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controversial field that studies how natural selection, previously used only to explain the evolution of physical characteristics, shapes behavior in animals and humans. The theory has contributed to the understanding of certain evolutionary traits in the animal world, such as how instinctive parental behaviors of animals are determined in part by the need to ensure survival of offspring. A related aspect of sociobiology deals with altruistic behaviors in general. In a theory called kin selection, animals that behave altruistically would have their genes passed on by helping relatives who share their genes survive to reproduce, just as they would by producing offspring of their own.

The theory first gained attention when E. O. WilsonWilson, Edward Osborne,
1929–, American sociobiologist, b. Birmingham, Ala. Founder of sociobiology, Wilson was educated at the Univ. of Alabama and Harvard. He joined the Harvard faculty in 1956, eventually becoming university professor (1994) and university research
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 of Harvard published Sociobiology (1975); it became controversial when he proposed extending the theory to explain human social behavior and psychological patterns. Critics charged that this application of sociobiology was a form of genetic determinism and that it failed to take into account the complexity of human behavior and the impact of the environment on human development.

Scientists have recently discovered individual genes in laboratory worms that influence social behavior, such as gregarious feeding habits. Continued research of this kind, into what has been called the "molecular biology of social behavior," is likely to provide new insights into sociobiology.


theory and research within the field of evolutionary biology which seeks to provide biological explanations for the evolution of social behaviour and organization in animals and humans. Proponents of sociobiological theories (e.g. E. O. Wilson, 1975) regard the problem of the evolution of altruism as a major challenge, since altruism implies a sacrifice of individual fitness incompatible with classical evolutionary theory. Proponents of sociobiology have been criticized for arguing their case from selective evidence, for making claims for behavioural ‘universals’ speculatively and assuming their innate basis. See also ETHOLOGY, TERRITORIAL IMPERATIVE.


[¦sō·sē·ō· bī′äl·ə·jē]
A discipline that applies evolutionary biology to the study of animal social behavior, including human behavior; considered a synthesis of ethology, ecology, and evolution, in which social behavior is viewed as the result of natural selection and other biological processes.
References in periodicals archive ?
Ruse makes the valuable point, for clarity's sake, that altruism has been given a special sense by sociobiologists, who distinguish between what is commonly considered altruism, in the sense of doing good with no strings attached--what Ruse calls "literal altruism"--and the idea of mutual cooperation and working together, where the idea of doing good is accompanied with that of some recompense.
Sociobiologists have argued that promiscuous males over time have created more of themselves and nurturing females have created more of themselves.
In a further iteration of this piece, Rebecca could consider the evidentiary forms employed by sociobiologists, economists, and sociologists.
Inclusive fitness theory was widely accepted in behavioural biology but was not generally taken up by those interested in ethnicity, even by many sociobiologists, partly because Hamilton thought that inclusive fitness could only work among close kin.
Introduced by thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Max Weber, the idea has more recently been elaborated (and "scientized") by sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists.
Where some scientists have emphasized humanity's graduation from biological evolution (mediated by genes and instincts) to cultural evolution (mediated by culture and reasoning), sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists have emphasized the ways in which human nature is still biologically determined by its past.
The economist Ronald Coase voiced the profession's dissatisfaction with the use of utility per se as an underlying motivational concept, arguing that "ultimately the work of sociobiologists (and their critics) will enable us to construct a picture of human nature in such detail that we can derive the set of preferences with which economists start" (1988, 4).
In particular, Professor Flew is concerned about sociobiologists, social scientists, and others who would remove individual responsibility by ascribing causal mechanisms to behavior.
Famous literary works are filled with other examples of behaviors identified by sociobiologists as common in many animals, from females' preoccupation with the selection of a suitable mate (reflected in Austen's love stories) to the notion of altruism (demonstrated famously in Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers).
Single disciplines do still claim a regulative role in terms of truth as theology did in the Middle Ages: in the nineteenth century, physicists claimed that everything came under the laws of physics; (8) today sociobiologists claim the unity of science under their discipline.
A major concern of sociobiologists is the nature and origin of altruistic behavior: Why has altruism evolved?