what if the “maladaptive” is functional in activating evolutionary change

Micro Response Rif on Daly and Wilson’s Evolutionary Psychological Perspective

  1. Concept
    Daly and Wilson in their article “Crime and Conflict: Homicide in Evolutionary Psychological Perspective” propose that violence may be an evolutionary residual adaptive feature of the psychophysiological fight/flight mechanisms and not a psychopathology or necessarily maladaptive (Daly & Wilson, 1997, p. 57) They go on to suggest that violence is an evolutionarily manifestation of consequence of a contextually sensitive situation triggering motivational states of arousal, which in turns mobilizes complex psychophysiological so that the individual may deal with the particular situation.
  2. Illustration
    In my lived experience in various affluent communities—creative, educational, religious and domestic—of which I have been a part, learning disorders and psychopathologies have been understood as maladaptive. Pharmaceuticals and psycho-therapeutic interventions are commonly pursued for the identified maladaptive subjects. At times these interventions are engaged to suppress or cure psychological and neurological differences in order to produce in the individual a better “fit” for the communities’ norms of being and doing.

    It is accepted within the realm of psychology that there is a correlation between eminent artists in the past 100 years with psychopathologies such as depression, anxiety, addiction, and mania (Ludwig, 1998; Simonton, 2009; Perkins, Arnone, Smallwood, & Mobbs, 2015). Ludwig’s research of eminent creative practitioners—artists, hard and soft scientists, entrepreneurs, etc— presents the staggering figure that seventy two percent of the artists studied experienced diagnosable psychopathological disturbances [only 49% in the social sciences] (1998). Additionally there is a strong link with neurologically atypical attention, loose sensory gating (Zabelina et al., 2015), with artists. These psychopathologies and neurological attention sensitivities are believed to function in reducing “latent inhibitions” and increasing “openness” and “divergent thinking” (Simonton, 2009, p. 488; Zabelina et al., 2015). And these attributes in turn reduce the individual’s adherence to particular sets of conventions which appears to be a necessary but not sufficient component of enabling the possibility that the artist will arrive at alternative ways of doing or understanding things (Simonton, 2009).

    Alongside the dominant creative practice of these same eminent artist studied by Ludwig there is also a group phenomenon that these artists write. Their textual practice ranges from published books, essays, poetry, manifestos, song lyrics, as well as more private texts including letters, diaries and journals. Psychologist James Pennebaker has correlated particular patterns of expressive writing about traumatic experiences with affective and physiological health improvements (Pennebaker, 1997). It is suspected that cognitive reappraisal and emotional disclosure in expressive writing has a mood regulator function (R. J. North et al., 2012). To date my psycholinguistic analysis of artists’ texts via LIWC2007 and DICTION7 suggests that these writings are very much in line with expressive/experimental writing which result in patterns associated with improved health and academic outcomes.

    Further, there is a large body of creativity research on mood regulation relative to creative production (Baas, Dreu, & Nijstad, 2008). Baas and cohorts meta-analysis makes it evident that particular ranges of arousal, positive or negative, activate the creative ideations and practice in terms of the artist’s domain fluency, cognitive flexibility and insight, affective passion and persistence for implementation. Whereas, other ranges of arousal—too high or low regardless of sentiment—dampen creative function and output (Baas, Dreu, & Nijstad, 2008).

  3. Analysis
    Like Daly and Wilson’s ideations on violence, these neurological and psychological differences commonly identified as maladaptive in eminent artists may conceivably be a part of the complex evolutionary adaptive mechanisms that enable artists to mobilize psychophysiological resources to deal with particular situations in novel ways.

    And as particular situational contexts may spark a state of anger that leads to violence, so the “maladaptations” found in artists may precipitate the arousal of an affective state necessary to engage with the creative act. And if these disinhibition and hypersensitivities common to artists are necessary (but not sufficient) for the capacity of innovation, which is often needed for cultural correction or modification, then these learning disabilities and psychopathologies appear not maladaptive but socially functional.

    Additionally, if expressive writing, also a common practice amongst visual artists, functions to regulate psychophysiological states of arousal, then perhaps this is an important adaptive behavioral method to manage strong affective arousal resulting from neurological sensitivities and psychopathologies to within creative activating ranges. Meaning that the attributes that disinhibit and make the artist highly sensitive serve as a type of on switch and writing practices a regulatory mechanism. So it is highly conceivable that the neurological and psychophysiological differences along with the writing practices of eminent visual artists are adaptive attributes that effectively allow these artists to out perform non-eminent artists and provide a functional service to .



Andrews, P. W., & Thomson, J. A. (2009). The bright side of being blue: Depression as an adaptation for analyzing complex problems. Psychological Review, 116(3), 620-654. doi:10.1037/a0016242

Baas, M., Dreu, C. K., & Nijstad, B. A. (2008). A meta-analysis of 25 years of mood-creativity research: Hedonic tone, activation, or regulatory focus? Psychological Bulletin, 134(6), 779-806. doi:10.1037/a0012815

Daly, M., & Wilson, M. (1997). Crime and Conflict: Homicide in Evolutionary Psychological Perspective. Crime and Justice, 22, 51-100. doi:10.1086/449260

Ludwig, A. M. (1998). Method and Madness in the Arts and Sciences. Creativity Research Journal, 11(2), 93-101. doi:10.1207/s15326934crj1102_1

North, R. J., Meyerson, R. L., Brown, D. N., & Holahan, C. J. (2012). The Language of Psychological Change: Decoding an Expressive Writing Paradigm. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 32(2), 142-161. doi:10.1177/0261927×12456381

Pennebaker, J. W. (1997). Writing About Emotional Experiences as a Therapeutic Process. Psychological Science, 8(3), 162-166. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.1997.tb00403.x

Perkins, A. M., Arnone, D., Smallwood, J., & Mobbs, D. (2015). Thinking too much: Self-generated thought as the engine of neuroticism. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 19(9), 492-498. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2015.07.003

Simonton, D. K. (2009). Varieties of (Scientific) Creativity: A Hierarchical Model of Domain-Specific Disposition, Development, and Achievement. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4(5), 441-452. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6924.2009.01152.x

Zabelina, D. L., O’Leary, D., Pornpattananangkul, N., Nusslock, R., & Beeman, M. (2015). Creativity and sensory gating indexed by the P50: Selective versus leaky sensory gating in divergent thinkers and creative achievers. Neuropsychologia, 69, 77-84. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.01.034


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