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Behavioral patterns of humans, as well as other species, are not accidental. Cognition is dependent on various aspects, including one’s genetic material and the surrounding environment. For example, some behaviors and actions are so deeply rooted in one’s primal instincts that they are hard to alter in any way. The concept of the “time lag” explains this. According to Dawkins, bodies can be viewed as survival machines where genes, while slowly changing one’s habits, do not affect behavior very quickly (68). Thus, the disruption of an individuals’ cognition and the surrounding environment occurs. Humans still have behaviors that contributed to their survival many centuries ago. According to Nairne and Pandeirada, one’s memory has some “‘footprints of ancestral selection pressures,” which reflect the information that was the most relevant for survival before (239). This information remained in people’s systems because it was needed over a long period of time. However, the speed of progress is constantly increasing, while the process of evolutionary change remains slow. The assessment of genes, with the intention to distinguish bad genes from good ones, not only takes time but also consistent pressure from certain aspects of the environment. Thus, a lag in time affects people’s cognition.
Although the selection of the so-called “good genes” does affect one’s behavior to adapt to current surroundings, the speed at which these alterations happen does not allow humans to adapt concurrently on the genetic level. Some genetic changes deal with the problem of the time lag and help with adjustment to the environment. However, other choices do not reflect modern living conditions and lead to various problems. For example, one’s hunter-gatherer instincts can be viewed as a result of genetic selection as they are based on one’s need to survive in harsh environments. Modern living conditions, on the other hand, are not harsh for most people. Thus, one’s instincts to prefer fatty and sugary foods, which were scarce during the time when the hunter instinct was most prevalent, are negatively affecting people’s health in modern society (Buss 18). Other examples include aggressive behavior and separation of groups into insiders and outsiders. The need for group survival was necessary at some point. However, now these behaviors have a limited function. Genetically induced attitudes are hard to unlearn. Therefore, the behaviors described above are likely to stay imprinted in people’s minds for a long time. It is plausible that at some point new good genes will replace the existing ones to reflect the changes in one’s way of living.
The slow process of genetic change is complemented by one’s adaptive flexibility. Humans can adapt due to the ability of the brain to participate in one’s learning process (Buss 18). However, people cannot be considered fully adapted to every existing condition because they need to go through this learning process during their lives. People’s genes do not secure the results of this education because of the time lag. Therefore, each individual has to rely on his or her surrounding environment and their own cognitive abilities to comprehend the current situation and adapt to it. That is why humans are flexible in their behaviors and actions. To adjust to a new way of living, they have to reevaluate new and old information constantly. For instance, the instincts to find sugary foods are replaced by conscious choices to opt for healthy products. Thus, the concept of adapted cognition affects future planning and prediction of any future actions or choices.
All in all, the lag in time can be explained by the slow speed of evolutionary change. This influences the way people understand core concepts and creates the need for flexible learning. The process of choosing good genes in order to pick the best traits for one’s behavior, however, is too slow to completely eradicate this problem.
Buss, David. Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind. 5th ed., Psychology Press, 2015.
Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. 4th ed., Oxford University Press, 2016.
Nairne, James S., and Josefa N.S. Pandeirada. “Adaptive Memory: Remembering With a Stone-Age Brain.” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 17, no. 4, 2008, pp. 239-243.