Evolution – the concept that explains how we evolved from apes to humans – is an experience all living beings can not escape. The idea of evolution is simple: we are all different to one another and we all compete to survive.
Whoever is the fittest, and thus survives, will pass on their genes to the next generation. Human beings have benefited from bigger brains, opposable thumbs, and no tails due to evolution. Weirdly enough, evolution has also made life much harder for us in some ways.
It made us hate veggies
Our ancestors relied on taste sensations to guide them to foods that would help them survive, and stay away from foods that were toxic. Humans today have inherited this screening system from our ancestors – you can see it clearly in toddlers and children. Two to 6 year olds are very picky when expected to eat vegetables like saag (spinach) because their inherited screening system detects meat and plant toxins that poisoned our ancestors, particularly when they were children.
A human being’s primal instinct towards food is that ‘bitter’ tastes suggest poison (spinach, broccoli, and kale are all bitter), ‘sour’ tastes suggest toxic acid, ‘sweet’ insinuates great energy sources, and ‘salty’ implies the presence of sodium, which is vital to our biological processes. Not only did the evolutionary process prime humans to detest vegetables, but it prepared them to love monosodium glutamate (MSG), which caters to ‘umami’, the fifth taste sensation.
Sugar is to sweet as MSG is to umami. Human beings enjoy ‘umami’ flavours because they indicate the presence of vital proteins that repair tissue. Unfortunately, our primed love for umami coupled with the overuse of MSG in Thai food and flavourings are hurting people due to the negative longterm effects of MSG (i.e. memory loss).
TIP: Children can be trained to accept new meats and vegetables through repeated exposure in small amounts. Only with experience do we learn to select and accept plants that are good for us.
It’s a mood switcher
Human beings, when aroused or excited, are primed to express emotion. Scientists have found that arousal is the base for all major emotions: anger, excitement, fear, and sexual passion. Arousal feeds emotion. However, occasionally our arousal response to one event overflows into our reaction to the next event. Imagine returning home after an energising gym session to find that your child broke the TV. Here, your brain would most likely channel this arousal into anger when it could have easily been expressed as a different emotion with another trigger.
Moreover, with arousal remaining from the workout, you would feel much angrier with your child than if you had just woken up from a nap. Similarly, those that are sexually aroused respond to angercausing situations with much more aggression than those who are not.
TIP: The arousal that stays after a heated dispute or scary occurrence can be channelled into and amplify sexual passion.
It made daydreaming good for us
When I was younger and asked to think of a daydreamer, I thought of a student staring out of a window with his/her face resting on his/her arms. Now, I think of an office employee doing the same thing. In both cases, the daydreamer gets reprimanded for wasting time and being inefficient – and fair enough, right?
However, daydreaming, or better yet, the correct way of daydreaming is extremely good for you. Mental practice can help you achieve your goals and refine your skills. Pianist Liu Chi Kung scored second place in the 1958 Tchaikovsky piano competition. One year later, he was caught in China’s cultural revolution and was jailed for 7 years. Critics applauded him for his improved craftsmanship, despite him never touching a piano throughout his sentence. He said, “I rehearsed every piece I had ever played, note by note, in my mind”.
In one study, psychologists asked female basketball players at the University of Tennessee to continually imagine scoring foul shouts under various contexts, including being put down by their competition. Their success rate increased from 52 % to 65 % after mental simulation – leading them to win the national championship game with free throws. Thus, it is no surprise that that mental rehearsal is now typically included in training sessions with Olympic athletes. Does this mean that daydreaming, or mental simulation, is still detrimental to that student or office worker? No.
A study required students to either perform outcome simulation or process simulation. Those that performed outcome simulation had to visualise achieving an ‘A’ on their mid-term and feeling pride daily. Those that performed process simulation imagined themselves efficiently studying under various conditions such as writing notes, reading them over, ignoring distractions and more.
Those that conducted outcome simulation accumulated only an extra 2 marks to the exam score average compared to the control group who performed no mental simulation at all. The second group performed even better – they totalled an extra 8 points to the average mark. Imagining successfully going through the process of achieving that ‘A’ encouraged them to start studying earlier and harder than their peers in the other groups.
TIP: Set aside at least 5 minutes in the day for some imagination, but make that time productive by imagining yourself going through the process of achieving your goal successfully, rather than on the glowing outcome. Evolution prepares us to survive our environment. However, our ‘environment’ is changing so fast, that some of the systems that worked for our ancestors are fighting us now. Those are the ways you can fight back, and do what evolution wanted you to do in the first place – survive and thrive.