The PRice “equation” for individually evolving: Which equation describes your life?

I’ve lightheartedly abstracted the Price equation for evolving populations to develop the eponymous PRice “equation” for individually evolving.

The details of the Price equation for evolving populations are presented in this (pdf) 2012 paper. [1] From the Introduction:

“Evolutionary theory analyzes the change in phenotype [the physical and biochemical characteristics of an organism] over time. We may interpret phenotype broadly to include organismal [a form of life considered as an entity] characters.

How does a phenotype influence its own change? Can we separate that phenotypic influence from other evolutionary forces that also cause change?”

The Price equation for evolving populations describes how:

  1. An ancestral phenotype exists with certain characteristics;
  2. It evolves and changes, resulting in
  3. A descendant phenotype that has different characteristics.

Greatly simplified:

  • Total change equals
  • Evolutionary changes caused by selection, plus
  • Changes caused by non-selection factors.

Other items:

“The Price equation can be expanded recursively to represent nested levels of analysis, for example, individuals living in groups.

Much of creativity and understanding comes from seeing previously hidden associations. The tools and forms of expression that we use play a strong role in suggesting connections and are inseparable from cognition.”


Applying the “How does a phenotype influence its own change?” question to a person: How can a person remedy their undesirable traits – many of which are from their ancestral phenotype – and acquire desirable traits?

The PRice “equation” for individually evolving postulates:

  1. A person’s life was characterized by acquired characteristics that adversely influenced their ideas, biology, and behavior;
  2. With the timing, duration, and intensity of a person’s efforts to effect changes in their life determined by their conscious awareness and biology, they access impaired areas and therapeutically resolve the sources of the damage, resulting in
  3. A life that’s better fitted to “influence its own change” as the person’s ideas, biology, and behavior become less driven by undesirable accumulated conditions.

Hypotheses of the PRice “equation” for individually evolving, with evidence linked from curated studies and their references:

  1. The periods of our most profound changes – in utero, infancy, and early childhood – were also when many of our undesirable changes occurred.
  2. The root causes for many of our undesirable changes were that our basic needs weren’t met during these periods.
  3. The largest impacts of early unmet needs were that they induced biological adaptations.
  4. These adaptations didn’t unassistedly disappear over time, and they’ve consistently influenced our ideas, biology, and behavior.
  5. We can ameliorate undesirable acquired characteristics without outside actions being done to us.

Both the problems and the “cures” are usually externally originated in animal studies. Can early-life causes for later-life problems be approached in other ways with humans?

Animal studies show what approaches don’t work. For example, the effects of stress induced by maternal separation during a rat pup’s infancy and early childhood aren’t reversed by returning it to its mother later in life. The separation encompassed critical periods only during which the mother could satisfy the pup’s needs. After critical periods, the mother’s actions would be too late. The pup’s development deviated from the norm with biological adaptations.

There are many ways to suppress undesirable effects and symptoms later in life. For example, some animal studies used fear extinction techniques. However, efforts to alleviate symptoms seldom remedy the underlying causes of the symptoms.

Two 2015 studies established that some acquired characteristics are state-dependent:

These animal studies used drugs to initiate and recreate the states. If the findings of recent studies such as Are 50 Shades of Grey behaviors learned in infancy? are extendable to humans, it’s likely that human emotions and physical reactions can also initiate and recreate such state-dependent memories.

When undesirable acquired characteristics are state-dependent, an approach to ameliorating them may involve:

  1. Returning to the initial environment;
  2. Reentering the state where the undesirable characteristics were acquired; and
  3. Addressing the underlying causes of these symptoms while in that state.

It’s unlikely that people can therapeutically resolve underlying causes if the timing, duration, and intensity of efforts are externally determined. So an individual’s efforts should neither use forcible approaches with drugs, etc., nor be primarily directed on someone else’s schedule.


There are some difficulties in applying the “How does a phenotype influence its own change?” question to a person:

  1. Research usually isn’t primarily directed toward producing causal evidence for the above 5 hypotheses. Studies performed in relevant areas are typically designed to produce symptomatic evidence.
  2. The process of a person remedying their undesirable traits and acquiring desirable traits isn’t pain-free. A choice that involves pain is understandably a decision that few of us would make, even when it’s part of an optimal solution.
  3. A person’s time and other resources.

Pain avoidance and the lack of relevant information and resources combine to become a high hurdle. Most people’s lives aren’t suited to “influence its own change” as a result.


This 2015 study and its commentary Evolutionary paths of least resistance show how the “other evolutionary forces that also cause change” components of the Price equation may operate:

“Evolution may preferentially mitigate damage to a biological system than reduce the source of this damage.”

So even the evolutionary paths of least resistance alleviate symptoms rather than:

  • “Reduce the source of this damage” and
  • Enable a life that’s better fitted to “influence its own change.”

Which equation describes your life?


[1] See http://stevefrank.org/pub-date.html for more. I recommend this (pdf) commentary on cancer research and how its progress may be affected by researchers’ typical disinterest in historical frameworks.

Advertisements