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Why We Do What We Do

We act in certain ways because we’re driven by what we call human nature. Over the centuries, there have been varying views of what that entails. “The bad news on human nature, in 10 findings from psychology” by neuroscientist Christian Jarrett (Aeon, 12/5/18, adaptation of an article published by The British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, accessed 12/7/18) may help you understand more about why we and others say and do things that are not always in our best interest.

Here are some evidence-based conclusions about our baser desires and reactions.

· We believe that people deserve their fate and blame the less fortunate for what happens to them. In part, this may be why many dysregulated eaters are hard on themselves and confuse taking responsibility for their actions with self-blame.

· We are not particularly rational, open-minded creatures. Remember this when you’re arguing with someone and the facts that you present don’t get them to budge an inch from their irrational position. Jarret explains that we “double down on their initial view” because we “see opposing facts as undermining our sense of identity.”

· We are not reflective and contemplative. Perhaps this is because spending time with our own thoughts makes us uncomfortable by generating self-doubt, confusion, guilt, or harsh self-judgment.

· We tend toward moral hypocrisy. People who condemn us the most are unlikely to see this same quality in themselves. They then project it onto us, whether we have this quality or not. Beware of folks who tell you what you are and what to do.

· We are inclined toward being led by people with “primal appeal,” a common trait among leaders. On both the personal and political level, we may look up and be drawn to people with low emotional intelligence who display aggression and other psychopathic traits.

· We are sexually attracted to not-so-nice people. Research suggests that “men and women are sexually attracted, at least in the short term, to people displaying… narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism.” Remember, though, that we need not act on this attraction and have the free will to choose more wisely.

The above may appear to be gloomy news because it doesn’t fit who we think humans are or should be. The good news is that those of us who endeavor to overcome our baser natures can do so with two caveats. One is that we will never be perfect (that is, good, nice, rational, etc. all the time) and the other is to watch out for and avoid people who are perfectly fine being as manipulative, self-centered, and insensitive as they are.



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