Gorillas made me do it

Max Rivlin-Nadler writes: You walk into an elevator and push the button for your desired floor. The button lights up. The elevator stops at the next floor and another person enters. He or she pushes the same button that’s already lit up.

According to Dario Maestripieri’s new book, “Games Primates Play,” that elevator ride represents a game of dominance — similar to those exhibited by other primates. The University of Chicago professor argues that our social relationships have analogs in nature, especially within groups of primates. While we may not go up and grab our supervisor’s genitals as a sign of respect, we engage in similar acts that help us figure out where we fit in groups.

By exploring our social lives through the lens of an evolutionary biologist, Maestripieri breaks down the most routine of social interactions into deeply embedded behaviors from our genetic forebears. Just like humans, other primates grapple with questions of dominance, reciprocation, nepotism and fidelity. He demonstrates how his own life, the lives of celebrities, and corporate success strategies all derive from a single, primal need to find our place in a group.

Salon spoke with Maestripieri about the primal instincts we exhibit in our emails, whether altruism exists, how nepotism is natural, and why it matters to study our everyday nature. [Continue reading...]

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