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February 14, 2012 8:36 AM   Subscribe

Winifred Gallagher argues that neophilia has always been the quintessential human survival skill, whether adapting to climate change on the ancestral African savanna or coping with the latest digital toy from Silicon Valley. “Nothing reveals your personality more succinctly than your characteristic emotional reaction to novelty and change over time and across many situations; [i]t’s also the most important behavioral difference among individuals.”[NYT]

Informed by the research of psychiatrist C. Robert Cloninger (known for the Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire (TCQ) and Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI), Gallagher explores the evolutionary benefits and pitfalls of human novelty-seeking behavior, and across the animal kingdom. She has written a three-part Op Ed for Bloomberg:

Part 1: Exploring your Inner Neophiliac
In addition to boldness, neophiliacs are apt to have a strong streak of Hippocrates’ choleric disposition. This tendency to act first and ask questions later, which modern psychologists call “irritability” or “impulsivity,” comes in handy in the kind of high-octane situations that are familiar to Navy Seals and others of that feisty ilk. In primate populations, the trait overlaps substantially with a readiness to explore new environments, both physical and intellectual.
Part 2: Man Invents Curiosity, then Boredom
The history of curiosity testifies to society’s strong influence in determining whether neophilia is a virtue or a vice. Even the philosophical Greeks and Romans were wary of inquiring too deeply into the way things are. Christianity only intensified this wariness.
Part 3: Aristotle’s Ideal, Killed by Web
Its many benefits aside, the new technology supplies information, not knowledge or meaning. Aristotle said a society should be judged on its capacity for contemplation as well as productivity and pleasure. Facts alone are not enough to establish real understanding, which requires context and reflection.
The NYT Well Blog is offering a basic assessment of the presence (or absence) of the traits Gallagher discusses: The Well Quiz: How Adventurous Are You?
posted by obscurator (39 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
I keep reading that word as "necrophilia" and it's creeping me out.
posted by gauche at 8:39 AM on February 14, 2012 [45 favorites]


holy shit, read that as necrophilia too.
posted by Think_Long at 8:40 AM on February 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah i too was wondering exactly how necrophilia was "the quintessential human survival skill" seems like it would be the opposite if anything...
posted by Captain_Science at 8:42 AM on February 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Well yeah. Right on!

Oh. Neophilia. Well, okay. I guess.

I mean...
posted by cmoj at 8:42 AM on February 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


I keep reading this as "necrophilia" and it's creeping me out.

Not in to trying new things then, I take it?
posted by obscurator at 8:45 AM on February 14, 2012 [15 favorites]


Okay - if you're going to make up a word, don't make it too similar to an existing word, or no one will understand a MetaFilter post about the word you've made up.
posted by Curious Artificer at 8:45 AM on February 14, 2012


Relevant, charming Soviet propaganda I found last night thanks to the great "Man with a Camera" link.
posted by steinsaltz at 8:46 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The author of the paper is Winifred Gallagher. What a nice, novel name. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm, Winifred Gallagher.
posted by storybored at 8:46 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


gauche, I came here to say the same thing. Well, now I will have to read TFA.
posted by X-Himy at 8:47 AM on February 14, 2012


I enjoyed the quiz, which aspires to the scientific rigor one would expect from peer reviewed journals (my peers read Cosmo on Maxim).
posted by justkevin at 8:48 AM on February 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't care what this watermelon smasher says, I'm not going to fuck a corpse.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:49 AM on February 14, 2012 [11 favorites]


I shot my new iPad dead then had sex with it. I'm in the evolutionary stream!
posted by Burhanistan at 8:49 AM on February 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


The level of adventurousness you have is largely set by conditions during gestation. If your mother was stressed you probably will tend towards comfort seeking. If your mother was placid you probably will tend towards novelty seeking.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:50 AM on February 14, 2012


Also read it as necrophilia.... I figured it would be an interesting theory.

The level of adventurousness you have is largely set by conditions during gestation. If your mother was stressed you probably will tend towards comfort seeking. If your mother was placid you probably will tend towards novelty seeking.

Bullshit. This is a wild claim and there is no convincing evidence for it at all.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:58 AM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


How about our "prolonged period of growth and development"? Or is that related...
posted by mrgrimm at 9:01 AM on February 14, 2012


This is like a questionable-science goulash.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:09 AM on February 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Neophilia is a trait, not a skill. I go to an ADHD support group, and the envelope pushing behaviors that true impulsivity engenders are not ideal for personal survival, even if they enable a certain amount of frontier conquering for humanity as a whole. Not being able to check impulsivity is as likely to cause you to wind up in prison, a car accident, or on fire as it is that you'll manage to homestead the west or make it through Donner pass.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:09 AM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Always interesting to see conjugations of the verb 'to be' used instead of 'in my opinion...'
posted by Mooski at 9:14 AM on February 14, 2012


Not being able to check impulsivity is as likely to cause you to wind up in prison, a car accident, or on fire as it is that you'll manage to homestead the west or make it through Donner pass.

This is very true. My wife has bipolar and for a while was incorrectly medicated such that she had an extended period of mania. She was very impulsive, in ways that in the right environment might have meant that she engaged in some impressive bit of frontier pushing; in our environment, it meant that she stopped sleeping and drove really recklessly. That's not really a set of behaviors that lends itself to long periods of survival.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:21 AM on February 14, 2012


Good news, everyone! Your OCD and ADHD has put you at the forefront of an emerging business management fad.

Breaking news! Hardvard Business Review and MIT Sloan Management Review both declare you and gamification the trends of the year. Click here to read the case studies detailing how Xerox and Coca-Cola have embraced the neophiliac culture to promote diversity and create win-win solutions that leverage employees core competencies and the toyota production system.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 9:28 AM on February 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


you forgot "Thought Leader."
posted by modernserf at 9:31 AM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am kind of really sick of these pop-sci/psy articles detailing what kinds of personal characteristics we need to be "happy." As if happiness were the only respectable goal in life; as if we can really do anything to change our basic natures. Given all the scandals about retracted psychology papers lately, I'm also pretty skeptical about the science. Not that I think it's all faked, but that the publication & review standards are pretty lax to allow the fakes to slip through.

I don't know. It seems to me that we used to reflect and worry about whether we were contributing to things outside of ourselves -- art, the community, our families ... now everyone seems to be caught up in personal happiness.
posted by yarly at 9:34 AM on February 14, 2012


The battle between homo neophobus and homo neophilus is as old as Atlantis itself.

(hail Eris)
posted by delfin at 9:37 AM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


If your mother was stressed you probably will tend towards comfort seeking. If your mother was placid you probably will tend towards novelty seeking.

My mother must have been a party animal in the sixties since I haven't had a date since two continents ago.
posted by infini at 9:40 AM on February 14, 2012


Heracliteans, yay!
Parmenideans, boo!
posted by gauche at 9:44 AM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I scored 42 on their stupid test.
posted by bukvich at 9:49 AM on February 14, 2012


Not being able to check impulsivity is as likely to cause you to wind up in prison, a car accident, or on fire as it is that you'll manage to homestead the west or make it through Donner pass.

Not to nitpick, but making it through the Donner Pass requires necrophagia.
posted by FelliniBlank at 9:56 AM on February 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


I scored 42 on their stupid test.

Wow, that's pretty stupid!
posted by nathancaswell at 10:00 AM on February 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


This frightens and confuses me.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 10:16 AM on February 14, 2012


hell yeah, traits that people who are successful right now want to feel like they have are definitely traits that indicate superiority in all times and places, im so glad we worked this one out

christ what assholes
posted by beefetish at 10:22 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's an inverse correlation between adventurousness and longevity.

e.g. "Hey, watch this!" or "I wonder what that tastes like?"
posted by leotrotsky at 11:02 AM on February 14, 2012


Curiosity kills the human too.
posted by RuvaBlue at 1:05 PM on February 14, 2012


I know I shouldn't expect depth or complexity from pop psychology, but the essentialism of neophilic/neophobic annoys me. In my experience, context plays a huge role. I know folks (let's go with the non-gender specific terms here:P) who always follow the absolute latest electronic gadgets, learn new programming languages as they come out, etc., but who are about as shy and risk-averse as they come in matters of romantic human interactions. I have emigrated to a (sort-of) foreign country, and will take trips to new and different places any chance I get, but have no interest (for myself, personally) in experimenting with consciousness-altering drugs. Other people are very curious and experimental with the drugs, but won't move out of their home town. Much is made of stock brokers and teenage boys being big risk takers, driving fast cars and taking drugs and hooking up with many different sexual partners and such, yet from what I can tell, many of these same people are very socially conforming within their social group, and very unwilling to stand out from the crowd in that respect. All of this is entirely separate from impulse control, from what I've observed from the folks I know who have less impulse control versus some of the people I know with strong impulse control but who are also very willing to try out new things intellectually.

That "Well Quiz" reminded me of high school, where a group of us would gather in the library each week, and this one guy would read the Seventeen quiz and we'd all make fun of how all of the response options were kind of dumb and unrealistic, and loaded with hidden assumptions.
posted by eviemath at 3:30 PM on February 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


necrophagia

Technically, necrophagia is what everyone does (unless you actually eat your steaks raw off a living cow, anyway) - I think androphagy is what you're looking for.

/pedant
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:39 PM on February 14, 2012


It's called "cannibalism".
posted by mr_roboto at 3:48 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I knows, I knows, but I had to go with something similar to "neophilia" and "necrophilia" for the sake of the cheap yuk. And now that I have stomped the life out of what little humor there was, I guess I'll just eat it!
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:51 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Psychologists call this 'novelty seeking'. Calling it 'neophilia' is just stupid. I read it as 'necrophilia' as well.
posted by delmoi at 1:03 AM on February 15, 2012


December 21st is going to suck for the neophilians! The end of novelty, how about that!
posted by asok at 4:54 AM on February 15, 2012


Are you saying this is a plot by the necrophiliacs?
posted by jeffburdges at 5:59 PM on February 15, 2012


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