Bill von Hippel, PhD is an evolutionary psychologist from Alaska who has lived in Australia for more than 20 years. Bill teaches at the University of Queensland and his body of research is so wide we struggled to focus our conversation. We spoke with him about his research into the ways in which our species’ behaviors have evolved over millions of years into the behaviors we see in our present-day lives. His insights are clever, thoughtful, and thought-provoking.
We talked about reciprocity, collectivism, and most importantly, how being cooperative and social propelled our species forward well beyond anything else in the animal kingdom. We discussed Bill’s latest book, “The Social Leap.” It’s a groundbreaking thesis that applies evolutionary science to help us understand how major challenges from our past have shaped some of the most fundamental aspects of our being.
One of the book’s key lessons is for us to remember that it is our collaboration, our collective abilities as a species, that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. This unique capability for humans to cooperate is an important reminder these days and Bill articulated the evolution of collaboration and competition in memorable terms.
We talked about the futility of not trusting your friends and the likely risk of getting lots of false positives from motivated thinking. And we discussed how social context matters when it comes to happiness. Bill explained how we choose our contexts wisely, and we do so to compare ourselves favorably to those around us. In this way, we tend to avoid comparisons with those we wouldn’t compare well to.
Lastly, Bill shared an evolutionary perspective that really struck us. He noted that, as we age, we are likely to increase our reliance on stereotypes and that can lead to prejudice. As Bill suggested, to stop ourselves from this unnecessary psychological deterioration, we should slow down our judgments and ask if we’re feeling this way because of that person’s group membership or gender or whatever. Stop, pause, and give it some consideration.
Bill was recommended to us by Roy Baumeister and we’re grateful for the introduction as well as Bill’s generous conversation. We hope you enjoy our conversation with Bill and that you go out and find your groove this week.
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