Grooming behavior in higher primates

Posted in Random thoughts at 7:52 pm by ducky

There is a blog I read, dooce, that is about a particular woman’s day-to-day life. It’s very well written and very funny, but I sometimes feel a little bit uncomfortable reading it. I can feel somewhat voyeuristic, reading about her toilet habits and husband and two-year-old daughter Leta.

I realized that dooce gives the same sense of intimacy and familiarity that soap operas, comic strips, and sports do. The same characters appear, over and over again. I get to know their quirks and fears, hopes and dreams, endearing and annoying traits. That familiarity wins my affection.

It is probably evolutionarily favorable to come to like people I see regularly. The people who liked their neighbors probably got more cooperation and less conflict than those who didn’t, and so they survived preferentially to become my ancestors.

Given that there was no Friends , Family Circus, or ESPN when my ancestors were busy doing most of their evolving, it probably is not surprising that I didn’t evolve to have different reactions to fake characters and real ones. (The Media Equation reports some fascinating experiments that show that people relate to even non-living things as if they were humans to a surprising extent.)

Gossip seems to be one important way that people interact and develop intimacy. There’s even a Gary Larson cartoon that shows one gorilla grooming the other while saying something like, “And then Betty said to Nancy…”

I heard a theory once that gossip magazines exist to fill the need for intimacy that living in small communities used to fill. Once, when you and I both lived down the street from crazy old lady Wilson, we would bond while gossiping about her. Now we don’t have crazy old lady Wilson to talk about, but we might both watch Survivor. We can bond over ruminations about who is going to get voted off the island next.

Dooce, for me, is reality TV without the TV.

And what makes me uncomfortable is realizing that Leta is Truman of The Truman Show.

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