Evolutionary psychology: Why we pick the wrong leaders and why working for a boss is stressful

In evolutionary psychology and biology a ‘mismatch’ is when an organism is confronted with a quickly changing environment to which it has not been adapted yet. Traits that have evolved to benefit the organism in one environment can be disadvantageous in a different environment.

How Mismatches Influence Your Life

That is what is bugging the human species GREATLY at the moment. One example is our sugar consumption. We are programmed to LOVE sugary foods, which was great in prehistoric times. But nowadays we have access to SO MUCH sugary foods that humans are literally eating themselves to death.
Our brains simply have not been fully adapted to our current way of living. Another example of this is that people perform better in a natural environment with lots of greenery as opposed to gray asphalted industrial areas. Several studies have shown that when children play outside during a break, they score higher on attention and cognitive performance tests than kids who played on a square.

Digital Revolution And The Brain

Furthermore, our brains can’t handle the explosive growth of sensory input resulting from technological changes. Social media, dating apps and instant access to movies, music and even food has a major influence on our behavior. Our attention spans decrease, our sensory threshold increases and we are less able to delay gratification.

Work And The Brain

Since the agricultural revolution humans became more focused on status and work. During the hunter-gatherer age people were likely to be spending around 20 hours a week to stay alive. This has now turned into 40 hours. And the majority of the labor force is working for a boss, but this is NOT the most natural for your brain. People like to be autonomous by nature. Humans were evolved to care for themselves and manage their own survival. When people feel autonomous they experience a greater the sense of control. This in turn leads to increased happiness and decreased stress levels. This may be why employees find the interaction with leadership one of the biggest stressors at work.

We even choose the wrong type of leadership. In prehistoric times the physical aspect was the most important criteria. During moments of danger a temporary leader was picked to lead the group to a safe place. The role of a leader today has little to do with the dangers leaders faced back then. A leader in this day and age has to make well-informed decisions and has to deal with social and political forces in complex environments. Yet, unconsciously during selection processes for a job or a political leader, we are still attracted to tall, strong and charismatic men.

What Does Evolutionary Psychology Teach Us?

We should be aware of the mismatch between how our brains work and how our society is constructed. We can make our lives easier by taking into account how our brains function. By doing this it becomes easier for us to make good decisions: to resist eating too much sugar and to pick leadership that makes us happy.