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Have personality traits evolved to help the human species survive?

I have a friend who is doing her PHD in psychology. She is doing it on "Where do personality traits originate from? " ( A bit to open ended for my likely but ehh). It got me thinking, is the reason that we have different personality traits because we need them as a species to survive, Quick example - in a forest there are berries we do not know if they are poisonous. Different personality traits would make different decisions:

1) - we don't eat them - survive or go hungry and die
2) - we do eat them - death or possible new source of food

I am kind of extrapolating on the idea of why we are different genetically - we are different so one virus doesnt wipe us out (i know there a few reasons we are different but this is one). So is this why we have different personality traits, so one situation does wipe us out?

That kind of explains nature of humans but what about the idea of nurture?
the way i would explain this is, In different time we need different type of people; in war we need soldiers or in times of plague we need healers so is this why people can be changed through nurture?

I don't know if this is an already held idea as my primary field is mathematics and not biology. If this is true could you give me a way to research this idea further (Book, references, topic names), if not then what idea supercedes this one?

Thanks!

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  • Nov 2 2012: I think some primal instincts might have evolved into behaviors and personality traits conducive to living in a particular society. For example: The instinct to hunt and gather food; The instinct to protect your children; The instinct to be weary of other men; Natural curiosity; The desire to be part of a group and for social interaction; The instinct for some to always be doing something; Fight or flight responses to danger; Trust, Survival, etc.

    For each of these there is a norm for what you would do alone, and what you might do in a group. So, of one the factors influencing decisions is your desire to be in a group. Another influential factor is your relative strength within the group and your perception of your own strength relative to external dangers. As human societies have evolved and become more complex, groups have become larger, and the important skill sets and personality traits are changing. Things like an individual's ability to understand and accept change will become increasingly more important as society's rate of change increases. Adaptability!

    The nurture idea is one of the basic instincts, but what does the individual think is the best way to nurture? What does their social group think is the best way to nurture? How influential is the need to be part of this group in the life of the parent? All of these factors determine the learned behavior passed on to the child. Nature defines success in parenting is the ability for your off-spring to go forth and reproduce. Otherwise, nature deems your variety of human as weak, and your DNA is removed from the herd. The only thing left will be your contribution to tribal knowledge, your interactions with other humans, and your impact on nature.

    Career choices like healers, soldiers, farmers, ect. are driven by a person's belief about what it will take for them to survive, what is will take for them to help the ones they love,and best fit in with the group. A parent's decision influences the child's.
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    Nov 1 2012: I have no specialty in this area either, but I do know that most research finds there is a genetic component to personality traits. In terms of evolution, my understand is that the mechanism works at the level of the individual in the sense that traits evolve to favor survival of the individual in the context.

    I do not see that mechanism operating on an aggregate as you have hypothesized.
  • Nov 1 2012: I've heard 2 things that may help.
    One was the story of a group of soldiers holed-up in a small room in a nasty snowstorm with orders to wait there. Some of the soldiers were on-edge, Type-A, wanting to leave & do something. But they were calmed down by others who said that things will be ok if they just stay patient. So they stayed, & it turned out ok.

    I also heard a story about a group of baboons, led by the high-strung, combative, mean-to-the-females baboons, there were also less-combative males. They came upon a human garbage pile, and the most combative, 'first-to-grab,' ate what was there, got ill & died. The less-combatives were left to become the leaders, and the clan became much gentler, even after they were infiltrated by younger combatives from other tribes.

    Both true stories, I believe.
  • Oct 31 2012: I think personality traits could change according to several factors and depend on the situation . People have ability to adapt with the worst conditions , and sometimes they learn by simulation . For example : the soldier can be a farmer or teacher if he has been dismissed from their profession , or if he lost any of his senses . What I mean is that some people
    never give up , and can play numerous roles in the life . That doesn't come easy , but it will come with a big effort .
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    Oct 30 2012: Personality traits are not the result of the essential processes of either Darwinian or Neo Evolution. Personality traits are the stuff of sociology and psychiatry, not genetics.
    • Nov 1 2012: All of the above.
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        Nov 1 2012: Two questions: 1) To what does "All of the above." refer?
        2) What about "All of the above."?
        • Nov 1 2012: That both sociocultural and genetics play roles. Biological evolution and sociocultural evolution so to speak. The psychology is not completely independent of genetics, but genetics alone can't do a lot by itself.