Category Archives: Cultural Universals

SOCIOBIOLOGY

Sociobiology aims to explain how biology affects human social behavior. The concept of sociobiology was first introduced in E.O Wilson’s book, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975). E.O Wilson’s book defined sociobiology as an evolutionary theory of social behavior. Many sociobiologists believe that natural selection for reproductive success and reconstruction of evolutionary histories of behavior and behavioral strategies shape human social behaviors.

Evolutionary socialization begins to introduce the Darwinian evolutionary theory and natural selection. Darwin’s theory of evolution by the process of natural selection explains adaption by linking differential adaption to differential reproductive success. Organisms living in particular conditions of life with weaker traits will not last long in a population due to low rates of survival and reproductive success. Sociobiologists use the same method when modeling the evolution of human behaviors by using various ‘behavioral strategies’ as relevant traits. Sociobiologists believe that humans and other organisms have behavioral control systems that serve particular functions and whose evolutionary history is traceable.

Gene-culture coevolution shapes genes and cultures through human development. An example of this is the sweetness case, which touches on the fact that there is a strong disposition among people whose preference are sweet foods. Humans taste receptors for sweetness tell them that sugar is sweet. Since humans seek foods that trigger their taste receptors (due to human ancestors eating sweet fruits to give them energy for daily functions) they are gravitated towards fast food chains, which offer foods with large amounts of fat, salt and sugar. Human ancestors had a short supply of foods that contained sugar and salt in their environment, which resulted in humans to inherit their ancestor’s predispositions to eat sugary foods when they had the opportunity. Another example of gene-culture coevolution is sex-role stereotypes. Sociobiologists asked the question, why do humans have the sex-role stereotypes they do? Social science claims that humans are not born with mental contents. However, sex differences in children’s behavior can be explained by the differential treatment of parents who possessed sex-role stereotypes.

   Social behavior is closely related to gene-culture coevolution and natural selection. Richard Dawkins used his infamous metaphor ‘the selfish gene’ (1976) to introduce sociobiology. Critics took Dawkins metaphor and argued that, if human behavior were to be related to natural selection, we would all be selfish. Mary Midgley (1978) also believed Dawkins ‘the selfish gene’ metaphor to involve vicious circular reasoning. On the other hand, Darwin’s arguments for natural selection did not characterize the evolution process itself as being selfish or altruistic. Instead, Darwin postulated traits that serve a function to an individual, such as adaptive traits that help organisms solve problems from limited resources in their environment. The adaptive traits that give organisms advantages in competition can occur through altruistic or selfish traits. Altruistic traits help others but can cause self-destruction; selfish traits help ones self while hindering others from performing tasks. Sociopaths are defined as being selfish people; Linda Mealey identified two explanations for sociopathic behavior (1995), the ultimate and proximate explanation. Hypothetical ancestral conditions that may have rendered sociopathy adaptive, particularly the conditions in which social reciprocity evolved in human populations describes the ultimate explanation of sociopathic behavior. While, mechanisms that have a possibility to produce sociopathic behaviors in current environments, especially the mechanisms that involve life-history strategies that span biological, psychological and sociocultural variables describes the proximate explanation of sociopathic behavior.

Sociobiologists look at cultural universals as a product of human biological evolution. They argue that explanations of human thoughts and actions as a species ultimately takes into account human genetic makeup. On the other hand, while most sociologists agree that biology influences human social behavior. Degree’s of variation within and between societies suggests that sociobiological theories are limited to explain complex human behavior. An example of this is that one society may not allow marriage between close relatives while another society encourages it. The expression of cultural universals varies from one society to another and can dramatically change over time. It was once thought that women’s brains were too small, making them incapable of success in college. Women now make up about sixty percent of college graduates. Claims similar to that example have been used in the past to justify inequality, which had many sociologists questioning biological explanations for human behavior. Sociobiology’s main problem is that sociobiological theories are limited in explaining complex human behavior. It is difficult to find a possible solution to this problem because complex human behaviors are brought on by many factors and are ever changing within societies.

 

Citation:

Holcomb, H., & Byron, J. (2005, November 21). Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/sociobiology/

Witt, J. (2012). Soc 2012. New York: McGraw-Hill