The Big Five and Evolutionarily Relevant Adaptive Problems

Evolutionary psychologists have attempted to understand the importance of the Big Five personality dispositions within an evolutionary framework (Buss, 1991b, 1996; Buss & Greiling, 1999; Ellis, Simpson, & Campbell, 2002). The basic thrust of these approaches has been to pose the question: What are the most adaptively consequential individual differences? Accordingly, the Big Five personality traits are conceptualized as clusters of the most important features of the "adaptive landscape" of other people (Buss, 1991b). Humans, according to this perspective, have evolved "dif ference-detecting mechanisms" designed to notice and remember those individual dif ferences that have the most relevance for solving social adaptive problems. Specificall , the five factors may provide important answers to questions such as these

• Who is likely to rise in the social hierarchy , and hence gain access to status and position in the social hierarchy? (Surgency, Dominance, Extraversion)

• Who is likely to be a good cooperator and reciprocator , who will be a loyal friend or romantic partner? (Agreeableness)

• Who will be reliable and dependable in times of need and work industriously to provide resources? (Conscientiousness)

• Who will be a drain on my resources, encumber me with their problems, monopolize my time, and fail to cope well with adversity? (Neuroticism)

• Who can I go to for sage advice? (Openness, Intellectance)

In an ingenious study, Ellis and his colleagues (Ellis et al., 2002) developed a theoretical synthesis of the Big Five and evolutionary psychology , and conducted studies to see whether positioning on the five factors was correlated with these adaptively relevan individual differences. They also included two additional individual dif ferences that are highly relevant to the evolutionary psychology of romantic relationships—physical attractiveness (a sign of health and fertility) and physical prowess (a sign of the ability to protect a friend or romantic partner from danger). Using factor analysis, they discovered that the Big Five were indeed closely linked with solutions to these critical adaptive problems. In the context of romantic relationships, those who were high on Agreeableness, for example, were also judged to be highly cooperative, devoted to their partners, and in love with their partners. Those who were high on Sur gency were also judged to be socially ascendant, taking leadership roles in the group and showing proclivities to elevate themselves in social hierarchies. Those who were highly responsible and efficient (signs of Conscientiousness) could be depended on in times of need, wer well organized, and showed good potential for future earning.

This study is just the start of exploring the five-factor model within an evolu tionary framework. But it does highlight the important point that individual dif ferences of people who inhabit one' s social environment are adaptively consequential. It's reasonable to hypothesize that humans have evolved psychological sensitivities to noticing, detecting, naming, and remembering precisely those individual dif ferences that are most relevant to solving critical social adaptive problems—problems that are ultimately linked to survival and reproduction.

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