On Harry Potter

Evolution, Development, and the Magic of Harry Potter

By David H. Rakison

We like to think of ourselves as unique, as different from everyone around us. Although this is true on a genetic level–identical twins being the exception–we also share many traits and behaviors with the rest of humankind. Many of you reading this tend to find the same individuals attractive, have similar taste preferences and dislikes (we doubt any of you like the smell of rotting eggs or sour milk), and would do more to help your family members than non-kin. In all likelihood, you experience some fear of spiders or snakes, will have asserted your dominance over others with verbal or physical aggression, and will have formed friendships with members of the same sex. The same can also be said for the characters of the Harry Potter books: Ron is far from enamored with spiders, Malfoy is constantly putting down his friends and foes with nasty jibes, and Harry and Ron are loyal and trusting friends. So, although we are different in many ways from the people around us, we have a great deal in common in the way we think about the world and the way that we act.

According to the emerging perspective of evolutionary psychology, these characteristics are common among humans because our ancestors faced specific obstacles or challenges known as adaptive problems. Over many generations, heritable characteristics that solved these adaptive problems better than rival designs–character-istics leading to greater survival or reproduction–were passed on in greater numbers and eventually became features in the universal or species-typical design  …

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