Sociobiology and Culture Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Traditionally, researchers in various fields of study have generally limited investigations to their area of expertise. Social scientists attend to prescribed areas such as memory, deviance, and microeconomics. In addition, natural scientists restrict their focal points to phenomena like DNA, gravity, and erosion. This practice of detached exploration, which initially proved productive, is gradually giving way to interdisciplinary endeavors as new and overwhelming evidence indicates that many domains are profoundly interconnected. Although some conventional sociologists steadfastly resist such infiltration, the field is not immune to this growing interdisciplinary movement.

Sociobiology, as the name indicates, is the synthesis of sociology and biology. It is the logical bridge 'between the natural sciences on the one side and social sciences and humanities on the other' (Wilson, 5). Stated differently, it applies the principles of biology to the study of social behavior in both human and non-human populations. More precisely, sociobiology employs evolutionary theories to describe, explain, and explore social phenomena. Considering the amount of social creatures on this planet, it is not surprisingly that 'sociobiology consists mostly of zoology' (Wilson, 1). Areas of interest within this discipline include but are not limited to sexual attraction and behavior, aggression, infant and parental behavior, social structure, assistance and altruism, and fairness.

The idea that evolutionary forces influence social behavior is not a new one; it has a long history. For example, some ancient Greeks acknowledged examples of this trend. It was Darwin who brought this notion within the reach of mass consciousness. However, in the 1970's, 'E.O. Wilson's comprehensive review and synthesis of the applications of Darwinism and neo-Darwinian theory to behavior marked the apex of the [current] movement' (Silverman, 3). Furthermore, 'the entomologist E.O. Wilson was the first to formalize the idea that social behavior could be explained evolutionarily, and he called his theory sociobiology' (Boeree, 1). Moreover, in 1975, with the publication of the legendary book, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, Wilson carried this field into the realm of several academic circles, including those of biology, anthropology, philosophy, religion, and psychology.

A sister discipline to sociobiology, evolutionary psychology is the study of the former as it pertains to humans; in other words, the two spheres overlap. As such, 'the goal of research in evolutionary psychology is to discover and understand the design of the human mind' (Cosmides & Tooby, 1). What's more, 'evolutionary psychology can be thought of as the application of adaptationist logic to the study of the architecture of the human mind' (Cosmides & Tooby, 11). Again, Darwin foresaw the implications of evolution theory and the process of natural selection on psychology when he proclaimed that 'in the distant future ... psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation' (Cosmides & Tooby, 1). Although initially slow going, evolutionary psychology is gaining momentum as models of sociobiology are presented to and accepted by more progressive psychologists.

A common misconception of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology is that both fields claim human social behavior is determined solely by genetics. In fact, adherents to these schools of thought readily admit the presence of multiple influential forces on human behavior, stemming from evolutionary and environmental origins, not to mention individual idiosyncrasies. Hence it is not, as frequently assumed, a nature vs. nurture debate wherein one mutually excludes the other. Rather, an important premise in sociobiology and evolutionary psychology is the notion that different areas of study, although superficially compartmentalized, are in reality, intimately connected. Considering this inclusive approach, it is logical that the findings of social psychology and sociology are equally relevant to those in biology, genetics, and neurology, for instance. This bridge between allegedly distinct spheres has undoubtedly led to unparalleled insights into social behavior that would be otherwise protracted if not inaccessible.

Having succinctly outlined sociobiology and its complementary discipline, evolutionary psychology, it seems prudent to illustrate some of the more prominent areas of investigation. Sexual attraction is an ideal example. When questioned about mate choice, nearly all provide answers based on the other's personal characteristics, with little conscious regard to his or her breeding capabilities. Actually, the direct indication of the latter is recently and oftentimes perceived as callous and prosaic. Nevertheless, the inability to procreate is an excruciating experience for those inauspicious enough to succumb to its grip.

Apparently sexual attraction has deep evolutionary roots despite its popular perception otherwise. Sociobiology states that 'we should be sexually attracted to others whose characteristics would maximize our genetic success, that is, would give us many healthy, long-lived, fertile children' (Boeree, 2). In light of this proclamation then, it is less startling that males prefer younger females as they represent more reproductive health and capabilities than older females. There is an inverse relationship with females concerning sexual attraction in that they prefer males who are more mature-meaning they have managed to remain alive despite environmental hazards-which attests to their genetic achievement. Sociobiology certainly elucidates the proverbial image of the young and healthful woman slung over the arm of an old and usually rich man.

Sexual behavior is another area of interest to sociobiology. 'According to many sociobiologists, mating practices are the result of an evolutionary process favoring genes that most successfully replicate themselves. This theory states that those most successful in this regard give rise to behavior and attitudes maximizing reproductive success' (Layng, 2). Once humans are attracted to individuals who meet their physical criteria, the way in which they conduct themselves has gender-specific manifestations. For example, females are not required to put forth much effort during the courtship. Indeed, 'in courtship and mating behavior, most men are more sexually aggressive and most women are more coy' (Layng, 1). A woman, due to the inherent restrictions on the number of offspring she can produce, assesses the male's ability to provide necessities-such as protection and economic support-that will enable the survival of her children. Males, on the other hand, concern themselves more with the fidelity of mates, as they, unlike females, can never be one hundred percent certain of paternity. This biological explanation illustrates why many women overlook adultery while males are less tolerant in this matter.

As previously mentioned, aggression is another phenomenon with which sociobiology concerns itself. Aggression can be defined in many ways, with both positive and negative connotations. For the present discussion, however, it is limited to those assertive behaviors that humans and non-humans exhibit regarding mating. In mammals, males are most noted for aggression, especially when it pertains to mates (Boeree). In humans, 'most violent crime is committed by men' (Boeree, 6). It does not take extended searches to discover the perpetrator of most domestic violence incidents. Regarding infidelity, males are more likely to 'severely beat or even kill an unfaithful mate' (Layng, 1). This behavior has its roots in biology, as the male is never absolutely certain that a mate's offspring shares his genes. Therefore, an allegedly disloyal female increases a male's aggression to sometimes murderous levels. Naturally, female infidelity is not the only reason why aggression exists in humans but it certainly accounts for a large portion of it.

Infants are deemed attractive and lovable the world over; the vast majority of humans find infants sweet, cute, and irresistible. The initial helplessness of newborns makes them all the more alluring. This is especially true for females, who are the more nurturing sex. From a sociobiologist's standpoint, however, 'it does make considerable evolutionary sense that, in animals with relatively helpless young, the adults should be attracted to their infants' (Boeree, 4). Actually, to ensure this magnetism, infants 'resort to subterfuge: the broad, full bodied, toothless smile which parents find overwhelmingly attractive' (Boeree, 4). Although not necessarily a romantic notion, it illustrates the innate adult mechanisms that promote the survival of offspring.

This attraction is bi-directional in that infants are predisposed to search for caretakers. Research indicates that 'a newborn's brain has response systems that 'expect' faces to be present in the environment: babies less than 10 minutes old turn their eyes and head in response to face-like patterns, but not to scrambled versions of the same pattern with identical spatial frequencies' (Cosmides & Tooby, 9). This reciprocal attachment ensures infants protection from environmental hazards and provides them with other basic needs, such as food and affection. At the same time, it increases the probability that adult reproductive effort was worthwhile.

Even the origin, structure, and size of human social units do not escape the attention of sociobiologists. In truth, 'evidence from primatology and paleoanthropology suggests that our ancestors have engaged in social exchange for at least several million years' (Cosmides & Tooby, 16). 'Our social arrangements most closely resemble those of the Old World monkeys and apes, which on anatomical and biochemical grounds are our closest living relatives' (Wilson, 2). Furthermore, due to humanity's extended history of hunting and gathering societies, which are comprised of intimate groups of individuals, 'it is easier for us to deal with small, hunter-gatherer-band sized groups than with crowds of thousands' (Cosmides &…

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