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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.

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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.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000


[¦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.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
Scott, "Brood guarding and the evolution of male parental care in burying beetles," Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, vol.
The significance of sociobiology is that it privileges nature over nurture in the perennial debate over whether human behaviour is influenced more by biological inheritance or environment.
He even invented a name for this new discipline: Sociobiology."
The investigation of sociobiology in chapter 3 is arguably the most important for Boyd's larger case.
(7) This group selection explanation for ethnic solidarity runs counter to sociobiology's insistence that genes and individuals are the sole units of selection.
The altruistic behavior of humans and other primates became the basis of the sociobiology of the 80s, whose boom began when Edward O.
Wilson's most important work since the publications of Sociobiology and Biophilia.
Chase and his McGill colleague Kristin Vaga reported in the April Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology that they haven't found clear behavioral signs of conflict, such as avoidance, in the mating of garden snails.
(10.) Eckland B, Theories of mate selection, Social Biology, 1968, 15(2):71-84; Wilson EO, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1975; and Buss D, Sex differences in human mate preferences: evolutionary hypothesis tested in 37 cultures, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1989, 12(1):1-49.
Attributing the apotheosis of American democracy solely to economic and political destiny, however, would disregard new and compelling evidence from the emerging field of sociobiology, "the conjunction of biology and the various social sciences" (Wilson 1978, 7).
The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value." Possibly because he despised evolutionary psychology and sociobiology, Gould was comfortable making this distinction.