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Evolution, Exchange and Coordination: Implications for Organizational Communication
Unformatted Document Text:  Evolution, Exchange and Coordination 2 evolutionary explanatory framework (e.g., Lawrence & Nohria, 2001). But interpersonal and organizational communication scholars alike have yet to heed the call. Of particular relevance to theoretical development in organizational communication is the recent scholarship of evolutionary psychologists (e.g., Buss, 1997; Tooby & Cosmides, 1992; Cosmides, & Tooby, 1992; Pinker, 1997, 2002). This paper outlines the major tenets of this perspective and reviews evolutionary scholarship of greatest consequence to theory-building efforts in our field. More specifically, we invite organizational communication scholars to reflect upon extant scholarship in terms of well- documented human psychological adaptations and their related mechanisms. In this paper, we focus especially on reciprocity and exchange coordination. The implications of viewing communication from an evolutionary perspective are then highlighted for organizational scholars. Evolution 101 Few academics today will contest that the functional properties of all living organisms result singularly from natural and, to a lesser extent, sexual selection pressures. Most of us are quick to acknowledge that evolutionary processes brought about physical functional specializations like the giraffe’s neck, the peacock’s tail, or the stag’s antlers. Darwinian thought is, after all, fairly easy to follow. Evolution through natural selection, for instance, suggests that variety (e.g., long vs. longer neck) within a species (i.e., via random genetic variation or mutation) assures that some members of a species may be, at any given time, better suited to survive and reproduce in a given ecological setting (e.g., defined by competition from other species for low-lying vegetation and taller than average trees) than other members of the same species. Those with the ‘fittest’ 3 features, being more likely to survive and reproduce, will also pass their genes on to the next generation. “Fitter” features are thus spread throughout the population, and over time, become predominant (i.e., they are selected for and retained) species traits. Darwin’s theory of sexual selection is just as clear to comprehend. This theory explains the exceptional development of adaptations that appear to actually hinder a species’ survival and reproductive chances. For instance, it can be argued that the peacock’s large tail both attracts the attention of predators due to its bright colors and limits its mobility in escaping. The reason that the peacock’s tail is functionally adaptive rests in its ability to attract mating partners. Those members of the species with the most attractive plumage will reproduce more often than their more modest counterparts. Consequently, ostentatious plumage gets selected and retained over time by, in the case of the peacock, the male members of the species. And, while in this example ‘female choice’ drives trait selection, sexual selection can also operate through male-male competition. Here, the male of the species develops deadly physical weapons (e.g., antlers, horns) over time, not necessarily to fend off predators (a natural, ecological pressure), but to compete with other males for access to females. Those males with the strongest weapons reproduce more

Authors: Teboul, JC. Bruno. and Cole, Tim.
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Evolution, Exchange and Coordination
2
evolutionary explanatory framework (e.g., Lawrence & Nohria, 2001). But interpersonal and
organizational communication scholars alike have yet to heed the call.
Of particular relevance to theoretical development in organizational communication is the recent
scholarship of evolutionary psychologists (e.g., Buss, 1997; Tooby & Cosmides, 1992; Cosmides, &
Tooby, 1992; Pinker, 1997, 2002). This paper outlines the major tenets of this perspective and reviews
evolutionary scholarship of greatest consequence to theory-building efforts in our field. More specifically,
we invite organizational communication scholars to reflect upon extant scholarship in terms of well-
documented human psychological adaptations and their related mechanisms. In this paper, we focus
especially on reciprocity and exchange coordination. The implications of viewing communication from an
evolutionary perspective are then highlighted for organizational scholars.
Evolution 101
Few academics today will contest that the functional properties of all living organisms result
singularly from natural and, to a lesser extent, sexual selection pressures. Most of us are quick to
acknowledge that evolutionary processes brought about physical functional specializations like the
giraffe’s neck, the peacock’s tail, or the stag’s antlers. Darwinian thought is, after all, fairly easy to
follow. Evolution through natural selection, for instance, suggests that variety (e.g., long vs. longer neck)
within a species (i.e., via random genetic variation or mutation) assures that some members of a species
may be, at any given time, better suited to survive and reproduce in a given ecological setting (e.g.,
defined by competition from other species for low-lying vegetation and taller than average trees) than
other members of the same species. Those with the ‘fittest’
3
features, being more likely to survive and
reproduce, will also pass their genes on to the next generation. “Fitter” features are thus spread throughout
the population, and over time, become predominant (i.e., they are selected for and retained) species traits.
Darwin’s theory of sexual selection is just as clear to comprehend. This theory explains the exceptional
development of adaptations that appear to actually hinder a species’ survival and reproductive chances.
For instance, it can be argued that the peacock’s large tail both attracts the attention of predators due to its
bright colors and limits its mobility in escaping. The reason that the peacock’s tail is functionally adaptive
rests in its ability to attract mating partners. Those members of the species with the most attractive
plumage will reproduce more often than their more modest counterparts. Consequently, ostentatious
plumage gets selected and retained over time by, in the case of the peacock, the male members of the
species. And, while in this example ‘female choice’ drives trait selection, sexual selection can also
operate through male-male competition. Here, the male of the species develops deadly physical weapons
(e.g., antlers, horns) over time, not necessarily to fend off predators (a natural, ecological pressure), but to
compete with other males for access to females. Those males with the strongest weapons reproduce more


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