Friday, May 24

Fiat Lux explains psychopathy, evolution relationship


Professor Joseph Manson will teach a new Fiat Lux seminar on how psychological traits can be explained through evolution.

Professor Joseph Manson will teach a new Fiat Lux seminar on how psychological traits can be explained through evolution. Courtesy of Joseph Manson


Delving into the mind of a psychopath and contemplating the evolution of the human psyche are both items on the syllabus for a new Fiat Lux seminar available this fall.

Joseph Manson, an anthropology professor, is leading the seminar titled “Psychopathy and Human Nature” in which students will explore psychopathy from an evolutionary perspective.

“Psychopathy is something people are fascinated by,” Manson said. “I think (students) will get out of it an understanding of how variation in psychological trait could be explainable by natural selection.”

One such evolutionary theory Manson will discuss is the frequency-dependent hypothesis. From an evolutionary perspective, Manson said people could have a lower tendency to identify psychopaths because the likelihood they will cross paths with them is low.

“It’s like a smoke alarm,” Manson said. “How sensitive are you going to make it? Obviously, if there is a fire and it doesn’t go off, it will give you a false negative. But if it’s too sensitive, it will go off when you’re making a steak.”

The students in the class will discuss the findings of Manson’s most recent research study on human psychopathy, he said.

Manson said students will learn about the psychopath continuum that all people fall on, and how often the traditional conceptions of good and evil are blurry.

“Sometimes the difference between psychopath and hero is a matter of switching one thing,” Manson said. “To lead a group in a crisis, it is advantageous to have that person be fearless and less sensitive to punishment and adverse outcome.”

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