Games Primates Play: An Undercover Investigation of the Evolution and Economics of Human Relationships

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Most humans don’t realize that when they exchange emails with someone, anyone, they are actually exhibiting certain unspoken rules about dominance and hierarchy. The same rules regulate the exchange of grooming behavior in rhesus macaques or chimpanzees. Interestingly, some of the major aspects of human nature have profound commonalities with our ape ancestors: the violence of war, the intensity of love, the need to live together.

While we often assume that our behavior in everyday situations reflects our unique personalities, the choices we freely make, or the influences of our environment, we rarely consider that others behave in these situations in almost the exact the same way as we do. In Games Primates Play, primatologist Dario Maestripieri examines the curious unspoken customs that govern our behavior. These patterns and customs appear to be motivated by free will, yet they are so similar from person to person, and across species, that they reveal much more than our selected choices.

Games Primates Play uncovers our evolutionary legacy: the subtle codes that govern our behavior are the result of millions of years of evolution, predating the emergence of modern humans. To understand the rules that govern primate games and our social interactions, Maestripieri arms readers with knowledge of the scientific principles that ethologists, psychologists, economists, and other behavioral scientists have discovered in their quest to unravel the complexities of behavior. As he realizes, everything from how we write emails to how we make love is determined by the legacy of our primate roots and the conditions that existed so long ago.

An idiosyncratic and witty approach to our deep and complex origins, Games Primates Play reveals the ways in which our primate nature drives so much of our lives.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Maestripieri (Macachiavellian Intelligence), professor of evolutionary biology and related sciences at the University of Chicago, explores behavioral similarities between humans and other primates in his engaging but flawed book. Such an analysis is important, he writes, because “human nature is a particular, specialized version of a more general primate nature.” Drawing on his own work with rhesus macaques as well as broader primate literature, Maestripieri offers solid grounding in the basics of animal behavior while discussing the evolutionary roots of complex social patterns. The behaviors he focuses on are both critical and fascinating: sexual choice; dominance relationships; the nature of altruism and selfishness; and coalition building, among others. But when it comes to humans, Maestripieri presents less data and more anecdotes, so his arguments about homologous human-primate behavior are not fully compelling. Furthermore, he can simply ignore issues that contradict his theories. For example, in discussing charitable contribution as status-building activity through the public recognition given to donors, he overlooks contributors who truly wish to remain anonymous. Still, the author brings readers closer to his goal of integrating economic models with evolutionary theory to create “more predictive models of human decision-making” (Apr.)
From the Publisher

Publishers Weekly
“[E]ngaging.... Drawing on his own work with rhesus macaques as well as broader primate literature, Maestripieri offers solid grounding in the basics of animal behavior while discussing the evolutionary roots of complex social patterns. The behaviors he focuses on are both critical and fascinating: sexual choice; dominance relationships; the nature of altruism and selfishness; and coalition building, among others.”

“[A] fascinating survey. Using wonderful comparative studies and conversational language, Maestripieri brings us back to our primate roots so that we can better understand why we do the things we do.”
Psychology Today
“Read this want to understand the parallels between all primate societies. Maestripieri illustrates that the behavior of Tony Soprano’s family mirrors that of macaque monkeys and explains how to figure out celebrity breakups by studying the mating practices of apes.”
Toronto Star
“The University of Chicago primatologist begins with a thorough, albeit unsettling, analysis of what we do when we encounter a stranger in an elevator, then guides us through the gamut of common social interactions, relating our behaviour to that of our primate brethren in the wild and in the lab. His observations on our common impulses are fascinating.”

Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Neuroscience, Stanford University, and author of A Primate’s Memoir
“At the end of the day, there is no social interaction of humans that does not bear the imprint of our being a species of animal, of primate, of ape. In this smart and witty book, one of our finest primatologists, Dario Maestripieri, gives a tour of human social behavior and its primate legacy. A fun, insightful read.”

Laura Betzig, author of Despotism and Differential Reproduction
“There’s a new maestro on the block, and he’s written a great book. When a chimp strays into a strange troop, why is he at risk of getting his testicles ripped off? Whose eyeball is a capuchin monkey most likely to poke? How would a long-tailed macaque take over Microsoft? Read Dario Maestripieri, and capisce.”

“Reasoning that social selective pressures are similar in humans and other primates—and roping in ‘rational’ models such as game theory—[Maestripieri] examines everyday situations from multiple perspectives. Whether scoping out the ‘elevator dilemma’ of sharing a confined space with strangers, the human tendency to nepotism or the ‘economics of love’, Maestripieri argues his case compellingly.”

New Scientist
“Just how our biology drives behaviour is the subject of numerous books, but Maestripieri does a commendable job of bringing something fresh to his analysis…. Games Primates Play is an interesting, funny and engaging study of human nature. And Maestripieri’s amusing and often endearing anecdotes add colour and insight.”
Library Journal (starred review)
“This informative and provocative work is a major contribution to understanding and appreciating the nature and behavior of humankind.”
“A spirited, insightful narrative that explores the ways our interpersonal relationships resemble those of our primate cousins”

“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.”
Matt Ridley, Wall Street Journal
“[A] gorgeous little juxtaposition of tales.... Games Primates Play is devoted to ramming home a lesson that we all seem very reluctant to learn: that much of our behavior, however steeped in technology, is entirely predictable to primatologists”
Science News
“Maestripieri, a veteran monkey investigator, builds a fascinating and occasionally disturbing case for fundamental similarities in the social shenanigans of people, apes and monkeys due to a shared evolutionary heritage.... In the end, Maestripieri’s theme is hard to deny: Monkey business is everyone’s business.”

“Maestripieri entertains the reader by juxtaposing portrayals of the social behavior of humans with that of other primates.”

The Daily Mail (UK)
“Reading [Games Primates Play] will certainly brighten up the longueurs of the working day, now that you know that the unpleasant senior partner who enjoys bullying his juniors in meetings is simply expressing the dominant nature of his inner baboon.”

Library Journal
Maestripieri (Inst. for Mind & Biology, Univ. of Chicago; Macachiavellian Intelligence: How Rhesus Macaques and Humans Have Conquered the World) critically examines human behavior within the context of primate evolution. He stresses the similar adaptive social relationships that have emerged in our species, apes, and monkeys, especially macaques, baboons, and chimpanzees. His research focuses on game theory to illuminate the changing complexities of dominant/subordinate interactions and hierarchical patterns. Furthermore, Maestripieri discusses grooming, altruism, nepotism, social alliances, and theoretical/mathematical models of strategies involving cooperation and competition. Of special interest are the sections dealing with free will, bonding rituals, sexual selection, the violence of war, and the value of romantic love. The author asserts that the uniqueness of the human animal is grounded in its big brain in general and its use of symbolic language as articulate speech in particular. Nevertheless, he maintains, evolutionary biology links our species to the other primates in terms of psychology and cognition as well as genetic makeup and social behavior. VERDICT This informative and provocative work is a major contribution to understanding and appreciating the nature and behavior of humankind. Students and professors of biology and anthropology especially will find this book significant.—H. James Birx, Univ. of Belgrade, Serbia
Kirkus Reviews
Maestripieri (Evolutionary Biology/Univ. of Chicago; Macachiavellian Intelligence: How Rhesus Macaques and Humans Have Conquered the World, 2007, etc.) rejects the notion that "natural selection has left its mark on human mental processes but not on contemporary human behavior." Comparing human mental predispositions to computer algorithms, the author suggests that much of our social behavior is hardwired. He scoffs at the idea that recently evolved, uniquely human qualities such as "our new language abilities, our new ability to think and act morally, our new emotions and feelings, and our new cognitive ability" have revolutionized the way we act. Instead, Maestripieri believes that in most everyday social situations our default action is to rely on ancient solutions, shared with our primate ancestors, in dealing with problems. While not denying our "amazing artistic, scientific, and scholarly achievements," the author writes that we "solve everyday social problems by resorting to the ancient, emotional, cognitive and behavioral algorithms that crowd our minds." To make his radical claim plausible, Maestripieri recasts primitive society in the image of modern free-market ideology, using the analogy of cost-benefit-analysis to describe how primates trade grooming for sexual privileges. In the same vein, the author writes that dominance/submission relationships pervade our society and are in fact crucial to maintaining harmony in marriage as well as in the competitive public domain. He compares corruption in his native Italy, where nepotism is apparently key to social advancement in the army and academia, to kinship relationships among primates, and he describes a culture of cutthroat competition in American universities, where academics use peer review and tenure as weapons in the struggle for their own career advancement. The cynicism of the author's message is made more palatable by his lively wit.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465020782
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 4/10/2012
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,439,197
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction ix

Chapter 1 Dilemmas in the Elevator 1

Chapter 2 The Obsession with Dominance 17

Chapter 3 We Are All Mafiosi 53

Chapter 4 Climbing the Ladder 79

Chapter 5 Cooperate in the Spotlight, Compete in the Dark 109

Chapter 6 The Economics and Evolutionary Biology of Love 143

Chapter 7 Testing the Bond 171

Chapter 8 Shopping for Partners in the Biological Market 195

Chapter 9 The Evolution of Human Social Behavior 229

Epilogue 267

Acknowledgments 275

Notes 277

References 285

Index 297

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