Melvin Konner M.D. Ph.D.

The Official Website of Melvin Konner, M.D, Ph.D.

...Since the causes of human nature are not a one-way street, I also want to know how changes in our environment make their impact on us--how advances in biology and medicine change how we think about our lives. My knowledge and experience have often led me to comment publicly on medical ethics, health care reform, child care, child welfare, and other policy questions, and I will do that here as well.
You are here: Home Psychological States As Ancient Adaptations

Psychological States As Ancient Adaptations

November 21st, 2010

Depressed? Anxious? Happy? Resilient? Thank a hunter-gatherer in your past.

women-at-mongongo-groves-copy3I’ve considered here the high probability that obesity and diabetes are diseases of civilization and the possibility that ADHD may in part be as well. But what about other psychological symptoms and disorders? Randolph Nesse , a distinguished psychiatrist at the University of Michigan, has long been thinking about depression and anxiety in evolutionary perspective, and so have I and others.
Depression is a kind of withdrawal. Although it can be severe or long enough to hurt your reproductive options and even endanger your life, it is sometimes a symptom that gets you out of harm’s way. And it probably always was, for our hunting-and-gathering ancestors.

Let’s say you are pregnant and carrying a three-year-old and thirty pounds of food despite your back pain, or you are challenging someone stronger than you, or you are overly optimistic about driving hyenas away from a carcass so you can steal their meat. If a couple of warning signs send you back to your grass hut with a bad mood on, you live to carry or fight or steal meat another day. If you keep your cocky mood, you may be the meat.

Then too, studies show that depressed moods with their rumination can lead to creative bursts coming out of them, and some of our great leaders–Lincoln, Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt–suffered depression and came back stronger.

Anxiety–which we now know is biologically related to depression–may, in Nesse’s perspective, be a holdover from the pervasive vigilance and wariness that hunter-gatherers may have found essential for survival. For instance, when I lived in !Kung Bushman village-camps, I rarely found anyone sleeping through the night.

Our idea of a good night’s sleep would potentially have been deadly, since the fire would have gone out in front of the hut and the family inside would be vulnerable to lions and hyenas, known at times to attack people in their sleep. So whatever restlessness wakes people up saves lives. Likewise, walking around in the bush while hunting or gathering was no countryside meditative idyll, but a time to be on your guard against predators.

So if generalized anxiety is a pervasive problem of modern life, we might be able to thank our ancestors. This holds true for some symptoms of post-traumatic stress as well. Go through a trauma under evolutionary circumstances–a tussle with a leopard, a bushfire, a losing fight with a rival over a woman–and you may do well to revisit and ruminate over the trauma, at least for a time, and plan how to avoid encounters that might lead to repeating it.

Of course, depression, anxiety, and PTSD can be counterproductive and even debilitating. We don’t need to sit around thinking that we should accept clinical versions of them, just because in some form they may have been adaptive in the past. But there are such things as normal moodswings, and a normal ebb and flow of anxious feelings.

Interestingly, though, in my experience, the !Kung are anxious about things we would recognize. Am I going to be able to continue to feed my family? Is my sister still one of my best friends, or is she pulling away emotionally?–among hunter-gatherers, because of sharing, this question is related to the first. Is the baby’s fever one that comes and goes, or one that will get worse and take her away? And of course: Were those innocent glances my wife and that guy visiting from another band exchanged across the fire, or were they something I need to worry about?

These sorts of things cause anxiety in any culture. Each culture also has its physical dangers, but the !Kung dealt with them much as we deal with the risk of fire in our homes or fatalities on our roads–not by ruminating, but by taking precautions.

And we also owe our hunter-gatherer ancestors a lot of our happiness. Positive psychologists have shown that most people incline toward happiness rather than sadness or even neutrality; most of us, moment to moment, are glad to be alive. So are hunter-gatherers, despite having lives that are much harder than ours. If they weren’t, they couldn’t do what they have to do–and did remarkably well for the many thousands of years that enabled us to be their living legacy.

We also owe them a lot of our resilience. One of the worst ideas in some past versions of psychodynamic psychology is that every bad thing that happens leaves an indelible mark on our minds, impairing us in some enduring way. The reality is that most trauma results in transient symptoms–resilience usually wins the day. Why?

Because if we hadn’t adapted ourselves to hard knocks during evolution, we wouldn’t have survived a single generation, much less hundreds of millennia. We take some things to heart; we grieve; we are afraid. Sometimes we have intrinsic  emotional problems that require psychotherapy or medicine. But more often than not we bounce back, because that is what our evolution built into our psyches–the rebirth of positive mood, the hopeful gaze at the horizon, the leaning into the wind, the determined step forward into the future.

Note: By invitation, I’ve started a blog on the Psychology Today website, and my latest post can be read there or here, although different comments may be  posted there.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

591 Responses to “Psychological States As Ancient Adaptations”

  1. Fidelia says:

    Please let me know if you’re looking for a article writer for
    your blog. You have some really great posts and I think I would be a good asset.
    If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d really like
    to write some content for your blog in exchange for
    a link back to mine. Please shoot me an email if interested.

  2. What’s Going down i’m neww to this, I stumbled upon this I have discovered It positively helpful and
    it hass helped me out loads. I hope too contribute & help different users like its aided
    me. Great job.

  3. how to lose weight the right way…

    Psychological States As Ancient Adaptations » Melvin Konner’s Blog…

  4. natural supplement…

    Psychological States As Ancient Adaptations » Melvin Konner’s Blog…

  5. Deena says:

    Hmm is anyone else experiencing problems with the pictures
    on this blog loading? I’m trying to determine if its a problem on my end
    or if it’s the blog. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

  6. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I truly appreciate your efforts and I am waiting for your next write ups thanks once again.

    Feel free to surf to my weblog - party wear pakistani dresses

  7. Lamar says:

    Pretty great post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that
    I have truly enjoyed browsing your weblog posts. After
    all I will be subscribing in your feed and I’m hoping you write
    once more very soon!

  8. Hello colleagues, pleasant paragraph and nice arguments commented here, I am actually enjoying by these.

    Check out my page :: healthy food for diets

  9. This design is spectacular! You certainly know how to keep a reader entertained.
    Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my
    own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Excellent job.
    I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that,
    how you presented it. Too cool!

    my webpage … mature light bulbs

  10. In the last five years, the survey states, a face life, or rhytidectomy, is one of
    the most requested of all invasive procedures. In recent years
    the term “mommy-makeover” has become more common. The various types of plastic surgery on the face are:

    Feel free to visit my web site plastic surgery photos

  11. Isaac says:

    Newer technologies and advanced tools have made it possible for cosmetic surgeons
    to carry out the highly delicate surgical procedures with more confidence and
    mitigated risk factors. Interestingly enough, pictures of
    her as a younger woman show that she’s adorable, and post surgery she is just beautiful.
    There is one error: the sentence “The heir who wins the windfall will be the one who finds the.

    my site: plastic surgery makeover - Isaac -

  12. The medical malpractice law firm in winter park, florida job
    of a malpractice case can be brought against physicians and hospitals to cover the actual costs of medical malpractice to attain positive case
    outcomes. Doctors that commit medical malpractice either.
    Just because the doctor neglects to do that, that’s cool but if you
    plan to file a suit — it’s a compound question, by the way, if the jury awarded
    him, Woodruff said.

  13. Have you ever thought about adding a little bit more than just your articles?
    I mean, what you say is fundamental and all. However just imagine if you added some great visuals or videos to give your
    posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with images and videos, this website could definitely be one
    of the greatest in its niche. Amazing blog!

    my web-site; hotel recruitment agencies london

  14. I like the valuable information you provide in your articles.
    I’ll bookmark your weblog and check again here regularly.
    I’m quite certain I will learn plenty of new stuff right here!
    Good luck for the next!

    Feel free to visit my page; car paint and body shop Sacramento

  15. scalping system…

    Psychological States As Ancient Adaptations » Melvin Konner’s Blog…

  16. I’m really enjoying the design and layout of your website.
    It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more
    enjoyable for me to come here and visit more often. Did you hire out a developer to create
    your theme? Exceptional work!

  17. This design is incredible! You certainly know how to keep a reader entertained.
    Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog
    (well, almost…HaHa!) Great job. I really loved what you had to say, and
    more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!

  18. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit
    my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over
    again. Anyhow, just wanted to say fantastic blog!

    Feel free to surf to my homepage - best online money making (

  19. After applying the tanner you’ll probably feel a bit sticky,
    so it’s a good idea to apply powder with a large body powder puff.

    friend to help you apply the mist tan across your body evenly.
    Sunless spray tanning booths have emerged as one of the most popular tanning options
    especially among people who don’t tan easily or fair skinned people who get burns because of over exposure to the sun or
    for that matter anyone who wants the perfect sun kissed look without going out in the sun. DHA
    acts as an enzyme on dead skin cells which are still attached to the outer layer of skin. In go smile
    products different accessories are available like teeth-whitening gels, toothpastes
    etc. In order to avoid such sunless tanning accidents, you must first understand the causes responsible for turning your skin orange.
    Tanning products are not new, but a certainly gaining in popularity.
    More precisely “5 Star Mobile Tans” owned and operated by Sandra Torrez.

    Main function of fluoride gives strength to teeth and hydrogen peroxide removes the disgusting stains.
    Now even in summer, you can get an amazing spotless tan all over your body without burning
    your skin.

    Look at my blog post; fake tan london

  20. Hallie says:

    Sweet blog! I found it while searching on Yahoo News.
    Do you have any suggestions on how to get listed in Yahoo
    News? I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem
    to get there! Cheers

  21. Tami says:

    I have been exploring for a little for any high-quality articles or weblog posts on this sort of house .
    Exploring in Yahoo I finally stumbled upon this web site.
    Reading this info So i’m happy to exhibit that I have an incredibly excellent
    uncanny feeling I came upon just what I needed. I so much undoubtedly will make certain to do not disregard this web site and provides it a look on a constant basis.

  22. Nick says:

    Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is a very well written article.
    I’ll be sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your
    useful information. Thanks for the post. I’ll certainly return.

  23. Hi there to all, the contents existing at this web page are truly remarkable for people
    knowledge, well, keep up the good work fellows.

  24. Hi there, You’ve done a great job. I’ll definitely digg it and personally
    recommend to my friends. I am sure they will be benefited from this web site.

  25. says:

    The other day, while I was at work, my sister stole my iphone and tested to see if it can survive
    a twenty five foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My
    iPad is now broken and she has 83 views. I know this is completely off topic but I had to share it
    with someone!

    Look at my blog post - flower girl dress (

  26. Hey! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any issues with hackers?
    My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing several weeks of
    hard work due to no backup. Do you have any methods to stop

  27. I would like to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing
    this blog. I really hope to check out the same high-grade
    content from you in the future as well. In truth, your
    creative writing abilities has motivated me to get my own, personal site now ;

    Here is my web site :: Princess Tutu

  28. Hi, jսst wanted to mention, I liked this article.
    It was inspiring. Keep on posting!

    Also visitt my webpge :: costa rica surf camp (

  29. I am really enjoying the theme/design of your web site.
    Do you ever run into any browser compatibility issues? A handful of my blog readers have complained about my blog not working correctly in Explorer but looks great in Chrome.

    Do you have any tips to help fix this issue?

    my website … How To Lose 10 Pounds Mesa AZ

  30. Magnificent beat ! I would like to apprentice even as you amend your site, how can i subscribe for a weblog site?
    The account helped me a appropriate deal.
    I had been tiny bit acquainted of this your broadcast provided vibrant clear concept

  31. I am genuinely thankful to the owner of this web
    site who has shared this wonderful post at here.

    My page; brisbane home cleaning services

  32. this domain says:

    I got this website from my pal who shared with me regarding this website and now
    this time I am visiting this website and reading very informative articles at this time.

  33. Thanks for your personal marvelous posting! I genuinely enjoyed reading it, you could
    be a great author. I will be sure to bookmark your blog and
    will eventually come back at some point. I want to encourage you to
    definitely continue your great posts, have a nice morning!

  34. まで、 says:

    余興やってくれなんて言われたらこっちがもらいたいレベル 結構結婚式で関係が終わる友情も多いと思う
    家事の分担を言い訳にされ、弟には全く自由が無い… 割り切れない奇数での数字が基本なんだよね 結婚式場

    てか出席すること自体が相手を祝ってるとおもうんだが?だからといって出席できない人が祝う気持ちないなんて思わない。 一応、来てくれる友人にあまり負担はかけたくなかったんで祝儀は不要、会費は抑え目にって頼んだけど 結婚祝い名入れ
    悪徳商法 大阪梅田を中心に「手紙男 在日朝鮮人 沼昌徳」が出没。ナンパ商法「ナンパ合コン詐欺」の実態 職場関係での結婚式なんて付き合い以外の何物でもない、迷惑この上ないものと思っている。

    Many professional broadcasters and writers helped him grow over the way.
    It may seem being a victimless crime, but writing bad checks in Florida can destroy lives in local communities.
    兄結婚祝いプレゼント まで、 I believe Custom Essays writing services to be ethical but how students use it really is certainly debatable
    and controversial. The only way to ensure great
    success is always to offer a fantastic product providing you with value
    for a customer and here comes hard part setting a fair

  35. It’s going to be finish of mine day, however before end I am
    reading this great post to increase my knowledge.

    Visit my webpage - Handmade Tutus (

  36. I was curious if you ever considered changing the page layout
    of your website? Its very well written; I love what
    youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people
    could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for
    only having 1 or two pictures. Maybe you could
    space it out better?

    For a better detailed explanation please view this page :
    : high testosterone in women

  37. Yes! Finally someone writes about pentair pool parts dealers.

  38. Picking a serif font, such as Times New Roman or Baskerville gives a traditional feel to the business card and looks nice with more traditional designs.

    As an employer and a person who has an extensive
    human resources background, I will tell you upfront that employee lawsuits are something every
    business owner must prepare for. To find an attorney that specializes in personal
    injury and family law it is important that you
    are willing to do a bit of research about him or her.

  39. Insurance secures you against worst case scenarios and hence you shouldn’t take it lightly.

    Individuals can check the availability of various companies on the web.
    Average cost of home survey report is $530

    Here is my blog post … armstrong moving And storage midland Tx

  40. weight loss tips…

    Psychological States As Ancient Adaptations » Melvin Konner’s Blog…

  41. The results may not be observed from the day one, but over a long run it can surely
    have a remarkable difference on the marketing promotion scenario.
    Amy, your business is called Uncommon Sense Marketing.
    The second way of getting high paying social media clients is to simply
    work your local businesses and present yourself as the person that
    will help them with their social media marketing for a fee.
    Create and Share Valuable Content - What does your target audience want from you.

    It seem to me that there isn’t much difference when they
    are still out of a child proof atmosphere. This can annoy your readers and cause them to not
    want to visit your site, especially if you’re always bombarding them with messages.

    This means that you can pick out people you have befriended and let them know you are thinking of them.
    In the modern times, it takes more just to get noticed.
    You may have hopes of knocking the book out in a few hours flat but unless you have superhuman writing skills you
    should expect your book to take a bit of time to create.
    The social media giant, Facebook, quickly takes center stage in social media marketing.

    My site - delray beach internet marketing trends

Leave a Reply

Blog Navigation

Selected Books

  • JoomlaWorks Simple Image Rotator
  • JoomlaWorks Simple Image Rotator
  • JoomlaWorks Simple Image Rotator
  • JoomlaWorks Simple Image Rotator
  • JoomlaWorks Simple Image Rotator

Login Form