Robert L. Trivers (born 19 February 1943) is an American evolutionary biologist and sociobiologist, most noted for proposing the theories of reciprocal altruism (1971), parental investment (1972), and parent-offspring conflict (1974).
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- People are often unconscious of some of the mechanisms that naturally occur in them in a biased way. For example, if I do something that is beneficial to you or to others, I will use the active voice: I did this, I did that, then benefits rained down on you. But if I did something that harmed others, I unconsciously switch to a passive voice: this happened, then that happened, then unfortunately you suffered these costs. One example I always loved was a man in San Francisco who ran into a telephone pole with his car, and he described it to the police as, "the pole was approaching my car, I attempted to swerve out-of-the-way, when it struck me."
Let me give you another, the way in which group membership can entrain language-usages that are self-deceptive. You can divide people into in-groups or out-groups, or use naturally occurring in-groups and out-groups, and if someone's a member of your in-group and they do something nice, you give a general description of it – "he's a generous person". If they do something negative, you state a particular fact: "in this case he misled me", or something like that. But it's exactly the other way around for an out-group member. If an out-group member does something nice, you give a specific description of it: "she gave me directions to where I wanted to go". But if she does something negative, you say, "she's a selfish person". So these kinds of manipulations of reality are occurring largely unconsciously.
- As quoted in Science at the Edge: Conversations with the Leading Scientific Thinkers of Today (2008), p. 170
- Darwinian social theory gives us a glimpse of an underlying symmetry and logic in social relationships which, when more fully comprehended by ourselves, should revitalize our political understanding and provide the intellectual support for a science and medicine of psychology. In the process it should also give us a deeper understanding of the many roots of our suffering.
- Foreword to The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1976)