Category Archives: 10 – Sociobiology

Evolutionary Psychology??

DISCUSS: Should Evolution be the foundation of Psychology?
DISCUSS: What are some of the interesting ways some of the sub-disciplines of psychology implement Evolutionary Psychology?

Quotes to Ponder

Quotes to Ponder

In a way,
culture substitutes itself to life,
in another way
culture uses and transforms life
to realize a synthesis of a higher order.

Who said this quote and why?

Another way to look at this:

In a way,
[NUrture] substitutes itself to [nAture],
in another way
[NUrture] uses and transforms [nAture]
to realize a synthesis of a higher order.

The full context is here (thanks to Herve Varenne):

Claude Lévi-Strauss (1949):

Man is a biological being as well as a social individual. Among the responses which he gives to external stimuli, some are the full product of his nature, and others of his condition… But it is not always easy to distinguish between the two… Culture is neither simply juxtaposed to nor simply superposed over life. In a way, culture substitutes itself to life, in another way culture uses and transforms life to realise a synthesis of a higher order. (1969 [1949]: 4 )


Another illustration of the nature/nurture conundrum is as two blades of a scissors. But I do not recall who thought this one up.


Sociobiology, Evolutionary Psychology, and Behavioral Ecology


-Edward O. Wilson, “The Morality of the Gene” (1975)
-Jerome Barkow, “The Elastic Between Genes and Culture” (1989)
-Rebecca Bliege Bird, Eric Alden Smith, and Douglas -W. Bird, “The hunting handicap: costly signaling in human foraging strategies” (2001)

Presentation slides for Sociobiology 

Discussion Items based on -Edward O. Wilson, “The Morality of the Gene” (1975)

In what ways do you think that Wilson’s quote, “A chicken is only an eggs way of making another egg” is accurate? In what ways does it seem inaccurate? Provide examples.

What do you think the purpose of forming religious groups and tribes is relating to gene flow? Do you think Wilson is correct, in that we cooperate in these groups in order to pass on our genes?

Discussion Items based on -Jerome Barkow, “The Elastic Between Genes and Culture” (1989)

Central to this article’s arguments is a conception of culture transmission and of biological evolution as intimately linked yet conceptually distinct. I view culture transmission and biological evolution as the two ends of an elastic band. Each pulls on the other. Processes at one end tend to generate fitness-reducing, socially transmitted information; processes at the other tend to eliminate such information. Because both the “stretching” and the “pulling back” take place continually, at no time is any culture likely to be entirely fitness enhancing for all of its participants, nor is any culture likely to be entirely genetically maladaptive. I will refer to culture’s tendency to move in fitness-reducing directions as culture stretch. Processes tending to alter culture in fitness-enhancing ways will be termed culture revision.


Do you think that genes and culture is like an elastic band as Barkow claims?

Is culture dependent on genes?

Sociobiology, Evolutionary Psychology, and Behavioral Ecology

Edward O. Wilson (born June 10, 1929) is an American biologist, researcher (sociobiology, biodiversity), theorist (consilience, biophilia), naturalist (conservationist) and author.  His biological specialty is myrmecology, the study of ants.  Wilson is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.  He is known for his scientific career, his role as “the father of sociobiology”, his environmental advocacy, and his secular-humanist and deist ideas pertaining to religious and ethical matters.  Wilson received his early training in biology at the University of Alabama (B.S., 1949; M.S., 1950).  After receiving his doctorate in biology at Harvard University in 1955, he was a member of Harvard’s biology and zoology faculties from 1956 to 1976.  At Harvard he was later Frank B. Baird Professor of Science (1976–94), Mellon Professor of the Sciences (1990–93), and Pellegrino University Professor (1994–97).  He was professor emeritus from 1997.  In addition, Wilson served as curator in entomology at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology (1973–97).  A recent project of Wilson’s, the Encyclopedia of Life website, catalogs all key information about life of Earth — including data about every living species — and makes it accessible to everyone.  Launched with money from his 2007 TED Prize, the Encyclopedia of Life recently received an additional $10 million from the MacArthur Foundation.  Wilson also is the recipient of the U.S. National Medal of Science, the Crafoord Prize (a sister to the Nobel), and the Audubon Medal.  He is the University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, and continues to research at the Museum of Comparative Zoology.  Recently, Wilson teamed with Harrison Ford to create a new PEN Literary award titled the PEN/E.O.  Wilson Award for Literary Science Writing.

Hailed as a genius of modern science, he’s also been accused of racism in a vicious debate over evolution.  The controversy of sociobiological research is in how it applies to humans.  The theory established a scientific argument for rejecting the common doctrine of tabula rasa, which holds that human beings are born without any innate mental content and that culture functions to increase human knowledge and aid in survival and success.  In the final chapter of the book Sociobiology and in the full text of his Pulitzer Prize-winning On Human Nature, Wilson argues that the human mind is shaped as much by genetic inheritance as it is by culture (if not more).  There are limits on just how much influence social and environmental factors can have in altering human behavior.

Although much human diversity in behavior is culturally influenced, some has been shown to be genetic – rapid acquisition of language, human unpredictability, hypertrophy (extreme growth of pre-existing social structures), altruism and religions.  “Religious practices that consistently enhance survival and procreation of the practitioners will propagate the physiological controls that favor the acquisition of the practices during single lifetimes.  Unthinking submission to the communal will promotes the fitness of the members of the tribe.  Even submission to secular religions and cults involve willing subordination of the individual to the group.  Religious practices confer biological advantages.”

Jerome H. Barkow is a Canadian anthropologist at Dalhousie University who has made important contributions to the field of evolutionary psychology. He received a B.A. in Psychology from Brooklyn College in 1964 and a Ph.D. in Human Development from the University of Chicago in 1970.  He has conducted field research in West Africa, Nova Scotia, and Indonesia, and is currently collaborating on an analysis of mass media and gossip from an evolutionary perspective.  He is Professor of Social Anthropology at Dalhousie University and a Distinguished International Fellow at the Institute of Cognition and Culture, Queen’s University Belfast (Northern Ireland).

Professor Barkow has research and teaching interests in evolution and human nature and in the anthropologies of food and of health.  The connecting theme of his publications is that our evolved psychology underlies human society and culture.  Barkow has published on topics ranging from sex workers in Nigeria to the kinds of sentients SETI might find.  He is best known as the author of Darwin, Sex, and Status: Biological Approaches to Mind and Culture (1989). In 1992, together with Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, Barkow edited the influential book The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture.  In 2006, he edited Missing the Revolution: Darwinism for Social Scientists.

In his article “The Elastic Between Genes and Culture” he argues that a society’s culture may come to include information tending to lead to fitness-reducing behavior on the part of some or all of its members.  This phenomenon results from conflict among factions within each society, from transmitted misinformation (e.g., cupping restores health), from natural and human-caused environmental change so that previously adaptive information becomes maladaptive, and from the long and short-term negative “side effects” of information that may otherwise be fitness enhancing.  Because some cultural information may be fitness reducing, we apparently have been selected for individual-level traits that often result in our revising socially transmitted information that might otherwise have maladaptive consequences.  Two examples of such traits are adolescent “rebelliousness” and the tendency to learn most readily from those higher than ourselves in status.  Such leading-to-culture-revision traits are very imperfect mechanisms, however, so that some likely-to-be maladaptive cultural information, such as medical cupping or denying infants the colostrum, remains part of the culture.  It is doubtful, given the structure of modern human populations and the ubiquity of culture change, that such maladaptive socially transmitted information leads to natural selection for genetic “direct biases” against accepting the practices in question.

The Hunting Handicap: Costly Signaling in Human Foraging Strategies, by Rebecca Bird, Eric Smith, and Douglas Bird

In this article, the authors use a study conducted on the small island of Mer to support their theory of genetics as controlling human behavior — specifically the act of turtle hunting. As described by the authors, men who participated in turtle hunting (either as individuals or in hunting parties) stood to gain something more than what can be acquired nutritionally. According to Optimal Foraging Theory (OFT), human foragers pick food that results in maximum gain for minimal input. As this is not the case in turtle hunting, the authors argue that men use hunting as a way of signaling something significant to other members of the group, thereby making up for the extra energy expended on a less calorically efficient activity. As a result of surveys conducted on the island, the authors found that men who killed more turtles than others were recognized as better hunters, which may mean that they were held in higher esteem and possibly more attractive to the women on the island, thus making it more likely that they will be able to pass along their genes. The question is, can all of this be attributed to genetics? Is all just a result of the basic urge to pass along genes to future generations?

Joshua Liggett’s Wonderful World of Prezi

Here are some great examples of what you can do to spread the noble word of anthropological theory:

Functionalism – Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, & Gluckman, sans Evans-Pritchard:

 Historical Particularism – Eighteen Professions – A.L. Kroeber:

Structuralism – Levi-Strauss and Ortner

Sociobiology, Evolutionary Psychology, and Behavioral Ecology – Wilson & Barkow

Rousseau’s “Emile” mkII (this last one is only tangentially applicable but good none-the-less)

by Joshua Liggett

Sociobiology, Evolutionary Psychology, and Behavioral Ecology – Edward Wilson

Sociobiology, Evolutionary Psychology, and Behavioral Ecology

Nature vs Nurture is a classic Debate.  Which side are you on?

Sociobiology, Evolutionary Psychology, and Behavioral Ecology

Edward O. Wilson, “The Morality of the Gene” (1975)

Jerome Barkow, “The Elastic Between Genes and Culture” (1989)

Rebecca Bliege Bird, Eric Alden Smith, and Douglas W. Bird, “The hunting handicap: costly signaling in human foraging strategies” (2001)