To Be, or Not to Be, Human

Through natural selection, psychological mechanisms have evolved to solve adaptive problems. In other words, the brain is not a general purpose apparatus, every animals’ brain is the result of its evolutionary history—and even though we’d like to think otherwise, humans are no different. Buss (1995) elucidated this point by noting, “all humans have a nature—a human nature that differs from cat nature, rat nature, and bat nature. That nature requires particular forms of environmental input for its development”. For this reason, animals with genetic similarities and environmental pressures have similar natures.

Human nature shares commonalities with many other social primates. Take chimpanzees for example. In the context of violent warfare (the wild), chimpanzees live in groups, have status hierarchies, and display cultural differences between groups (just like our organizations do). Given this, what factors are most important to the survival of a chimp in the wild? Quite simply, survival depends on being in or choosing a strong group, getting along within the group, and being at the top of the group’s hierarchy. So, if you see two ingratiating chimps grooming each other, they’re trying to get along. And, if you see chimps displaying aggressive behaviors (within or between groups), it’s likely they’re fighting for dominance, resources, and ultimately survival.

Humans have similar evolutionary consistent underlying motivations, and they’re posited by the three components of socioanalytic theory: (1) getting along with others, (2) getting ahead within the hierarchy, and (3) finding meaning and purpose. Similar to chimps, we want to get along with others and fear rejection. We want to obtain status and fear losing power and control of resources. And third, we want to find meaning in life and fear unpredictability and losing control. These motivations drive human behavior, and social interaction (in humans and chimps) involves negotiating for these things—and it’s our personalities that determine if we get them.

Personality, though, is about individual differences. There are two components of personality—the view you have of you (identity) and the view others have of you (reputation). Identity, or what you think about you, is formed through feedback from others, and it determines your values and the roles you’ll play. Human behavior is a function of identity, and identity varies between people. Some people have a stronger need than others to get along, get ahead, and find meaning.

Reputation, or what others think about you, concerns how we present our identities to the world. Since the people around you give you your underlying needs (status and acceptance), your reputation is vastly consequential. For instance, if a group converges in perceiving you as untrustworthy, you will likely be removed from the group (regardless of your identity), resulting in various negative outcomes such as loneliness (loss of acceptance), depression (loss of status and control), and diminution of resources. Due to the objectivity (lack of psychological biases) of reputation, it is easier to study than identity, and a better predictor of job performance and life outcomes (salary, popularity in school, etc…).

Aristotle once said, “knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”  Humans are largely unconscious of their underlying motivations, identity, and reputation—but we can become conscious through strategic self-awareness. Strategic self-awareness has three components: knowing your identity (this is what Aristotle was after), knowing how your identity transfers to reputation, and knowing your reputation. This knowledge is achieved through assessment, feedback, and coaching. Here at Hogan, we want you to know how we see you, because that is what determines your success or failure in work and life.

In the end, from generation to generation, and from social primate to social primate, we’re all just in the game of life searching for love, glory, and meaning. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “And so it goes…”