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University of Oregon

War and Evolution group: Coalitional Play Fighting Among Forager Children

Where: 401 Straub
When: 2:00 PM, Friday, May 15
What:  War and Evolution focus group meeting
Presenters: Marcela Mendoza and Michelle Scalise Sugiyama

Please come join us for a presentation of work in progress by two of our focus group members.  All are welcome!

War Games: Coalitional Play Fighting Among Forager Children

A large part of an organism’s development involves the assembly of adaptations.  As Tooby and Cosmides argue, “All mature adaptations depend upon the prior existence of adaptations designed to build them” (2001:15).  Thus, many cognitive adaptations are expected to have two modes, a functional mode and an organizational mode.  In the functional mode, the adaptation performs its evolved function; in the organizational mode, the adaptation is assembled.  During the assembly phase, the adaptation is provided with information and weightings that it needs to perform its function.  Some of this information may be reliably available in the external world, and the organizational mode of the adaptation may be designed to use this information rather than storing it in the genome.  Thus, the organizational mode is expected to have a motivational component that guides the organism to interact with its environment in ways that further the development of the adaptation.  We experience the effects of these motivational mechanisms, in part, as aesthetic responses, such as beauty, pleasure, fun, and excitement.  On this view, much of what is characterized as play behavior may be generated by adaptations operating in their organizational mode.  Each module of the human mind (e.g., language, vision, social intelligence, predator avoidance, sexuality) poses a different set of developmental problems.  Thus, each should come with its own aesthetic, designed to motivate the individual to engage in experiences (e.g., babbling, play chasing) that develop and/or calibrate the module.  We apply this hypothesis to coalitional play fighting (i.e., war play).  Specifically, we conceptualize war play as the operation of the module for coalitional intergroup aggression in its organizational mode.  To this end, we (1) delineate assessments that are specific to coalitional intergroup aggression, (2) describe war play (as documented in the ethnographic record) and the rules of engagement; and (3) discuss ways in which such play might provide information and weightings critical to readying the module for operation.