Human ethology

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The human ethology is a branch of behavioral biology , which in the light, that man is the result of a long evolutionary 's developmental series, especially those behaviors explored our species that can be considered as innate, or have the innate principles. Modern human ethology includes the results of classical ethology , sociobiology and, for example, learning theory (see, for example, proximate and ultimate causes of behavior ). The best-known German-speaking researcher and founder of this area is Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt . In the German-speaking countries, for example, Norbert Bischof , Doris Bischof-Köhler , Karl Grammer , Gabriele Haug-Schnabel and Wulf Schiefenhövel are scientifically “related” habilitated scientists .

This search for human behavior, which occurs in almost the same form in the most varied of cultures, has repeatedly provoked spirited disputes. Because it contradicts already at the outset beliefs according to which the human being is determined in his development solely through education (i.e. through learning ).

In the meantime, however, it has become widely accepted that the innate foundations of behavior (e.g. controlling the facial muscles when smiling ) and learned behavioral patterns together shape human behavior: through education and culture, for example, innate foundations that are socially and psycho-hygienically beneficial become the Part reinforced; others often turn out to be burdens that can make social coexistence more difficult and are often culturally weakened and suppressed.

Research approaches and research topics

From the human evolution derivable, innate behaviors are investigated by the Humanethologen with different research approaches:

  • Innate behavior in newborns: In newborns, it has been shown, for example, that they breathe spontaneously without any previous experience that could be explained through learning, cling to thin objects (even on hanging clotheslines!) With their hands and scream loudly. In the case of children born deaf and blind, it was possible to demonstrate that they laugh, cry and blush like children who can see and hear and that they are able to use the characteristic facial expressions of embarrassment - these behaviors are also included in human behavior without learning.
  • Innate cognitive performance: Investigations into the innate recognition of certain behavior patterns (especially: the facial expressions of other people) have made it very likely that people interpret certain stimulus features (for example the relative height of the nose in relation to the eyes) in a certain way without special prior experience - and that the camel is therefore rated as “haughty” because it wears its nose very high on the head in relation to the eyes.
  • Comparison of the sequence of developmental steps in toddlers: It has been shown, for example, that learning a language (or even several languages) is much easier during a period of life that is apparently particularly susceptible to this than later in adult life.
  • Cross-cultural behavioral research: The evaluation of behavioral logs and film recordings of people from different cultures showed that many social behaviors are largely the same. Toddlers are caressed in a similar way everywhere by their mothers, for example stroking and kissing. In all cultures, mothers speak to toddlers in particularly high voices and nod to them. Furthermore, the stare is seen everywhere as threatening, the eye greeting, however, as an expression of joyful recognition.
  • Comparing the behavior of humans and apes : This comparison made it possible, for example, mutual hugging and teeth showing in a great rage as old primate heritage to identify.

On the basis of empirical research results of this kind, human ethology attempts to trace the foundations of culturally conditioned traditions back to inherited building blocks of behavior. So were u. a. The willingness to be subordinate and obedient, but also the striving for recognition, the intolerance towards outsiders, but also the tendency to selflessness and to establish friendly contacts with other people can be traced back to inherited, i.e. biologically explainable mechanisms. Such far-reaching statements, which have hardly ever been supported by clear experimental evidence, are, however, controversial.

In human ethological research, behaviors are not only examined in part not only in the context of their opponents (or antagonists, for example aggression and inhibition of aggression ), but also in their interconnection with learning (for example life history, "instinct-cultural interconnections") and with the intellect ( Nikolaas Tinbergen , Nicolai Hartmann ).

Human ethology in archeology

The concepts of cultural ethology and the meme developed in the 1970s prompted archaeologists to think about new explanations for the handing down of Paleolithic tools. Artifacts (for example hand axes ) are therefore not only tools, but also carriers of memetically transported traditions and reflect a collective memory of Homo erectus . This approach implied the possibility of the opposite: hand axes arise from ethologically obvious knowledge without necessarily being passed on.

The work by Joachim Hahn , published in 1986, about the thesis that the body language of small art works of the Aurignacien of the Swabian Alb transports strength and aggression , which is derived from the transfer of animal defensive or attacking postures to the manufacturers of the figures, received international attention . This created a plausible link between the ethological features of an animal totem for its wearer.

Around the same time, researchers led by David Lewis-Williams presented for the first time an approach to interpreting paleolithic petroglyphs and cave painting , which compared the ethological aspects of trance states in works of art from the Upper Paleolithic with recent phenomena. The research of such states of consciousness in prehistoric people, which can be derived from human ethology (because they are neurobiological), is also summarized as " cognitive archeology ".

With the establishment of human ethology as an independent science, interest is increasingly directed towards concrete gestures and body language in prehistoric works of art, especially from the Neolithic and more recent prehistoric epochs. The introduction of the topic in archaeological literature was largely initiated by human ethologists themselves. Only recently have human ethological findings been used to interpret archaeological finds.

A permanent exhibition on “human understanding” in the Monrepos Research Center and Museum for Human Behavioral Evolution in Neuwied explains how early human history determines our behavior to this day.


Web links

Wiktionary: Human ethology  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Thomas Wynn: The intelligence of later Acheulean hominids. In: Man. New Series. Volume 14, No. 3, 1979, pp. 371-391, doi: 10.2307 / 2801865
  2. Joachim Hahn: Strength and Aggression. The message of Ice Age art in the Aurignacia of southern Germany? (= Archaeologica Venatoria. Volume. 7). Tübingen 1986, ISBN 3-921618-74-X .
  3. ^ JD Lewis-Williams et al: The Signs of All Times: Entoptic Phenomena in Upper Palaeolithic Art (and Comments and Reply). In: Current Anthropology Vol. 29, No. 2, 1988, pp. 201-245.
  4. ^ DJ Lewis-Williams, J. Clottes: The mind in the cave - the cave in the mind: altered consciousness in the Upper Palaeolithic. In: Anthropology of Consciousness Volume 9, No. 1, 1998, pp. 13-21, doi: 10.1525 / ac.1998.9.1.13 .
  5. ^ DJ Lewis-Williams, J. Clottes: The Shamans of prehistory: trance magic and the painted caves. Abrams, New York 1998, ISBN 0-8109-4182-1 .
  6. Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt , Christa Sütterlin: Under the spell of fear. On the natural and art history of human defense symbolism. Piper, Munich / Zurich 1992, ISBN 3-492-03387-3 .
  7. Christa Sütterlin: Ethological aspects of the gesture of female shame presentation. In: Ethnographic-Archaeological Journal. Volume 34, No. 3, 1993, pp. 354-379.
  8. Erika Qasim: Statuettes of women - two gestures as part of the representation. In: ArchaeNova eV (Ed.): First Temples - Early Settlements. Isensee, Oldenburg 2009, ISBN 978-3-89995-563-7 , pp. 161-185.
  9. ^ Adeline Schebesch : Five Anthropomorphic Figurines of the Upper Paleolithic - Communication Through Body Language. In: Communications from the Society for Prehistory. Volume 22, 2013, pp. 61–100, full text (PDF) ( Memento from March 4, 2016 in the Internet Archive )
  10. Adeline Schebesch: The Lion Man - a being with body language. ( Memento from February 25, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 2.1 MB)
  11. ^ Website of the Monrepos permanent exhibition human understanding