Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Research Supports Spiral Dynamics Model of Memetic Evolution

Over the years, Don Beck (and I would guess Chris Cowen, as well) received a good bit of grief for asserting that religion is a necessary evolutionary development to contain the egocentric power drive of the previous stage. In Sprial Dynamics speak, the rule-bound, authoritarian Blue meme is necessarily developed as a containment for the previous egocentric power drives of the Red meme.

Turns out that Beck and Cowan - and Clare Graves before them - were exactly right. And now there is research to support them.

From PhysOrg:

Religion may have evolved because of its ability to help people exercise self-control

December 30th, 2008 in Medicine & Health / Psychology

Self-control is critical for success in life, and a new study by University of Miami professor of Psychology Michael McCullough finds that religious people have more self-control than do their less religious counterparts. These findings imply that religious people may be better at pursuing and achieving long-term goals that are important to them and their religious groups. This, in turn, might help explain why religious people tend to have lower rates of substance abuse, better school achievement, less delinquency, better health behaviors, less depression, and longer lives.

In this research project, McCullough evaluated 8 decades worth of research on religion, which has been conducted in diverse samples of people from around the world. He found persuasive evidence from a variety of domains within the social sciences, including neuroscience, economics, psychology, and sociology, that religious beliefs and religious behaviors are capable of encouraging people to exercise self-control and to more effectively regulate their emotions and behaviors, so that they can pursue valued goals. The research paper, which summarizes the results of their review of the existing science, will be published in the January 2009 issue of Psychological Bulletin.

"The importance of self-control and self-regulation for understanding human behavior are well known to social scientists, but the possibility that the links of religiosity to self-control might explain the links of religiosity to health and behavior has not received much explicit attention," said McCullough. "We hope our paper will correct this oversight in the scientific literature." Among the most interesting conclusions that the research team drew were the following:

• Religious rituals such as prayer and meditation affect the parts of the human brain that are most important for self-regulation and self-control;
• When people view their goals as "sacred," they put more energy and effort into pursuing those goals, and therefore, are probably more effective at attaining them;
• Religious lifestyles may contribute to self-control by providing people with clear standards for their behavior, by causing people to monitor their own behavior more closely, and by giving people the sense that God is watching their behavior;
• The fact that religious people tend to be higher in self-control helps explain why religious people are less likely to misuse drugs and alcohol and experience problems with crime and delinquency.

McCullough's review of the research on religion and self-control contributes to a better understanding of "how the same social force that motivates acts of charity and generosity can also motivate people to strap bomb belts around their waists and then blow themselves up in crowded city buses," he explained. "By thinking of religion as a social force that provides people with resources for controlling their impulses (including the impulse for self-preservation, in some cases) in the service of higher goals, religion can motivate people to do just about anything."

Among the study's more practical implications is that religious people may have at their disposal a set of unique psychological resources for adhering to their New Year's Resolutions in the year to come.

Source: University of Miami
Here are Don Beck's comments on this study, which was also discussed by John Tierney in the New York Times:
For a number of years I have been under criticism because I recommended that the 4th Level System would be essential in the shaping of the 3rd Level conditions, and that would often take the form of some versions of "religion." But, as many of you know, Blue can wear different types of Content hats but the theme: "Sacrifice self now, to obtain later" will be consistent. There are so many places where this is happening in the geopolitical dynamics and often the transformation is violent as Red resists the discipline and control.

Here, now, is scientific evidence for what Graves expressed in his theoretical models, and for what is contained in the Spiral Dynamics conceptual system. The Content of the Blue code becomes critical, as we are learning in Palestine, for if that Content is anti-Jewish, anti-Western, and even anti-American, then this will set up holy wars for years to come. One of the strategies Elza and I have been using is to help shape (thus Integral Design Engineering) the specific Content of the Palestinian "Blue." This gave rise to the "Hong Kong of the Middle East" initiative, and the nation-building activities in Bethlehem.
In my arguments against the New Atheists, this in one of the areas where I think they have been short-sighted and just plain blind. The completely fail to grasp the developmental structure of human psyches and value systems, which requires that every person and every culture move through fairly precise stages (although how the stages manifest varies).

The New Atheists are right to reject the fundamentalism that makes religion dangerous, but at its heart, nearly every religion is about sacrificing self-interest now for a better life later (often in heaven). This self-control (as the new research highlights) is crucial to containing (creating boundaries for) the egocentric power drives of the previous stage, just the ego development and expression of the Red meme was crucial for movement beyond the embedded tribal kinship system of the previous stage.

Over time, I'm sure we will see more research that supports the SDi model. It's an exciting time. Too bad so few people in power are willing or able to grasp the utility of the system.


Anonymous said...

This is something I've been discussing (or, rather, something that Christians have been trying to beat me over the head with) on another site. They claim religion is absolutely necessary to be moral (and imply that anyone who's not religious is scarily close to committing atrocities like rape and murder). And from the perspective discussed in these articles, that may be true... for the people who operate at the Blue level or below.

I am not "religious" in the traditional sense, and yet I think of myself as a moral person. My morals, however, are derived from things like empathy and compassion... not from obedience and fear of punishment. According to ideas in these articles, does that mean I'm at a lower level of development? Or does the need for religion as a self-containment device disappear as a person moves into the Orange, Green, and Yellow (and beyond) memes?

william harryman said...

Religion is NOT required for morality, even at the lower developmental stages (although there it sure helps).

The Blue meme is authoritarian, with a "divine order" mentality - those are the people you have been arguing with. ALL first tier memes (Beige through Green) can only see the world through their own filter, so only their way is the right way.

Compassion and empathy enter into the picture with Orange, more so with Green, then full strength as second tier approaches.

It's important to know, however, that even Blue meme religious folk are capable of compassion - they are different lines of development. I don't like Rick Warren in many ways, but his work with the poor and with HIV/AIDS is truly compassionate.

It's a complex model, so reading the SD book would be a good start (you can order it at Amazon from the sidebar).