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You’re such a jerk

Insults are painful because we have certain social needs. We seek to be among other people, and once among them, we seek to form relationships with them and to improve our position on the social hierarchy. They are also painful because we have a need to project our self-image and to have other people not only accept this image, but support it. If we didn’t have these needs, being insulted wouldn’t feel bad. Furthermore, although different people experience different amounts of pain on being insulted, almost everyone will experience some pain. Indeed, we would search long and hard to find a person who is never pained by insults—or who himself never feels the need to insult others.

These observations raise a question: why do we have the social needs we do? According to evolutionary psychologists, our social needs—and, more generally, our psychological propensities—are the result of nature rather than nurture. More precisely, they are a consequence of our evolutionary past. The views of evolutionary psychologists are of interest in this, a study of insults, for the simple reason that they allow us to gain a deeper understanding of why it is painful when others insult us and why we go out of our way to cause others pain by insulting them.

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