Arrested Development or Adaptive? The Adolescent and Self Control
BJ Casey, Department of Psychology, Yale University, USA
Adolescence refers to the transition from childhood to adulthood that begins with the onset of puberty and ends with successful independence from the parent. A paradox for human adolescence is why—during a time when the individual is probably faster, stronger, of higher reasoning capacity, and more resistant to disease—there is such an increase in mortality relative to childhood. The increase in fatalities at this age is due not to disease but, rather, to preventable forms of death (accident, suicide, and homicide) associated with adolescents putting themselves in harm’s way, in part because of diminished self-control—the ability to suppress inappropriate emotions, desires, and actions. In this lecture, empirical findings will be presented on how self-control can vary as a function of age, the situation, and the individual. Evidence for dynamic reorganization of the brain that coincides with apparent lapses in self-control during adolescence will be discussed in the context of evolution based biological constraints on the brain that may enable the adolescent to adapt to the many unique challenges of this exciting developmental phase of life.
Frans B.M. de Waal
Evolution of Emotions and Empathy in Primates
Frans B.M. de Waal, Department of Psychology, Emory University, USA and Utrecht University, The Netherlands
Emotions suffuse much of the language employed by students of animal behavior—from “social bonding” to “alarm calls”—yet are often avoided as explicit topics in scientific discourse. Given the increasing interest of human psychology in the emotions, and the neuroscience of animal emotions such as fear and attachment, the taboo that has hampered animal research in this area is outdated. The main point is to separate emotions from feelings, which are the subjective experiences that accompany emotions. Whereas science has no access to animal feelings, animal emotions are as observable and measurable as human emotions. They are mental and bodily states that potentiate behavior appropriate mostly to social situations. The presenter will discuss early ideas about animal emotions and draw on research on empathy and the perception of emotions in primates to make the point that the study of animal emotions is a necessary complement to the study of behavior. Emotions are best viewed as the organizers of adaptive responses to environmental stimuli.
The Brain in the Ecosystem: Cognition, Culture, and the Environment
Atsushi Iriki, Laboratory for Symbolic Cognitive Development, RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Japan
Human evolution has involved a continuous process of acquiring new kinds of cognitive capacity to form novel culture. The dramatic expansion of the primate brain that accompanied additions of new functional areas would have supported such continuous evolution. Extended brain functions would have driven rapid and drastic changes in primates’ ecological niche, which in turn demanded further brain resources to adapt to it. In this way, primate ancestors constructed a novel niche in each of the ecological, cognitive, and neural domains, whose interactions accelerated their individual evolution through a process of “triadic niche construction.” Human higher cognitive activity can therefore be viewed holistically as one component of the earth’s ecosystem, eventually comprising the “Anthropocene.” The primate brain’s functional characteristics seem to play a key role in this triadic interaction.