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"I wonder... How does one measure grief?"

Posted by: Waldheri | February 15, 2009 at 04:21 PM

Using as a proxy the length of time a person plays the song "Everybody Hurts" on repeat.

Joking aside, I imagine the scale of grief doesn't matter as much as relative values: would you be sadder if X happened or if Y happened? I suppose it could be monetized somehow ("I would pay 5 to avoid X-sadness but 8 to avoid Y-sadness.") but I doubt that would be really accurate except to show relative feelings of grief - in an experimental setting, most people would highball the amounts, but the rankings of what's sadder than what would probably still be accurate.

Sideways Evolutionary psychology is about adaptation to one's environment. Where cultures differ environments differ: a hunter-gatherer tribe may be so closely interdependent that their optimal strategies in the ultimatum game would differ than those of people in more individualistic-independent environments. In a tribal setting, direct competition for resources or sexual partners might be more intense: in such a setting, if you're directly competing with the person proposing the split, it makes no sense to accept less than 50/50 - you're just giving them an advantage in your competition for mates and resources. Imagine an incident thousands of years ago: "help me carry this buffalo I killed back to the caves and you can have a quarter of the meat." If you're directly competing with the proponent, you'd putting yourself at a huge reproductive disadvantage if you helped him. [I'm obviously illustrating; I have no idea whether quantity of buffalo meat would have had any effect on mate choice.] That outcome would be different if the two men were retreating to different tribes and thus different mating pools.

The point is that the choice in the ultimatum game has different consequences based on the environment in which it is made. I believe that we're genetically predisposed to demand a "fair" share rather than accepting whatever because we spent most of our evolution in the first setting, where accepting a small share puts you at a disadvantage with your competitor. Those who successfully overcome bias in this setting may accept any positive amount, given that in modern society we're not in as direct competition with each other as our tribal ancestors were.

As for evolutionary psychology as a science, it's difficult to construct experiments that would actually test predictions. I find that experimental psychology contains a lot of noise [Thaler has shown how much setting affects experimental result] and so far it seems to have been difficult to construct natural experiments without too much noise. Our best bet is to make predictions for the future now and hope someone resolves it in 4587.