Evolution and personality types

How there are declining returns on any one strategy and how the evolution of a species can stabilize around multiple strategies.

“The early bird gets the worm”

“The second mouse gets the cheese”

These are both cliches in popular culture, but they have opposite meanings. The first one is referring to the benefits of early adoption and being first to try new things. The second cautions patience because often waiting for something to mature can beat rushing headlong into it. From the viewpoint of humanity and of evolution, they are both valid at different times. The art lies in knowing which tool/behaviour to apply in your current circumstances.

Sometimes the early adopters have a disproportional advantage. Early adopters of Bitcoin made millions when it became trendy and the price skyrocketed. If you had a telegraph line when only a few people could afford them, you could make a killing on the stock market.

Sometimes being an early adopter is a very bad decision. When the iPhone launched and people stood in line to get them, they were very disappointed when the price fell by $200 three months later. Apple also discontinued their 4GB model, leaving people who had bought them stranded with obsolete devices.

There is no black or white when it comes to adoption of new things, be it an idea, a technology or in what type of area to live. Thus, species evolve to have characteristics on different points of the spectrum. Evolution loves hedging its bets.

If most of a population is slow to change and adopt, then there is little competition in new fields and on the frontiers. Over time, these genes are more successful and become more common in the population. At a certain point, people are chasing off after new things so much that they ignore the old and obvious routes.

Now there is little competition for the old things, so it’s easier to make a mark there. Genes that are more slow-moving and slow to adopt new things are more successful and increase in the population. This pattern continues until there is a balance between being eager to chase after the new and sticking to the tried and tested. This applies to almost any trait: sensitivity, laziness, persistence, obedience, status-seeking, athletic ability, obesity, length,  etc., etc.

Another dynamic also comes into play: Mutually beneficial relationships. If you have a someone who is most awake and aware in the morning, they can take the morning shift. They find food and watch out for danger. In the afternoon, the early-riser rests while the night-owl keeps watch and/or works. That way there is constantly a part of the group that is performing at their peak, ready for anything that might happen.

Our personalities are also formed by the environment that we are raised in and our life experiences. If we are in a culture that values patience above all else, we will naturally be more patient than if we were raised in a culture where patience is seen as a vice.

Humans are exceptionally pliable and can function even in conditions that are quite far removed from normal. They may not function optimally, but they still function. We can usually miss a night’s sleep if we have to, at the cost of dramatically decreased performance.

According to estimates, the most common personality type is ESTJ (Myers-Briggs). mypersonality.info describes this personality as “ESTJs are responsible, logical, norm-following hard workers. Their efforts are carried out in a practical, structured manner. ESTJs trust facts and experiences more than theories. They are decisive, loyal, tradition observing individuals. They enjoy being the person in charge and often make good supervisors.”

According to estimates ( I repeat: estimates), the least common personality type is INFJ. mypersonality.info describes this personality as “INFJs, are the most rare type (males even more so). They are introspective, caring, sensitive, gentle and complex people that strive for peace and derive satisfaction from helping others. INFJs are highly intuitive, empathetic and dedicated listeners. These traits tend to act as a “tell me what’s wrong” sign on their forehead, hence the nicknames Confidant, Counselor or Empath. INFJs are intensely private and deeply committed to their beliefs.”

On a surface level, this distribution makes sense: Society needs a large group of people that are responsible, norm-following and hard workers. Society would not function well if most people were “intensely private” with a “tell me what’s wrong” attitude. Thus responsible, norm-following and hard workers are the most common personality.

I repeat: these are estimates, and the conclusions I draw are very debatable, but I hope that I have given you something to think about.

To happiness, and beyond!


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