Abstract: I have a hypothesis that there are two different general strategies for life that humans might switch between predicated on the way general resource availability change in the society. If it is constant or increasing one strategy pays off, if predictably increasing then decreasing, another is good. These strategies would have been selected for at different times and environments in prehistory but humans are mainly plastic in which strategy they adopt. Culture reinforces them and can create lags. For value neutral purposes I will call them by seasons, the Summer strategy and the Winter strategy. The summer is for times of plenty and partying, and the winter for when resources regularly become scarcer and life becomes harsher. These strategies affect every part of society from mating to the way people plan.

The above is an idea that seems to tie up a few loose threads I have been seeing around the place. I am mainly channelling Robin Hanson here, so some familiarity with him would be useful. I'd also recommend this paper on sexuality and character traits. And the red queen.

Note: I don't have time to write a properly researched paper, so you are going to have to settle for a blog style post. So it is not front page material. But I would rather it got more coverage than in the open thread. If someone is enamoured with the idea, feel free to make a well written riff on this theme. I won't get off ended.

The summer strategy

This is selected for by sexual selection. Women want to mate with attractive powerful men when they don't have to worry about the babies being provided for by that man. Attractive powerful men have to signal there attractiveness and power, they can use lots of resources to do so. This [sexual strategies theory paper](http://www.psy.cmu.edu/~rakison/bussandschmitt.pdf) gives lots of good reasons why men may have been selected for what they call short term sexuality.

It is characterised by:

- Less planning needed. Credit cards. Significant Debt.

- Near thinking

- Extroversion

- Babies without fathers will more likely to survive. Women gathering resources by themselves if they lack male relatives. This leads to more promiscuous women and more promiscuous men as well, as social mores change. Short-term mating strategies do well. Breakdown of traditional monogamy.

- More extroversion in men. Due to less need for planning ahead and gathering resources you can spend more time raising your status in the tribe for more mates and the chance of cuckolding other men.

- associated with red/orange heat and warmth. Summer and harvest

- risk taking

The winter strategy

In times and locations where resources change significantly, short term mating is not so successful. A short term mating men can not rely on there being sufficient resources to raise their kids. So this selects for providers. Common things in evolutionary history that might provide this pressure is the coming of harsh winters in northern climates and ice ages that pushed people out of land. These events reduced the amount of resources available and benefited people that prepared for it.  It is nature vs person selection pressure, rather than person vs person.

It is characterised by:

- More planning and preparation. Stockpiling resources. Savings. 

- Far thinking

- Mild Introversion

- Babies without fathers unlikely to survive. Less promiscuous women. More interested in practical abilities of mate than beauty. This might be where the "myth" of women wanting a provider/gifts comes from. They did want a provider, of sorts, but still not a complete wuss. But now that we are in permanent summer, resource wise, strategies change. Long-term mating strategy is the norm for a winter strategist.

- risk averse

- social interaction more about keeping the group happy and on your side, rather than trying to be alpha. Although it can't hurt to be alpha.

- association with blue. Cold/ice. Coming of winter; time to prepare.

Some points of discussion

Men are probably more naturally summer strategists. Women are more naturally winter strategists so might not be very good at knowing what they want when they are performing the summer strategy. This has been discussed in evolutionary theory as parental investment.

Could this be an explanation for the protestant (northern European) work ethic and the success of Europe solving man vs nature problems? Due to harsher selection via more winters/ice ages?

Intelligent winter strategists go on to be part of SIAI, Summer strategists go on to be entrepreneurs (epitome of risk taking). Winter strategists in this day and age (at least in the developed world) are more likely to be extreme or odd, as the moderates are likely to be over in the summer camp.

I suspect that this is why there is some disconnect of view between the PUA advocates and some of the resident existential risk thinkers. Signalling you are summer strategist is a very bad idea for a winter strategist.

If the summer/winter divide has an element of truth, it doesn't look good for advocates of far thinking (greens,existential risk activists). As we get better and better at meeting our needs we will slip more into short term thinking and status contests (without genetic engineering at least).


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So, this post seems to be predicting a genetically heritable predilection towards long-term planning or short-term planning, one that would vary between the sexes and between races. This can be tested.

The post is also positing a couple of just-so stories to explain why males and females or particular races would have the short-term planning trait or the long-term planning trait.

The post also suggests that these personality traits can be used to help explain the evolution of society and culture. This sort of hypothesis has been popular for hundreds of years, and Jared Diamond wrote Guns, Germs and Steel in response to it. We ought, by now, to be wary of the kind of thinking that leads to locating this particular hypothesis.

The bit about the colors is just timecube.

It seems plausible that people vary in risk aversion (which seems to underlie your model) and that could be a reason for different strategies. But is there any evidence that this variance is discontinuous, or even bimodal? And is there evidence that the traits you mention are correlated with resource abundance?

If you're right, we would expect to see more monogamy, planning and philosophy in poor societies, families and areas than in rich ones. That should be easy to get stats on, but I would guess that the relationship would be the opposite from a traditional biological perspective. People in poor environments expect shorter lives, and therefore it is adaptive to take more risks. Of course, if the data supports you, that just makes your idea even more interesting!

Note that cultural evolution in Europe & Asia is traditionally explained by the increase in resource availability that came with division of labor made possible by immigration into environments where tropical diseases couldn't thrive, allowing large cities to be built (see Jared Diamond).

This paper on human mating strategies shows that mating strategies do change somewhat with resources. For example that there are polyandrous mating strategies in resource starved areas such as the himalayas, where one woman is shared by many brothers. This is a safe (Winter) strategy compared to a poor man trying to provide for one women and not having enough resources to. And polygynous strategies in societies where men can get the resources to keep many women. So these relationships are being regulated by what one or both of partners thinks they can get away with resource wise.

We are now in a stage where many women don't need men to provide resources (or can make the state force the men to provide for the child while not being attached) and we are seeing a distinct breakdown in the (previously) traditional monogamy in developed countries.

Well, one upside of your idea is it sounds very testable. If your model's a good one, we should be able to throw in measurements of all the different traits and behaviors you list into a factor analysis or a PCA and pull out a general summer-winter factor/axis. At the least, the things you label as 'summer' traits should all positively correlate with each other, as should the 'winter' traits.

Some of the data for doing this test are probably already out there for the less obscure traits like gender, extraversion, promiscuity, polygamy and risk aversion. I would guess your theory would imply that other Big Five personality traits would have summer-winter correlations as well, like conscientiousness with winter ('More planning and preparation. Stockpiling resources. Savings.')

Not sure how I'd test the evolutionary psychology predictions, though...

(Edit - I might have been primed with this idea by having just read this cross-country comparison of how personality traits relate to gender and short-term mating behavior! Could be a good start for anyone interested enough to try testing whpearson's theory.)

I linked to that paper as well. I came across it when I found that the Dark Triad paper referenced it to say that extroversion was linked with short term mating strategies, which sparked the hypothesis.

I'll have a look through it later for a link between economic well being and short term strategies.

I linked to that paper as well.

Oh! That's probably where I discovered it, then - I opened it up in the middle of a bunch of Overcoming Bias tabs, forgot where I found it, and assumed I'd seen Robin Hanson link it somewhere on his blog!

Could this be an explanation for the protestant (northern European) work ethic and the success of the white man at solving man vs nature problems?

Change this to "success of Europe" or something like that.

Also, this hypothesis isn't doing much for me given all the other cold, rugged places in the world.

Men are probably more naturally summer strategists. Women are more naturally winter strategists so might not be very good at knowing what they want when they are performing the summer strategy.



Differential investment in offspring due to biology. Women risk 9 months of labour when having sex and then have to wean the baby. Men aren't forced to be around during this and can ditch and rely on the woman + family to raise the kid. This is called parental investment.

This whole theory is predicated on pregnancy happening as the result of this mating behaviour. In other words it only works when no reliable form of contraception is available. In modern society it has broken down. also it does not explain how in "winter" wartime conditions there seems to be more promiscuity and babies born to unstable parental relationships.

Please edit your post, and use the button that says "Insert summary break" when you hover over it to insert a break after the introduction.

I think a lot more detailed knowledge would be needed. For example, is winter simply the hard work and planning season, or is it the time when your tribe kills a mammoth, and then all you have to do for a while is guard the frozen meat until you have to kill another mammoth?

This wasn't quite the distinction I was going for. It is more places where there is a sudden winter require more long term planning in general, you need furs, shelter or tools to make the shelter to survive the cold. These are things you might not see the immediate need for if it is currently warm and green. This planning might need to be done in summer as well. So tropical/equatorial vs highly seasonal might be the distinction I should have made.

The eskimo kind of lifestyle you describe probably has different pressures to farmers that must store food for the winter, but due to its small size may not have contributed much to the human gene pool.

Is there any evidence that traits and behaviors like introversion/extraversion, near/far, etc. actually change across seasons? ETA: or is that not implied by what you're saying?

I think 'summer' and 'winter' are names chosen for being evocative, catchy, and 'value neutral' - I didn't read whpearson as meaning them to be taken literally.

[-][anonymous]12y 2

I'm not so sure about that. Note that the section on winter strategies begins with:

This was selected for by things like the coming of normal winters in northern climates and ice ages that pushed people out of land. It is person vs nature, rather than person vs person.

This seems to suggest that whpearson did intend for the names to have meaning.

I tried to clarify a potential ambiguity and ended up making an ambiguous post myself - I should've been more careful :-)

When I read steven0461's post I thought he was asking whpearson if the overall winteriness/summeriness of people literally changed from season to season as time passed, and I replied with that in mind. Although whpearson's post does associate literal climates with the personality clusters he suggests, I didn't think he was meaning to imply that people's personalities undergo a seasonal winter-summer cycle, which is the point I meant to make.

But I think you and Airedale are right that whpearson meant to draw other literal connections between seasons and personality clusters - just not one about seasonal cycles - and I could've been clearer on that.

Perhaps not completely literally, but all the discussion of climate suggests that that there is some intended connection to the seasons.

It is more that places with distinct seasons favour different strategies than places with less distinct (e.g the equator). It is more resource variance than the actual amount of resources, as the human population will expand or contract to fit the niche. But when there are regular shocks to the amount of resources (bad winters) that cause change in population levels different strategies might be more evolutionarily adaptive.