Re: Genetically Anticipated Environment

From: Stevan Harnad (
Date: Sat Nov 08 1997 - 21:57:04 GMT

On Sat, 8 Nov 1997, alexandra beck wrote:

> I understood most of the seminar, but could somebody explain
> again to me what Genetically Anticipated Environment is.
> I know it has something to do with time and space and EEA but
> I'm a little confused, for a change!

It's almost the same as the EEA, but let's say it's the RELEVANT
features in the EEA: the features of that environment that our genes
are still "expecting" to encounter today. That's the genetically
anticipated environment (GAE). The duckling's genes "expect" that their
first moving object will be their mother, so it's safe (and important)
to follow her, imprint on her, and at adulthood, to try to mate with
other creatures who look like her. When Lorenz reared his little brood
of ducks, something contrary to their genes' "expectations" happened:
the first thing they saw and followed was a human being. They survived
to adulthood anyway, because, again contrary to their GEA, this primate
was not a predator of ducklings. However, when they reached adulthood
they were out of luck because they were imprinted on humans; so they
could not mate and reproduce.

Do we have such GAEs? I think the early fear of strangers in babies is
also based on the fact that in our species, in the EEA, if our first
care-giver was not our mother (or perhaps our aunt or sister) then we
would not have survived. It is only when we reach around 9 months that
fear of strangers becomes relevant, again because of conditions in the
EEA (no strangers are expected to gain access -- at least none that
would have left us alive!).

It is also part of our GAE that when we mate, we try to inseminate;
condoms are not part of our EEA. That's why, in that study I mentioned
in the last class, although richer people were having fewer babies than
poor people, they were mating more (as predicted); the matings were
simply prevented by birth control from becoming a higher birth-rate.

More examples of things our "genes" expect (and don't get in our current
environment) I leave you to find.

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