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Brewer, D. D. (2011). Biases in perceiving one’s own social position and social ties as evolved psychological mechanisms. Available at SSRN:

abstract     full article

Negotiating dominance hierarchies and developing cooperative relationships are major adaptive problems in many lines of animal evolution, and especially primates. Therefore, people should have evolved psychological mechanisms that address particular challenges involved with the complex social interactions in human society. Evolutionary psychologists have previously identified the potential adaptive value of self-enhancement biases in perceiving one's own behaviors, cognitions, and characteristics. In this paper, I extend the evolutionary analysis of biases in social cognition to the perception of social structure and one’s position in it. In a review of research conducted in natural social settings, I find evidence of three such biases: over-estimation of own dominance rank, over-reporting own social interaction with higher status others, and over-estimation of own centrality in social networks. For each bias, several studies suggest a moderate strength illusion. I offer evolutionary accounts of the adaptive functions of these biases. Most interpretations concern the potential that these illusions stimulate individuals to behave in ways that lead to higher status and cultivation of beneficial social ties. More extensive cross-cultural research is needed to assess the universality of these biases and hypotheses they imply.

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