Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Perils of Hugging

You might have already suspected it, but people who hug a lot are less evolved than those who don’t. Being overly familiar with other people is a sign of bad manners.

I suggested as much in my Monday post. Link here.

Happily for us, Dr. Val Curtis has researched the evolutionary purpose of good manners. She has affirmed that humans who function well in community work together without getting too close.

They do it by practicing good manners.

One reason is hygiene. I suggested that the Japanese prefer bowing to hugging or even to shaking hands because they know that too much touching transmits too many germs.

Those who hug too much or touch strangers too much expose themselves to more bacteria, and thus more illness. In evolutionary terms, those who instinctively keep their distance are more likely to live longer and healthier lives, thus to pass on their genes.

The Daily Mail has the story:

Manners really do maketh man – it could be that they are one of the keys to being human.

Scientists have suggested that good manners not only distinguish us from the rest of the animal kingdom, they help keep humans free of disease and underpin the co-operation that helps the world go round.

Dr Val Curtis, an expert on disease control at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: ‘Manners should be up there with fire and language as a prime candidate for what makes us human.

‘Far from being an old-fashioned set of rules about which fork to use, manners are so important that they should be up there with fire and the invention of language as a prime candidate for what makes us human.' 

She argues that the first, and most ancient function of manners, is to allow bacteria and virus-ridden humans socialise without falling ill. 

The report continues:

Writing in New Scientist, she [Curtis] added: ‘Although I’d like to hang around in case you have information or goods to exchange, it might be more sensible if I ran way because, to me, you are a walking bag of microbes. 

'With every exhalation you might emit millions of influenza viruses and your handshake might transfer salmonella bacteria. 

‘When we fail in these civilities, the disgust shown provokes shame and teaches us not to repeat the offence.

‘More intimate contact could give me hepatitis, syphilis or worse.  

‘You too, of course, make the same subconscious calculation. 

'So how can we get close enough to share the benefits but avoid sharing our microbes? This is the job of manners.'

Good manners stop us from standing so close to someone that we spray them with saliva as we speak.  

Dr. Curtis is certainly correct to point out that when people invade personal space they provoke disgust and a wish to distance oneself. By Darwinian theory the emotion is adaptive and self-protective.

I do know that some thinkers—they shall remain unnamed—believe that disgust is socially constructed. They want us all to get over our disgust at disgusting behavior. Some people do manage to numb their feelings of disgust. They are, as the saying goes, less evolved. They are more likely to be shunned.

The Daily Mail quoted:

Dr Curtis said: ‘If I fail in my manners, you may reject and ostracise me and refuse further collaboration, denying me access to the benefits of life as a member of an intensely social species. We play out a mannerly dance every day, getting close but not too close.

I would also underscore the point that, as the Daily Mail puts it, “polite people [are] seen as team players.

Good manners facilitate cooperative enterprise. People who are too familiar with fellow team members are showing themselves to be uncooperative.

Practicing good manners also shows an ability to follow a single set of rules. You cannot work together effectively with others if you are not following the same rules.

If you ask what makes for a good team player or how you can tell the difference between someone who is going to work well with others and someone who will not or how you can show yourself to be a good team player, now you know: be polite, practice good manners and maintain a safe distance between you and your colleagues.


Anonymous said...

Under your reasoning anything that increases the risk of disease transmission is evidence of being less evolved? That means avaricious apes are devolved creatures since trade and commerce are known to incubate and increase the spread of disease!

The profit motive taken to an extreme is a cause of disease and this was understood by ancient observers. When man domesticates animals for profit, he increases their density beyond any natural limit, and breeds disease. Those who work closely with animals may be immune to the diseases bred in this fashion. Those who are not immune to the disease are infected by others via disease transmission (called a vector) in trade and commerce. Hugs and bad manners are probably very low on the list of factors that cause disease whereas social customs which recognize the actual causes of disease and avoid them would not be considered good or bad manners, but respect or contempt for public health codes.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9/19/13 5:39 PM:

Whatever. I guess your point makes sense unless the "vector" gives you a hug. If not, you have a greater chance of making it through what animal rights loonies will no doubt eventually call a "human contact incident" to sanitize the language and make sure people continue to hug... because it's a nice thing to do. God forbid we should not be nice.


Anonymous said...

"less evolved" is a presumptuous idea. Physical boundaries might be about power and status, but it would seem to me that adaptability and flexability as more important traits of social success.

Like you can consider the "flight or fight" response to social conflict, or "tend and befriend". You can say language and formalism of conflict resolution are "more evolved" than physical touch, but perhaps hormonally, oxytocin, we can see the people and situations differently when we have some connected to them below an intellectual distance.

Anyway, I see the virtues of keeping people at arms length, and I'm more comfortable there, but I won't say I'm more evolved for it.

I also like Iain McGilchrist's explorations of our two brains, and he clearly shows the advantages to two ways to see the world, and how abstraction helps us, and hinder us.

Larry Sheldon said...

Yeah. But hugging is more!