Humans have for example, built in flight or fight responses to protect themselves from danger and predators. This is hard coded and I assume, not learnt. Why then do humans have the uncontrollable ability to feel shame or guilt? Are these “modern” reactions or would early man have had these?

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Humans have for example, built in flight or fight responses to protect themselves from danger and predators. This is hard coded and I assume, not learnt. Why then do humans have the uncontrollable ability to feel shame or guilt? Are these “modern” reactions or would early man have had these?

In: Biology

We’re social animals. A lot of the emotions we feel are so we fit in with others. Humans don’t do well by ourselves and so we’ve evolved to cooperate with others. Showing shame, guilt, etc tells others that you’re sorry for what you did to them. This then enables the group to carry on.

Even dogs know when they’ve done something wrong and know to look sorry once their caught, but feelings like shame or guilt, that are NOT just “I got caught and I’m sad that I’ll be punished”, are a little more complicated than that. They have to do with ideas of right and wrong, and are felt even if you’re not caught and don’t suffer materially.

Babies don’t really act like they have any idea of right and wrong – babies are crazy selfish, because they only think about getting what they want and avoiding what they don’t. We spend a lot of time teaching kids that it’s important to do the right thing, and that doing the wrong thing comes with social punishments, even if there’s no material punishment. Different cultures or groups have very different ideas of what is worthy of guilt or shame. I don’t think that feelings of guilt or shame are hardwired into us in the same way that “bear scary, run away” is.

That said… we’re the most social animals to have ever lived, we’ve had social relationships more complex than any other animal for at least hundreds of thousands of years, and have been essentially modern in body and brain for like 50,000 years. That’s COUNTLESS generations all raised from birth within social networks, and the social expectations that exist within those networks. Ideas of right and wrong are incredibly strong within human culture, even if they’re not necessarily baked into our lizard brains.