognize the Five-Factor Model (Big Five/OCEAN) or the revised model with six factors (HEXACO). The reason: the Big Five model was derived using mathematical methods, whereas the MBTI was created mostly on intuition. However, the MBTI isn’t that different from the OCEAN and the traits show a high degree of correlations.  
Any theory of personality must ultimately be able to show the evolutionary origin of the single traits. The oldest human personality trait is probably the T/F (testosterone - estrogen) dimension (in OCEAN the Agreeableness dimension), which characterizes more “male” or more “female” traits. Both men and women can be T or F, even though T is more common in men and F in women. This personality trait also shows physically in digit ratio, amount of facial hair, and via traits such as a more angular and boney or a softer, rounder face.
The trait “Conscientiousness”  or J in MBTI is probably related to early farming (dominant hormone serotonin) and  “Openness” or N (dominant hormone oxytocin) in MBTI to hunting and gathering (read more here). So, three personality traits can be explained by the type of subsistence economy our ancestors practiced.
The most famous personality dimension, i.e. “introversion/extroversion” cuts across all four personality groups. I have hypothesized elsewhere that introversion has its origin in hunter-gatherer female mate choice in order to maintain their alloparenting way of life. Extraversion might be connected to pastoralist female mate choice, as the dominant hormone in SP types is dopamine, which also plays an important role in extraversion. Out of all extraverts, the SPs are usually the most extroverted type (ESFP nicknamed "The Entertainer"), followed by SJs, NFs and NTs. 

Thursday, 19 September 2019

The hardest problems for evolutionary psychology - part three: introversion

While introversion is usually not mentioned as a problem for standard evolutionary psychology, it should become clear that for any theory that assumes that females will have a preference for successful alpha males, introversion in males should be a puzzle. I have cursed my deep introversion many times in my life, not because I couldn’t reach for alpha positions, which I actually do not want, but because it has left me feeling like an omega male instead. I never was able to even make a big effort to try to impress a girl, because it actually feels “fake” for me, just like showing off with an expensive flashy car or a shiny new iPhone would feel “fake” for me.

For these reasons I had the feeling, I was a born “omega male” when I was a teenager. I wasn’t even interested in the usual stuff my teenage friends were interested in: cars, sports, and hanging out in clubs.

Later, at university when I came across Evolutionary Psychology, I used the following explanation for girls who complained about guys to me: females get exactly those guys who the previous female generations chose to mate with. So, there is not much reason to complain about guys whose genes were actually chosen by females.
As true this actually is, there is an important detail missing here. Not all girls go for alpha males. Not because they can’t get one, but because their genes are programmed not to want one in the first place. They prefer nice and intelligent guys to muscle-flexing sporty guys. At university, I met quite a lot of girls, who seemed to be happy with introverted, geeky “omega males” like me. And in my 30s I finally found the girl who would be happy to get married to me.
What does this mean for evolutionary psychology? It means that instead of postulating one general mating strategy it there should be at least two opposing mating strategies with many shades in between. In general, the girls who start to have sex earlier are more interested in the alpha males, whereas the girls who tend to start sex later prefer “partners in child-rearing” (alloparenting), who are actually less sexually dimorphic.  
More r-selected
More K-selected
Early-onset of puberty
Late-onset of puberty
More hierarchically structures
More egalitarian
Partner: status-oriented (alpha males)
Partner: alloparenting oriented
Higher sexual dimorphism is more attractive
Lower sexual dimorphism is more attractive
More promiscuous
More monogamous

Where do these two different mating strategies come from? They stem from our evolutionary past as hunter-gatherers and farmers/herders respectively.
Hunter-gatherer societies practice alloparenting, with many members of the band helping to raise the children. They are highly egalitarian and showing-off, as well as a display of status, are discouraged and mocked at. There are simply no hierarchical positions like “alphas” and “omegas”. One way of achieving this is for females to mate with humble, introverted males instead of assertive, extraverted ones. It is in this way that females actually have indirectly control over males. This means that introversion in males is ancient and goes back at least 200.000 years when early homo sapiens appeared.

Here are some reasons why hunter-gatherer females chose introverted males, all of which help maintain the egalitarian and monogamous hunter-gatherer lifestyle:
  • More humble and potentially less aggressive
  • Less able to form big coalition to achieve and maintain alpha positions
  • Spending more time with “family” and children than trying to make allies or find new mating opportunities
  • More monogamous
When humans took to farming and herding they could have a more steady supply of calories and they could double the rate of having children (every 2.5 years instead of every 5 years)  and start puberty earlier. It also allowed the more extraverted (higher levels of dopamine) and physically stronger (higher levels of testosterone) males to accumulate more resources than those males who didn’t have as much “drive”.  
These two mating strategies (with the shades in between) accounts much better for the patterns we see today: some girls starting sex early and going for the “herder” alpha males and some girls starting late going for the kinder and more intelligent “hunter” types, with “farmer” types typically in-between. Of course, evolution has produced many mixed strategies too.

Currently, our world seems to become both more extroverted and more introverted. While the world of work has been getting more extroverted, or private lives have been getting more introverted. I suppose it is because extroverted types tend to be less willing to settle down have children, as the possibilities for them seem endless both in the job and mating markets, whereas introverts quickly reach their limits in both domains. It would at least explain the table below:

Dedicated to the wonderful Susan Cain, who helped me accept my introversion and understand it as a strength rather than a weakness.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

The psychology and biology of gifted children and highly intelligent people

Much has been written about gifted and high IQ people and to a large extent, the focus has been on their cognition, for obvious reasons. I have a gifted son and as many parents of gifted children can attest, these kids can be quite challenging for any parent: from daily chores, such as buckling up the kiddo in a car seat to the point when he or she fails in conventional schools.
While cognitive psychology has been a passion of mine since my early years at university, there comes a point when you can’t explain giftedness in cognitive terms anymore. For example, when your kid prefers to cry for an hour over some simple piece of homework he could easily do in a matter of a few minutes and threatens you to run away from home. Why would an eight-year-old child say "I wish I were never born"? Such behaviour would leave any parent just puzzled and perplexed. What is the biological foundation of such seemingly irrational behaviour? 

Here are some traits gifted kids typically display, that have little to do with cognition: 
  • look younger than their age/have neotenous traits
  • look more “unisex”, i.e. they don’t accentuate their gender
  • start sex later than their peers
  • have a highly developed sense of justice
  • might be clumsy and/or ADHD sufferers
  • tend to be socially awkward and at least a bit autistic;
  • tend to suffer from social anxiety
  • are likely into “alternative reality” stuff like fantasy, sci-fi, comics, etc.
  • are playful and many of them really heavily into computer gaming
  • might be quite lazy and reluctant to do work when they don’t see any point
  • as a consequence might show signs of ODD (oppositional defiant disorder)
  • picky eaters
  • highly sensitive (HSPs)
  • extrinsic motivation (like grades at school or money) is much less important than intrinsic motivation (their passions) 
In order to make sense of these diverse behaviors and traits, I delved into personality psychology. The one personality trait that correlates with high IQ is “Openness to experience”, which in turn correlates with the (controversial) trait N (iNtuitive) in Myers-Briggs, first described by the Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung.
Giftedness and trait N are highly correlated, as you can see from the following statistics:
Image result for mbti and gifted
From Myers-Briggs studies some of the above traits can be accounted for:  Ns tend to be very creative (cognitive fluidity) and idealistic. It is also known that the introverted intuitives often suffer from mental problems such as social anxiety and ASD.

However, I still couldn’t account for half of the traits on the above list, so I turned to evolutionary biology. r/K selection seems to explain a lot: highly intelligent people have faster brain growth in infancy but grow more slowly in general. My two boys (both IN types) are both quite short for their age and their skeleton is almost two years behind the average.

What in our biology could make people grow more slowly? The answer is probably buried deep in our past: hunter-gatherers grew up more slowly than later farmers and herders who had more caloric intake at their disposal. They were highly egalitarian as they couldn’t accumulate wealth and that also made them highly defiant when facing hierarchical power structures (European colonialists never really could “domesticate” hunter-gatherers).
One by one those giftedness traits began to make sense: picking eating and being highly sensitive were probably more advantageous out in the wilderness than in a farming village. Hunter-gatherers (Ns in Myers-Briggs) are also more monogamous than herders (SP in Myers-Briggs), who have the earliest onset of puberty and the shortest life span among the different early modes of subsistence (the third being farmers or SJ in Myers-Briggs). It is, therefore, no big surprise that highly intelligent people do not accentuate their gender, whereas people who inherited their personality from herders or pastoralists do so to a high degree, i.e. sexual dimorphism is diminished in hunter-gatherers as well as gifted people. Hunter-gatherers are also quite playful into adulthood, as play is used to reduce conflict among them. Farmer personalities are more serious and business-like in contrast to hunter-gatherer personalities. 
The final piece of the puzzle is trying to explain why hunter-gatherer personalities should be more intelligent than their farmer and herder counter-parts:

One explanation is that hunter-gatherers needed more cognitive fluidity and vigilance (hence the ADHD) to survive in the Savannah than farmers who had to rely far more on conscientiousness, routine and hard work. This explanation still doesn’t account for why hunter-gatherers (Ns) tend to be more intelligent on average than herders (SPs). Here the answer lies probably in natural selection. Hunter-gatherers have an out-group sociality and sharing and caring attitude. In mixed hunter-gatherer, farmer and herder societies hunter-gatherer minds who were of average intelligence probably lost out (nice guys came last) in the genetic race and there were high selective pressures on hunter-gatherer genotypes to become more intelligent. 

So, higher IQ might at the end of the day be nothing more than a protective mechanism! Just like social anxiety: if you are very open, you better have a defense shield in place! Introverted intuitives are already socially anxious by the time they go to kindergarten because they are aware they are different. By the time they are in their teens, they might be complete outcasts because they don't play power/alpha games and as they tend not to be violent they can become easy targets for bullying. The extraverted intuitives also are in danger of becoming outsiders and social phobics during their teens, unless they already have an established network with other hunter-gatherer minds. 

In modern slang, we could say that gifted kids/high IQ people with a hunter-gatherer personality run on the updated operating system “Hunter-gatherer v2.0”.

Friday, 13 September 2019

The psychology of online learning and teaching

I have been teaching with digital media for more than 15 years now and something that has always surprised me is that in each school only a few teachers are really enthusiastic about it, with a lot of teachers trying to avoid it altogether. What is more, even though the myth of the digital native has been quite pervasive in the past ten years or so, there are still teenagers who would prefer not to learn digitally and do it the old fashions way with paper and pen.
I started out in the early 2000s with creating my own websites with HTML and web-editors. This was admittedly very geeky and I could understand that not all teachers wanted to invest time in learning and creating their own websites. As technology made it increasingly easier to put content online (in chronological order: Moodle, YouTube, Blogs, Google Docs, Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, just to name a few of my favorite online tools) the numbers of teachers using these tools did not increase significantly to my surprise.
A year ago, I started on a quest to find out why this is so and I struck gold with personality psychology. The two most important traits that make somebody interested in online learning or teaching are in terms of the Big Five inventory:
  • openness to experience
  • introversion
These relevance of these two personality traits are actually quite easy to understand:
Introverts tend to spend more time alone and therefore also use their digital devices. Extroverts prefer to spend more time in social settings and also tend to prefer peer learning, whereas introverts tend to prefer to learn on their own and they find plenty of possibilities online, be it blogs, wikis or video tutorials. As far teachers are concerned: the overwhelming majority of teachers are extroverts. Typical subjects for introverted teachers are IT and art.
Openness to experience is also pretty straightforward: these are people who like to try out new things, technology, methods, etc. whereas the opposite would be routine-loving and traditional people.
As there the Big Five Inventory isn’t very operational I turned to Myers-Briggs and asked many eLearning colleagues to take this ten-minute test:  There was a single most important trait that predicted the use of digital media in classrooms: N (Intuition), with introversion as runner-up.
My continued online research showed the same results: INs (introverted intuitive) were the dominant personality group online. Here is one statistic about online gamers (and it probably wouldn’t look very different for online learners/teachers):

The bigger picture regarding online teaching I got from my research:

INTXs: technological innovators, creators of learning sites, apps, scientific researchers, etc.
This group comprises classical geeks, like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, as well as a lot of people with Asperger’s or ASD.
Elon Musk: INTP/INTJ personality, the epitome of the archetypal geek. Source: Wikimedia 

INFXx: very early adaptors of new technology and pedagogical innovators, creators of new learning scenarios, like e-portfolios, flipped classroom, etc.

ENXXs: the extroverted intuitives tend to be early adopters and avid promoters of online learning via online webinars, seminars, conference talks, etc. 
Here is a tentative list of how Myers-Briggs personality traits influence online teaching:

E/I: extroverts tend to be in the foreground; e.g. they love doing flipped classroom videos, giving webinars, etc.; introverts tend to work out innovative scenarios in the background
N/S: Ns tend to be visionary as well as playful (the games-based learning community probably consists exclusively of N types), S types tend to create “practical scenarios”, i.e. their emphasis is on saving time, efficiency, etc. rather than innovative and creative aspects of online learning

T/F: Ts tend to be more interested in the technological challenges, whereas Fs tend to focus on pedagogy.
P/J: P: love trying out new technology and are therefore among the earliest adopters. Plus, they tend to get bored with one tool, so they use a lot of different online tools. Js tend to be more conscientious, but less explorative than Ps, so they tend to focus on fewer tools for which they become experts, e.g. Microsoft Office 365.
To give a concrete example: my own personality profile is INFP/INTP borderline. I have been using  online services and the internet since my teens (early adopter), created websites for my students in HTML, been on YouTube users since year 1 and even created tutorials for my own students (example here), therefore being both a “YouTuber” and “Flipped Classroom Teacher” even before these terms became widely known. However, as an introvert, I feel a bit uncomfortable with being in the limelight on YouTube or at conferences, so I prefer writing blogs (example here). I have even programmed online quizzed for my students and set up alpha versions of Moodle servers that supported mobile devices (my T side).  Time and again, I have tried to gamify my lessons with QR scavengers hunts, online games and digital classroom games like Kahoot and Quizlet life. Last, but not least, I get bored with doing the same projects again and again, so I try out at least a few new tools as well as trying to develop at least one new teaching scenario each school year (my P side). In contrast to J personality types who would choose one tool like Mahara for digital portfolios, I have tried more than half a dozen: Moodle plugins, Google Drive,  Google Slides, Google Sites, Blogs, Wikis and OneNote Classroom. 
As I have noticed differences in affinities towards online learning in my students, I try to teach them differentially; e.g. I leave them the option if they want to turn in homework digitally or on paper, if they want to do a presentation in class or if they want to record it, or if they study vocabulary via the Quizlet app or traditional vocabulary lists on paper.

One last remark, as far as online learners are concerned: online learning seems to be quite successful among special education students. I am not too experience with special ed students, but I have noticed that a lot of them also tend to be introverted intuitive. This is particularly true for ASD and Asperger’s students.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Why is the smartest person in the room often the quietest?

Hunter-gatherer people often become deeply introverted in childhood already, because they understand that they are different from the vast majority of people (INs only make up about 10% of the population) and when they grow up they feel they are misunderstood and that they can’t make a change anyway.
Read “The Little Prince” and you get an idea what it is like for a gifted kid to grow up: you see the elephant inside the boa where others see a hat (NB: this is a metaphor):
“Whenever I encountered a grown-up who seemed to be intelligent, I would experiment on him with my drawing Number One, which I have always kept. I wanted to see if he really understood anything.
But he would always answer, "That's a hat." … So I lived by myself, with no one to talk to”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (INFP)
So, what is the point of talking about something other people can’t see??? 90% of the time we would be wasting our energy and that is why we keep quiet. People would think we are crazy.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

The current political divide: an evolutionary explanation

The political left-right divide seems to have reached a new peak, with right wing-politicians having become dominant even in highly democratic countries, such as the USA and the UK. These right-wing politicians, like Donald Trump or Boris Johnson, who are revered and reviled at the same time.
The majority of people are still centrist and the political divide is increasingly becoming a rift between family, friends, and communities. Where does this divide come from? In my view, it has a long evolutionary history. People have a mixed ancestry of hunter-gatherer, pastoralist and farmer genes. As ridiculous this might sound, there is a high correlation between personality and subsistence economy e.g. hunter-gatherers are highly egalitarian and altruistic (as a consequence of alloparenting),  farmers are hard-working, routine-loving and conscientious and pastoralists are adventurous and very helpful as well as status-oriented.

If we have a look at the definition of the political wings, it becomes clear that left-wing is very much a hunter-gatherer phenomenon (equality and liberty), whereas right-wing (order and duty) is a farmer phenomenon.
Pastoralists can be on both sides of the divide, depending on what counts more for them: being pro-social or social status. However, pastoralist sociality tends to be in-group sociality.
From: Pastoralism
Most of the extreme right-wing politicians are therefore of the pastoralist type. If you look at today’s right-wing politicians, most of them are ESTP (SP being pastoralists) in Myers-Briggs: 
Donald Trump (USA), Boris Johnson (USA), Matteo Salvini (Italy), Marine Le Pen (France), and many more, as you can find out from this website. 
What these pastoralist leaders have in common is a very narrow focus on their own tribe, as can be seen from movements like MAGA or BREXIT. Some of these leaders are outright racist, like Geert Wilders, some are bullies, like Donald Trump as a child, some might even be great leaders, like Winston Churchill was.
However, a narrow focus on your own community without a wider vision for the future or our planet is not a sustainable recipe in a globalized world. Building walls does not solve any problems. Parochial pastoralism is a thing of the past and leads to a lot of “Tragedy of the Commons” kinds of problems like global warming. These kinds of problems cannot be solved with a pastoralist mindset. And this is probably how most ancient civilizations ended. Jared Diamond has famously argued in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed that for a culture to thrive several factors are important:
  • sustainable economy
  • maintaining friendly relationships with their neighbors
  • trade with their neighbors
  • ability to recognize future problems
Unfortunately, right-wing politicians are inept at all of these points. Most of all, they are inept at recognizing future problems, like climate change. They view all their problems as exogenic, i.e. coming from outside threats like refugees. The one thing pastoralists leaders are really bad: finding the problems that come from the inside, that would conflict with their narcissistic personality. 

Some common problems with pastoralist thinking in our information age: 
  • value status and power more than egalitarianism
  • might feel they are even above the law
  • not very tolerant towards diversity
  • exclusion of certain social groups/xenophobia
  • antiquated exaggeration of sexual dimorphism, machismo
  • discrimination of women
  • short-term rather than long-term thinking and planning 

Dedicated to Jared Diamond for all his inspirational books.