The Moral Animal Book Summary - The Moral Animal Book explained in key points
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The Moral Animal summary

Robert Wright

Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology

4.4 (158 ratings)
19 mins
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    The Moral Animal
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    Intelligence, youth and beauty are attractive attributes because they indicate an ability to bear and care for children.

    Men, as the old cliché has it, are notoriously unfussy when it comes to casual hookups. If the answer’s “yes,” they’ll partner up with pretty much anyone. Finding a long-term mate, however, is a different business.

    Take it from the American sociobiologist Robert L. Trivers. In a study published in 1990, Trivers suggested that while the average male isn’t particularly choosy about sexual partners, both men and women apply exacting standards when selecting long-term partners. His evidence? The majority of participants in his study stated that potential mates had to demonstrate above-average intelligence to be taken into consideration.

    That’s easy enough to explain in terms of evolutionary psychology: when men seek a long-term partner, they’re looking for attributes that suggest their mate will be a capable guardian of their future children. Intelligence is an obvious sign of just that. It’s important to note that this isn’t a conscious choice, however; according to evolutionary psychologists, the preference for a smart and competent mother is an entirely unconscious calculation designed to ensure the survival of children.

    That said, intelligence isn’t the only characteristic that’s attractive to men – youth and beauty are just as important. According to a 1989 study by evolutionary psychologist David Buss that looked at men’s preferences in cultures across the globe, this isn’t mere male superficiality. Rather, typical youth and beauty markers – think big eyes and small noses – are pretty reliable indicators of female fertility.

    That means these choices once again come down to the importance of passing on one’s genes: the greater the chance that a partner will bear children, the more likely it is that a male’s genetic makeup will survive and thrive over many future generations.

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    What is The Moral Animal about?

    The Moral Animal (1994) delves into the fascinating – and occasionally controversial – field of evolutionary psychology to ask what really motivates human behavior. Drawing on the work of Darwin as well as a wealth of anthropological sources, Robert Wright sheds new light on a range of familiar everyday situations in the animal kingdom and our own societies.

    Best quote from The Moral Animal

    In our ancestral environment, just about everyone encountered was someone we might well encounter again.

    —Robert Wright
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    Who should read The Moral Animal?

    • Psychologists and keen observers of human behavior
    • Biologists and other natural scientists
    • Anyone fascinated by the evolution of our species

    About the Author

    Robert Wright is an American journalist whose work spans the fields of history, politics, psychology and religion. He is the editor of New Republic, a senior fellow at the non-partisan think tank New America and a regular contributor to magazines such as the New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly. Wright’s previous books include Three Scientists and Their Gods (1988) and Nonzero (1999).

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