Sharks, lions and human evolution:

Total posts: [27]
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vigilantly taxonomish
Just a random thing that popped into my head as kind of puzzling.

We evolved in a habitat where we were quite likely to be under threat from lions. We have not evolved to deal with sharks; they are not our natural predators.

So why do sharks look scarier than lions? Because they do, to me at least. Is this normal? And if so, in terms of evolution, how could this peculiarity have arisen?
2 IanExMachina23rd May 2011 06:15:53 PM from Gone with the Chickens
The Paedofinder General
Fear of the unknown, not literally 'unknown' but we didn't develop to deal with their threats 'unknown'?

Other than that I'd go with the huge amount of teeth, which I'd assume would carry quite a built in warning/fear response.

edited 23rd May '11 6:18:42 PM by IanExMachina

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Prince of Dorne
I, ah, don't think there is such a thing as genetic fear. At least not outside the Dune novels. Fear is all upbringing and social conditioning.

Of course why that would lead to sharks looking dangerous I don't quite know, either. I think "big strong jaw full of teeth" will be seen as a sign of danger no matter to what animal it is attachedtongue
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wild mass guessSharks look more skeletal. Like a disfigured freak skull. Naturally, we afraid of seeing a skull because that means someone has died, either by a disease or a possible predator nearby. Hence why sharks would look more unnerving. Also, since we're not naturally aquatic organisms, a predator underwater would be much more intimidating than something we can attempt to run away from...even if it's not likely we'll ever outrun a hungry lion.wild mass guess

edited 23rd May '11 6:23:19 PM by Signed

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Sharks are more unfamiliar. The unknown is frightening.
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6 Clarste23rd May 2011 06:44:19 PM , Relationship Status: Non-Canon
One Winged Egret
Also, I don't know about you but I feel somewhat more helpless in the water, even though I can swim a bit. So the idea of being stuck in the water with something dangerous is scarier than just being with something dangerous.
wild mass guess The lion, while fearsome, is an animal that garners at least as much respect as fear, perhaps because we have lived with them for so long that familiarity might have actually evolved less fear, especially once the first stone tools that could seriously injure a lion were developed.

wild mass guess It's possible humans have known about sharks longer than we realize. Early humans may have even encountered sharks in fresh water.

idea However, I think the shark is simply the best - known embodiment of the fear of the unknown (hmm, now there's an interesting sentence). You see a seemingly pastoral scene of water with some small choppy waves on a beautiful day. A mouth opens beneath you and bites you in half. Even if you spot the fin, if you're not in a very sturdy boat, a large shark has the clear advantage - even if you have a spear.

edited 23rd May '11 6:46:12 PM by FrodoGoofballCoTV

8 annebeeche23rd May 2011 06:56:14 PM from by the long tidal river
watching down on us
Because the lion's really just a big kitty cat. :3


But seriously, fear is more learned than anything else. In this day of age we're more likely to see sharks tearing shit up and being scary than lions. What's the first movie you can think of that's about lions? Probably The Lion King. What's the first movie you can think of that's about sharks? Probably Jaws.

edited 23rd May '11 6:57:43 PM by annebeeche

Banned entirely for telling FE that he was being rude and not contributing to the discussion.
I shall watch down from the goon heavens.
Here's one flaw in your reasoning:

You're taking human evolution from one part of existence. goes further back than that, doesn't it? Was there not a time when humanity's genetic ancestors had to deal with sharks?

vigilantly taxonomish
I don't know. Was there a time when our genetic ancestors had to deal with sharks? I have no idea.

The fear of the unknown thing makes sense to me, as does the idea of it being cultural conditioning, and the idea that it's the teeth. I guess it could be any of those things, or a mixture.
Agreeing with Anne here. Lions are far more adorable than sharks. Just because they're big and fuzzy, whereas sharks have those dead souless eyes and look somewhat more alien.

edited 23rd May '11 7:05:39 PM by DrunkGirlfriend

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12 Clarste23rd May 2011 07:30:38 PM , Relationship Status: Non-Canon
One Winged Egret
I don't know. Was there a time when our genetic ancestors had to deal with sharks? I have no idea.

Given that sharks are older than amphibians, yes. At some point our genetic ancestors had to deal with sharks. Back when we were fish.

Somehow I doubt that's relevant though.
13 Deboss23rd May 2011 07:34:19 PM from Awesomeville Texas
I see the Awesomeness.
I'd go with teeth. Teeth creep people out.
14 DeMarquis23rd May 2011 07:37:26 PM from Hell, USA , Relationship Status: Buried in snow, waiting for spring
Who Am I?
Sharks? That's nothing. How do we explain sci-fi monsters? The aliens in Alien don't look like anything our ancestors were likely to have encountered at all. Sci-Fi monsters are an interesting case because humans designed them to be scary- thus they should almost perfectly embody our fears.

The only answer that makes sense to me is that we are not pre-programmed by evolution to be frightened by specific species. Instead we inherit a predisposition to be frightened by certain broad characteristics- including loudness, large size, big teeth, an aggressive disposition, and anything that looks unfamiliar or 'alien', given our personal experiences.

That last point is really crucial. I remember an article, which I can look up if anyone wants me to, that documented how quickly people could be trained to become frightened by different things (basically by pairing a picture of that thing with an electric shock). Pictures of normally benign things like houses or pizzas took more trials to evoke an automatic avoidance response than pictures of traditionally scary things like spiders. This tells us two things: no one is born with an avoidance response for spiders, yet people appear to have a pre-disposition to learn to avoid them as a result of personal experiences (some people, obviously, learn this much more quickly and forcefully than others).

So- to sharks and lions. Humans are not pre-programmed to be afraid of either, but most people have personal experiences (movies, mostly) that teach us to be more afraid of sharks, and less so of lions ("Simba"). Most of us also have experiences that cause us to like things like pet cats (or at least not be frightened of them). It probably also helps that sharks are more 'alien-looking', they are less like us than lions are.

I do not compromise—I synthesize.
Yeah, I'd go with teeth and fear of the unknown. It would be pretty inefficient, actually, for evolution to program us to fear particular predators specifically, because every time a population of humans migrated to a different location, they would have been slaughtered because they didn't fear the local predators. So it's more about broad categories of things that can cause injury to us. I mean, most of us would be scared of a giant tank rolling up to our backyard, but nothing even remotely similar to a tank was present in the ancestral environment. It's the combination of knowledge that they can cause you injury and uncertainty of whether you can protect yourself from said injury.

Slightly off-topic, but De Marquis, isn't that a pretty unethical study? Did they seriously introduce phobias into people through electric shocks?

edited 23rd May '11 9:41:30 PM by OnTheOtherHandle

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16 Explodia23rd May 2011 11:38:23 PM from The Rage Dimension
Fear as a behaviour is instinctual, but specific fears are not. Most living things are afraid of other things. It's one of the two basic approaches animals have to something new, the other being curiosity. There may be certain markers which help us determine threat level like size, movement and sound, but the general rule of nature is "fear everything that isn't yourself, even your own reflection."

And sharks are scarier than lions because we all watched Jaws and the Lion King growing up.

edited 23rd May '11 11:43:03 PM by Explodia

17 Carciofus23rd May 2011 11:57:04 PM from Alpha Tucanae I
Is that cake frosting?
Instinctive recognition patterns tend to go for some salient tracts (teeth, for example, or big size, or speed) and not for for an accurate description of the main target of these patterns.

There have been some interesting experiments with birds (I forgot what kind) along these lines. If (that kind of) birds have an egg roll out of their nest, they of course notice that and roll it back in. So researchers have attempted substituting this egg with a fake one, or presenting the birds with both a fake egg and the real one, and see how the birds react.

And it turns out that these birds just go for the biggest, most brightly colored egg-shaped object (there was also something about the patterns painted on the eggs, I think, but I forgot). If you present them a normal egg and some ridiculously huge, ridiculously bright fake one that no female of their species might possibly have laid, they will bring back the second one and let the first one alone.

Same thing here, I think. We did not evolve the ability to recognize and fear lions. We evolved the ability to recognize and fear some salient traits that lions have, and that other beings (like sharks) perhaps have in even greater measure.

EDIT: Ninja'd. A lot. At least I have the bird example...

edited 24th May '11 1:57:44 AM by Carciofus

But they seem to
know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

18 feotakahari24th May 2011 12:21:48 AM from Looking out at the city
Fuzzy Orange Doomsayer
I associate the concept of "lion" with the concept of "roar." That gives me time to find a sharp spear. Sharks are quieter, and if they're under the water you can't see them coming.
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19 LoniJay24th May 2011 12:25:12 AM from Australia , Relationship Status: Pining for the fjords
[up][up] An exception is those birds parasitised by the cuckoo. They have become very adept at distinguishing their egg from a fake. Not adept enough to get rid of all the cuckoos, but enough to keep them on their toes.
Be not afraid...
20 Kayeka24th May 2011 01:22:29 AM from Amsterdam , Relationship Status: Brony
World's biggest wannabe
I, ah, don't think there is such a thing as genetic fear.

Actually, there is. They tested this with labrats who haven't seen a cat for 20 generations. As soon as they heard the cry of a cat, they'd hide. There was no such response with the cry of a dove or other animals that rat don't have problems with.

Yeah, genes run quite deep. It's the only way animals that can't teach their kids make sure that they won't have to figure out that approaching cats may not be a good idea by experience.

[up][up]Also, lions don't roar when attacking. That would kind of defeat the purpose of sneaking up on prey.

edited 24th May '11 1:23:47 AM by Kayeka

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21 Blurring24th May 2011 02:58:24 AM from a potential future people archeological dig site
Sometimes deals with fishermen
It doesn't mean that the labrats understand the threat posed by cats. The same with humans who normally hate the smell of rotting flesh, even if they don't understand the health hazards associated with eating rotting flesh.
Can you trust a future people talking about fish when you are hungry?
22 MrAHR24th May 2011 03:03:07 AM from ಠ_ಠ , Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Ahr river
Myrmy stole what I was gonna say. Lions are mammals. We have bred cats to be domestic. Lions remind us of kitty cats. Sure, we have fish that we keep as pets, but sharks as pets are pretty rare.

Also, you're probably thinking of a great white shark. Not all sharks are as terrifying as said shark.
23 annebeeche24th May 2011 06:07:05 AM from by the long tidal river
watching down on us

Banned entirely for telling FE that he was being rude and not contributing to the discussion.
I shall watch down from the goon heavens.
vigilantly taxonomish
^^ Not specifically the great white, but you know, great whites, tiger sharks, bull sharks, that kind of thing, yeah.

I don't think a dogfish looks particularly threatening. Just like, you know, I wouldn't want to come face to face with a lion, but a cat isn't threatening.

edited 24th May '11 11:40:47 AM by BobbyG

Sharks don't act like any animal we encounter on land. They don't pounce, they don't roar, hell they don't even have legs. Their eyes just point out to the sides, and their head is all mouth. They are utterly primitive in their construction and have survived basically unchanged for millions of years.

They just eat you without a care in the world. And they can swim. We cannot.

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