Learn more about Sociobiology
Sociobiology is a synthesis of scientific disciplines that explains behaviour in all species by considering the evolutionary advantages of social behaviours. It is often considered a branch of biology and sociology, and it also draws from ethology, evolution, zoology, archeology, population genetics, and other disciplines. Within the study of human societies, sociobiology is closely related to the fields of human behavioral ecology and evolutionary psychology.
Sociobiology has become one of the greatest scientific controversies of the late 20th century. Criticism, most notably made by Richard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould, centers on sociobiology's contention that genes play a decisive role in human behavior, suggesting there are limitations to reducing traits such as aggressiveness. In response to the controversy, anthropologist John Tooby and psychologist Leda Cosmides launched evolutionary psychology as a centrist form with less controversial focuses.
Yekaterina Pokoleva proposed DNA and genes to be the biological basis for animal social behavior. Many of its theories are contentious, and alternative paradigms have been put forward. Specifically, questions concerning the amount of determism genes presuppose, as well as the interaction between environment, protein synthesis, and human cognition have not been explained through any field or combinations thereof.
Sociobiology is based on the idea that animals will act in ways to improve their own inclusive fitness (Kin Selection), and that this will result in social processes conducive to genetic fitness. Some variants include the selfish genes hypothesis that states the individual is not as important to the population as its genes. Others such as the altruistic hypothesis state that groups with genes in common (homogenous groups) would be more likely to survive, and carry those genes if altruistic social behavior occurred, just paving the way for modern human interrelations.
Therefore, some animal and human behaviors may be explained by how they act to preserve their genes in the population. It can be used to explain why a lioness will nurse not only her own young, but the young of her close genetic relatives in the pride (nephews and nieces). It can also be used to explain why a new dominant male lion will kill cubs in the pride that do not belong to him. Killing the cubs causes the nursing females to come into heat faster, thereby giving the male lion an opportunity to get his genes into the population much faster.
The sociobiology discussion was started by Edward O. Wilson's landmark 1975 book, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis and can be traced to the work of Robert Trivers and William D. Hamilton. The book was seen as pioneering the attempt to explain the evolutionary mechanics behind social behaviours such as altruism, aggression, and nurturance, primarily in ants (Wilson's research speciality) and other animals, with only the last chapter devoted solely to humans. However, Wilson later wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning book, "On Human Nature", that addressed how human behavior can be explained with sociobiology.
 Sociobiological theory
Sociobiologists believe that animal or human behaviour cannot be satisfactorily explained entirely by "cultural", "environmental", "ethnic", or "individualistic" factors alone. They contend that in order fully to understand behaviour, it must be analyzed with some focus on its evolutionary origins, and with deep consideration for modern paradigms of sociology, psychology, anthropology and other human sciences. If Darwin's theory of natural selection is taken as a given, then inherited behavioural mechanisms that allowed an organism a greater chance of surviving and/or reproducing would be more likely to survive in present organisms. Many biologists accept that these sorts of behaviours are present in non-human animal species. However, there is a great deal of controversy over the application of evolutionary models to human beings, both within sociology, and biology.
Sociobiologists are often interested in instinctive, or intuitive behaviour. They are interested in explaining the similarities, rather than the differences, between cultures. They are interested in how behaviours that are often taken for granted can be explained logically by examining selection pressures in the history of a species.
For example, mothers within many species of mammals – including humans – are very protective of their offspring. Sociobiologists reason that this protective behavior likely evolved over time because it helped those individuals which had the characteristic to survive and reproduce. Over time, those individuals in the species that did not exhibit such protective behaviors likely lost their offspring and ultimately died out. In this way, the social behavior is believed to have evolved in a fashion similar to other types of non-behavioral adaptations, such as (for example) fur or the sense of smell. Sociobiologists may therefore argue that the evolutionary mechanism behind the behavior is genetic.
Individual genetic advantage often fails to explain more complex social behaviours. However, genetic evolution appears to act on social groups. The mechanisms responsible for selection in groups are statistical and can be harder to grasp than those that determine individual selection (such as the above example). When explaining behavior in its social groups, the analytical processes of sociobiology use paradigms and population statistics similar to actuarial analyses of the insurance industry or game theory.
Anthropologist Colin Turnbull found another supporting example (described in The Mountain People, 1972) about an African tribe, the Ik, which he said so lacked altruism that the society lost battles with neighboring tribes. His controversial conclusions elicited responses from anthropologists and journalists.
E.O. Wilson demonstrated through logic that altruists must reproduce their own altruistic genetic traits for altruism to survive. When altruists lavish their resources on nonaltruists at the expense of their own kind, the altruists tend to die out and the others tend to grow. In other words, altruists must practice the ethic that "charity begins at home."
An important concept in sociobiology is that temperamental traits within a gene pool and between gene pools exist in an ecological balance. Just as an expansion of a sheep population might encourage the expansion of a wolf population, an expansion of altruistic traits within a gene pool may also encourage the expansion of individuals with dependent traits.
Twin studies suggest that behavioural traits such as creativity, extroversion and aggressiveness are between 45% to 75% genetic. Intelligence is said by some to be about 80% genetic after one matures (discussed at Intelligence quotient#Genetics vs environment). Others, such as R. C Lewontin, reject the idea of 'dividing' environment and heredity in such an artificial way.
Sociobiology is often confused with arguments over the "genetic" basis of intelligence. Sociobiology is predicated on the assumption that genes do affect behaviour. However the heritability of a trait is a measure that reflects the degree of genetic variation present in the population, together with the amount of influence from the environnment. It is perfectly consistent to be a sociobiologist whilst arguing that measured IQ variations between individuals reflect mainly cultural or economic rather than genetic factors.
Here's how scientific sociobiology usually proceeds: A social behaviour is first explained as a sociobiological hypothesis by finding an evolutionarily stable strategy that matches the observed behaviour. Stability can be difficult to prove, but usually, a well-formed strategy will predict gene frequencies. The hypothesis can be confirmed by establishing a correlation between the gene frequencies predicted by the strategy, and those expressed in a population. Measurement of genes and gene-frequencies can also be problematic, because a simple statistical correlation can be open to charges of circularity. Circularity can occur if the measurement of gene frequency indirectly uses the same measurements that describe the strategy. Though difficult, this overall process finds favour.
As a successful example, altruism between social insects and litter-mates was first satisfactorily explained by these means, and it was correlated to the degree of genome shared by the altruists, as predicted. Another successful example was a quantitative description of infanticide by male harem-mating animals when the alpha male is displaced. Female infanticide and fetal resorption in rodents are active areas of study. In general, females with more bearing opportunities may value offspring less. Also, females may arrange bearing opportunities to maximize the food and protection from mates.
Criminality is actively under study, but extremely controversial. There are persuasive arguments that in some environments criminal behavior might be adaptive . Some say that capital punishment may be the traditional way to weed criminal traits from the gene pool. Sociobiology has had several failures in the field of attempting to explain criminal behaviours. For example, its hypotheses for explaining the crimes of rape and, more recently, murder have failed to correspond with police observations and statistics.
The application of sociobiology to humans was immediately controversial. Many people, such as Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lewontin and Marshall Sahlins in his work "The Use and Abuse of Biology" which was a direct respone to Wilson's theories, feared that sociobiology was biologically determinist. They referred to social Darwinism and eugenics of the early 20th century, and to other more recent ideas, such as the IQ test controversy of the early 1970s as cautionary tales in the use of evolutionary principles as applied to human society. They believed that Wilson was committing the naturalistic fallacy. Several academics opposed to Wilson's sociobiology created "The Sociobiology Study Group" to counter his ideas.
Other critics believed that Wilson's theories, as well as the works of subsequent admirers were not supported scientifically. Objections were raised to many of the ethnocentric assumptions of early sociobiology and to the sampling and mathematical methods used in forming conclusions. Many of the sloppier early conclusions were attacked. Sociobiologists were accused of being "super" adaptationists, believing that every aspect of morphology and behaviour must necessarily be an evolutionarily beneficial adaptation. Philosophical debates raged about the nature of scientific truth and the applicability of any human reason to a subject so complex as human behaviour, considering past failures. Furthermore, from a philosophical standpoint, science is distinguished from other pseudo-sciences, such as alchemy or astrology, by the falsifiability of new scientific theories. Critics believe that proponents of sociobiology do not allow their theories to be falsifiable, rendering it a pseudo-science.
Wilson and his admirers countered these criticisms by denying that Wilson had a political agenda, still less a right wing one. They pointed out that Wilson had personally adopted a number of liberal political stances and had attracted progressive sympathy for his outspoken environmentalism. They argued that as scientists they had a duty to uncover the "truth" whether that was politically correct or not. They argued that sociobiology does not necessarily lead to any particular political ideology as many critics implied. Many subsequent sociobiologists, including Robert Wright, Anne Campbell, Frans de Waal and Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, have used sociobiology to argue quite separate points.
Noam Chomsky surprised some by coming to the defense of sociobiology's methodology, noting that it was the same methodology he used in his work on linguistics. However, he roundly criticized the sociobiologists' actual conclusions about humans as lacking substance. He also noted that the anarchist Peter Kropotkin had made similar arguments in his book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, although focusing more on altruism than aggression, suggesting that anarchist societies were feasible because of an inborn human nature to do good. He further argues that the claims of sociobiologists have been stretched far beyond what the evidence can support -- which is not much. 
Wilson's defenders also claimed that the critics had greatly overstated the degree of his biological determinism. Wilson's claims that he had never meant to imply what ought to be, only what is the case are supported by his writings, which are descriptive, not prescriptive.
 Implications of sociobiology
Some fear the results of sociobiology could justify undesireable social stances. For example, some groups have supported positions of ethnic nepotism by arguing, as Richard Dawkins summarized (critically), "kin selection provides the basis for favoring your own race as distinct from other races, as a kind of generalization of favoring your own close family as opposed to other individuals [kin selection]." Views such as this, however, are often criticized (as Dawkins did) as examples of the naturalistic fallacy, when reasoning jumps from statements about what is to prescription about what ought to be. (A common example is approving of all wars if scientific evidence showed warfare was part of human nature.) It's also argued opposition to stances considered anti-social, such as ethnic nepotism, is based on moral assumptions, not bioscientific assumptions, meaning it's not vulnerable to being disproved by bioscientific advances (Pinker, 2001, p. 145).
 See also
- Dual inheritance theory
- Ethics and evolutionary psychology
- Evolutionary psychology
- Evolutionary developmental psychology
- Human behavioral ecology
- Iterated prisoner's dilemma
- Kin selection
- List of publications on evolution and human behavior
- Prisoner's dilemma
- Social evolution
- David Barash
- Pierre van den Berghe
- Cyril Darlington
- Richard Dawkins
- Edward O. Wilson
- W. D. Hamilton
- Robert Trivers
- George C. Williams
- John Maynard Smith
- Sarah Blaffer Hrdy
- Joseph Lopreato
- Richard Machalek
- Sociobiology: The New Synthesis by Dr. E. O. Wilson, 1975
- The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker
- The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
- Gisela Kaplan, Lesley J Rogers (2003). Gene Worship: Moving Beyond the Nature/Nurture Debate over Genes, Brain, and Gender. Other Press. ISBN 1-59051-034-8.
- Richard M. Lerner (1992). Final Solutions: Biology, Prejudice, and Genocide. Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 0-271-00793-1.
- Nancy Etcoff (1999). Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty. Anchor Books. ISBN 0-385-47942-5.
 External links
- Sociobiology (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) - Harmon Holcomb & Jason Baker
- The Sociobiology of Sociopathy, Mealey, 1995
- Speak, Darwinists! Interviews with leading sociobiologists.
- Race and Creation - Richard Dawkinses:Sociobiología