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The sociobiology is an evolutionarily oriented branch of behavioral biology , which was founded in the 1940s in the United States. She explores the biological basis of the forms of social behavior in all types of social organisms, including humans . The term sociobiology was popularized in 1975 by Edward O. Wilson in his work Sociobiology: The New Synthesis , which, however, has since criticized sociobiology unusually harshly (see criticism).

Sociobiology analyzes the biological processes on which the organization in social associations is based, for example between parents and their offspring or within termite colonies , flocks of birds, baboon hordes and groups of hunters and gatherers . The really new thing about this discipline is the merging of older approaches from ethology and psychology with new results from field studies and laboratory tests as well as the interpretation of the whole on the basis of modern genetics , ecology and population biology .

For the first time, (human) societies are strictly explored as populations . In doing so, the scientists use those instruments that were expressly developed within biology for the investigation of these higher organizational units. The previous research subject of ethology - the comprehensive animal behavior patterns with special consideration of the adaptation of animals to their natural environment - was used to lay the foundations for sociobiology. The ethology remains an independent discipline, which complements the sociobiology in its direction and its research subject.

Evolution of social behavior

In contrast to ethology (classical comparative behavioral research), which aimed to describe behavior as precisely as possible , sociobiology also aims to understand the mechanisms that have produced certain behavior in the course of tribal history. The focus is on considering the adaptive value of social behavior as a component of the overall behavior of the species.

The Soziobiologie assumes an unlimited replication trend (increase trend) of the genes from. DNA molecular chains are the carriers of the genes and have the ability to constantly make copies of themselves in a suitable biochemical environment. Genes are characterized by the fact that, unlike any mortal body, they can last for generations and have numerous possibilities for new combinations, especially during sexual reproduction. The form of expression of the genotype , which in each case represents a unique combination of genes, is the phenotype , i.e. the physical and behavioral characteristics of the individual that are expressed on the basis of the information contained in the genotype.

The phenotype - and behavior as one of its aspects - forms the immediate starting point for the selection process (selection process). Well-adapted phenotypes are characterized by high reproduction rates. That is, their genes can spread over the genes of less well-adapted phenotypes. Genes that equip their carriers with behaviors that enable them to use the time and energy available to them in the fight for scarce resources more successfully than competing individuals or conspecifics are favored. In short: you secure survival or expansion advantages. The measure of the suitability of a gene is therefore the frequency of its occurrence in the next generation.

To simplify matters, sociobiology assumes that genes - and not groups or species - are the units on which selection begins. Contrary to what is assumed by group selection theory, behaviors that try to achieve the best for a certain group or species are not favored, but selection takes place on the individual.

Sociobiology offers various approaches to explain the development of altruistic behavior:

Relatives selection

The principle of kinship selection (also: kin selection) states that the overall fitness ( inclusive fitness ) of a gene can be read from two components:

  1. the suitability in an individual himself,
  2. in the spread through relatives.

As a result, behavior in selection will prove itself which maximizes the distribution and suitability of the genes not only individually but also through relatives. The closer two individuals are related to each other, the more likely it is that they are carriers of the same genes. Altruistic (non-egoistic) behavior towards relatives increases the spread of one's own genes and is all the more rewarding the higher the degree of kinship. All strategies to maximize the spread of individuals and their genes are subject to evolution and the occurring environmental changes, which means that it is a dynamic process.

Reciprocal altruism

Another explanation is the concept of reciprocal altruism : A "helper gene" can prevail if it is of benefit to the helper, e.g. B. if as a result he can also become the recipient of help himself.

Sociobiology of Man

The attempt to apply sociobiological knowledge to humans is relatively new. Here it competes with bio-sociological approaches (for the delimitation of the two terms see there ).

The complexity of human behavior and the presence of culture make research difficult. Nevertheless, sociobiology has endeavored to use studies of human societies to show that human behavior is also subject to natural selection and has an adaptive character. Correspondences in the behavior of people from different societies indicate the presence of biological factors and can be explained with the help of the theory of evolution : So even in far apart human cultures, as largely in the animal world, we find similar behavior patterns that offered a selection advantage. These obviously include the maternal protection and care instinct towards the young, the competition of the males for the females, which gives the better able-bodied preferential mating opportunities, furthermore the willingness to for the time being a highly personal property, an established pair bond, a foreign territory, a hierarchy that has once been fought out to respect and thereby relieve the community of permanent conflicts.

Research into the biological basis of social behavior in animals suggests that human biology also has certain behavioral dispositions that have played an important role in the development of legal behavioral regulations and continue to do so. It is likely that even fragmentary elements of our morality and therefore our in such innate behavioral dispositions sense of justice , and consequently our conceptions of justice are. It can be assumed here, however, that the biologically predetermined behavioral dispositions only become effective as fragmentary behavioral motivations that leave room for freedom and need to be supplemented by culturally created behavioral systems if an orderly coexistence is to be possible in a complex community. Some of these ideas are preceded by the old doctrine of the “inclinationes naturales”, that is, the natural inclinations of human beings that guide community life. In antiquity such thoughts were found in Aristotle and in the Stoa , and in the Middle Ages also in Thomas Aquinas .

While conventional sociobiology initially only dealt with the analysis of general behaviors, their meaning, their advantages and their genetic basis, taking into account the respective environmental situation, many aspects of human action could only be explained by the assumption of a coevolution of genetic inheritance and cultural transmission of behavior become. This assumption enabled an integrative view of biology and social or human sciences ; it was formulated , for example, by Konrad Lorenz in his book The Back of the Mirror . This notion of an interplay between cultural development and human biology (a “gene-culture coevolution”) tries to overcome the contradiction between the genetic determination of human behavior and cultural development. It assumes that there is an interaction between the genetic transmission of behavior and the transmission of cultural information. In their view, the development of the human mind was the result of certain genetically controlled physical processes. Only then was it possible to develop a culture which in turn had an effect on the spiritual development of man. Just like genetically determined ones, cultural behaviors are also subject to natural selection. That is, there are well-adapted and less well-adapted behaviors, with behaviors that are better adapted due to their genetic make-up, ultimately spreading more frequently. So human culture is the result of positive selection. Certain mental abilities have proven to be beneficial in terms of evolution. With the help of his culture, man has been able to better solve problems such as self-preservation and reproduction and has gained advantages in adapting to given environmental conditions.

Nevertheless, genetic and cultural evolution differ in essential characteristics. In the former, genetic information is passed on through the mechanism of reproduction. This results in constant, continuous, but less flexible development and adaptation. Cultural evolution is based on traditional knowledge and individual experiences that are stored, processed, varied and finally passed on to the offspring in the brain. It thereby includes the possibility of greater flexibility and faster adaptation, but can be more volatile. This explains the diversity of cultures and the great speed with which human development has taken place. It can therefore be said that the cultural as well as the genetic transmission of information is in the service of successful reproduction.

Criticism of sociobiological research

With the attempt to transfer sociobiology to humans, a sharp criticism of this discipline also arose. The critics turned against the assumption of a genetic determination of human behavior. Sociobiology overestimates the biological determinism of human behavior and presupposes certain, empirically not verifiable events in evolution as given. Sociobiologists should understand inequality of groups of people as natural and inevitable, since human behavior is biologically determined for them. Sociobiologists posit natural gender differences or differences between ethnic groups as explanations for power hierarchies. In his book Race, Evolution, and Behavior , John Philippe Rushton placed Asians, Caucasians and Blacks in a hierarchical order and assumed that there are genetically determined intelligence and personality differences between the three groups.

Sociobiology is controversial because of its statements about the determination of human behavior.

Critics argue that it is easy to construct sociobiological explanations about evolution and the basis of human action, but that these are pseudo-explanations that reinforce unsubstantiated assumptions. According to Richard Lewontin , sociobiological theories are carefully constructed so that they cannot be tested and the explanations given by sociobiologists are "imaginative" stories. Sociobiologists would neglect knowledge of genetics. For example, according to sociobiologists, such characteristics as xenophobia , religion and ethics are coded in the genes and cultural differences are genetically determined, although empirical findings speak against them. In addition, sociobiologists would try to make their explanations of complex behaviors appear more plausible by making inadmissible comparisons to the animal kingdom, for example by explaining slavery by referring to some species of ants , attacking the ant nests of other species, carrying off the brood and then voluntarily taking the eggs and pupae in the foreign Nest work (see social parasitism in ants ). The designation of the egoistic gene as the “engine of being” was criticized as a catchphrase of a heresy and as a simplistic explanation of human evolution. Sociobiology is cited by critics as a manifestation of biologism because it tries to reduce psychological and social phenomena in an inadmissible way to biological processes. The evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr criticized the sociobiologists as reductionist : They viewed living beings as “a bean bag full of genes”, oversaw the overall context, and ignored entire phases such as embryonic development . The anthropologist Marshall Sahlins emphasized the role of culture, according to which human behavior is determined not only by biological factors, but also by cultural aspects such as language, gestures and artistic expression.

Sociobiologists responded to this criticism by emphasizing that sociobiology endeavors to research the nature of man and his social behavior solely on the basis of scientific evidence without ethical and moral assessments or political objectives.

In the meantime, the sociobiologist and eponym of sociobiology, Edward O. Wilson, himself has sharply criticized sociobiology, considering that the overall fitness theory is not scientifically founded. Wilson said of sociobiology:

“The old paradigm of social evolution, which after four decades has almost enjoyed saint status, has failed. His argument from relative selection as a process to Hamilton's inequality as a condition for cooperation to overall fitness as the Darwinian status of the colony members does not work. If relatives are selected at all in animals, then only in the case of a weak form of selection that occurs only under easily vulnerable special conditions. As the subject of general theory, overall fitness is a deceptive mathematical construct; Under no circumstances can it be construed as having any real biological meaning. "

To this day, Wilson's criticism divides science and biology in the socially and politically topical question of whether there are genetically determined intelligence and personality differences between peoples or social classes. According to Wilson, the interpretation of gene-culture coevolution is clearly refuted with the extreme case of adopted Aborigines . He writes that "toddlers from hunter-gatherer societies who grow up with adoptive families in technologically advanced societies become competent members of those societies - although the child's lineage separated from that of the adoptive parents 45,000 years ago!" extends Wilson to the understanding of gene-culture coevolution that the intrinsic evolution of human societies into civilizations over the past 45,000 years or more should be viewed as a cultural rather than a genetic process.

An answer to the open question why mind and culture did not develop in Australia can be found in the historian Ian Morris. According to Morris' approach, not because the Aborigines are more stupid in their nature or genes, but because of the number of domesticated plants and animals in the geography in question. According to Morris, of the 56 grasses with the largest, most nutritious seeds, 33 are wildly native to southwest Asia and the Mediterranean, while only two are native to Australia. It looks similar with farm animals. Many of his fellow historians, however, react to this approach of interpreting the development of societies from geography and not from the assumed characteristics of the peoples or people concerned, according to Morris "like a bull on a red cloth".

In 2013, Edward O. Wilson wrote: “In the meantime, there is increasing evidence against the basic assumptions of kin selection and the overall fitness theory.” And Bernd Ehlert asked in 2019: “Why do scientists still hold on to the paradigm of sociobiology, although this theory has been empirically refuted has been? Is it because the classification of spirit and culture under determining genetic laws fits so well with right attitudes? "

Eminent sociobiologists

See also


  • Richard Dawkins : The Selfish Gene . Berlin 1978.
  • Gereon Wolters : Sociobiology , in: Jürgen Mittelstraß (Hrsg.): Encyclopedia Philosophy and Philosophy of Science. 2nd Edition. Volume 7: Re - Te. Stuttgart, Metzler 2018, ISBN 978-3-476-02106-9 , pp. 443 - 446 (brief description and criticism; detailed bibliography)
  • Sebastian Linke: Darwin's heirs in the media. A science and media-sociological case study on the renaissance of sociobiology. transcript, Bielefeld 2007.
  • Heinz-Georg Marten: Social biologism: basic biological positions in the history of political ideas. Frankfurt: Campus, 1983. ISBN 3-593-33074-1 .
  • Dirk Richter: The Failure of the Biologization of Sociology. On the status of the discussion about sociobiology and other evolutionary theoretical approaches. In: Cologne journal for sociology and social psychology. Volume 57, No. 3, September 2005, pp. 523-542. doi: 10.1007 / s11577-005-0187-4
  • Peter Singer: Ethics and Sociobiology (PDF; 678 kB). In: Philosophy & Public Affairs. 11, No. 11, 1982, pp. 40-64.
  • Eckart Voland : The nature of man. Basic course in sociobiology. Beck, Munich 2007
  • Eckart Voland: Sociobiology. The evolution of cooperation and competition. Spectrum, Heidelberg 2009.
  • Thomas P. Weber: Sociobiology. 2003.
  • Wolfgang Wickler : The Biology of the Ten Commandments. Piper, Munich 1975
  • Margaret Gruter: The Importance of Behavioral Science for Law. Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1976.
  • Wolfgang Wickler , Uta Seibt: The principle of self-interest. On the evolution of social behavior. Piper, Munich / Zurich 1991, ISBN 3-492-11309-5 (new edition).
  • Edward O. Wilson : Sociobiology: the new synthesis. Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1978.
  • Edward O. Wilson: On Human Nature. Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1978.
  • Edward O. Wilson: Biology as Fate. The sociobiological foundations of human behavior. Ullstein, Munich 1980, ISBN 3-550-07684-3 .
  • Edward O. Wilson: The Social Conquest of the Earth. Beck, Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-406-64530-3 .
  • Gunther S. Stent (Ed.): Morality as a Biological Phenomenon. 1978
  • Frank-Hermann Schmidt: Behavioral research and law. Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1982, ISBN 3-428-05099-1 .
  • Margaret Gruter, Manfred Rehbinder (Ed.): Rejection - Avoidance - Exclusion. Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1986, ISBN 3-428-06015-6 .
  • Hans Mohr : Nature and Morals: Ethics in Biology. Special edition. Knowledge Buchges., Darmstadt 1995.
  • Reinhold Zippelius : Law and Justice in the Open Society. 2nd Edition. Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1996, chap. 7 III and 8, ISBN 3-428-08661-9 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Sociobiology  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Wilson 1980, foreword
  2. ^ Arnd Krüger : The ritual in modern sport. A sociobiological approach. John Marshall Carter, Arnd Krüger (eds.): Ritual and Record. Sports records and quantification in pre-modern societies. (= Contributions to the study of world history, Vol. 17). Westport, Conn .: Greenwood, 1990. ISBN 0-313-25699-3 , pp. 135-152.
  3. a b Reinhold Zippelius : Philosophy of Law. 6th edition. §§ 8 I, 19 IV 1
  4. Maximilian Forschner : About acting in harmony with nature, basics of ethical understanding. 1998, p. 50 ff .; ders., Thomas Aquinas. 2006, p. 114 ff.
  5. ^ J. Muñoz-Rubio: Sociobiology and human nature. In: Interdisciplinary Science Reviews. 27, No. 2, June 2002, pp. 131-141. doi: 10.1179 / 030801802225002980 .
  6. ^ A b Walda Katz Fishman, Jan M. Fritz: The Politics of Sociobiology. In: Critical Sociology. 10, No. 1, July 1980, pp. 32-37. doi: 10.1177 / 089692058001000104 .
  7. Allan Ardill: Sociobiology, Racism and Australian Colonization . In: Griffith Law Review. 18, No. 1, 2009, pp. 82-113.
  8. a b Ethel Tobach, Betty Rosoff (Ed.): Challenging Racism and Sexism: Alternatives to Genetic Explanations. Feminist Press at the City University of New York, New York 1994, ISBN 1-55861-089-8 , pp. 76 f .
  9. ^ A b Halford H. Fairchild: Scientific Racism: The Cloak of Objectivity. (PDF; 802 kB). In: Journal of Social Issues. Volume 47, No. 3, 1991, pp. 101-115. doi: 10.1111 / j.1540-4560.1991.tb01825.x .
  10. ^ A b Richard Lewontin : Sociobiology: Another Biological Determinism. In: International Journal of Health Services. Volume 10, No. 3, 1980, pp. 347-363. doi: 10.2190 / 7826-DPXC-KA90-3MPR .
  11. P. Morsbach: The emergence of society: Natural history of human social behavior . Verlag Buch & Media, 2001, ISBN 3-935284-42-X .
  12. ^ Theresa Marché (1994): A Reply to Mark Sidelnick: No More Pseudoscience, Please. In: Studies in Art Education . Volume 35, No. 2, 1994, pp. 114-116.
  13. A. Maryanski: The Pursuit of Human Nature in Sociobiology and Evolutionary Sociology. In: Sociological Perspectives. 37, No. 3, 1994, pp. 375-389.
  14. E. Allen et al. a .: Sociobiology: Another Biological Determinism . In: BioScience . Baynd 26, No. 3, 1976, pp. 182-186.
  15. P. Morsbach: The myth of the selfish gene - analysis of a heresy. Allitera Verlag, 2005, ISBN 3-86520-146-6 .
  16. MB Brewer, LR Caporael: Selfish genes vs. selfish people: Sociobiology as origin myth. In: Motivation and Emotion. Volume 14, No. 4, December 1990, pp. 237-243. doi: 10.1007 / BF00996182 .
  17. ^ John Scott, Gordon Marshall: A Dictionary of Sociology . Oxford University Press , Oxford 2009, ISBN 978-0-19-953300-8 , p. 43 .
  18. Mario Augusto Bunge: Emergence and convergence: qualitative novelty and the unity of knowledge . University of Toronto Press, Toronto 2004, ISBN 0-8020-8860-0 , p. 154 .
  19. ^ Evandro Agazzi, Jan Faye: The problem of the unity of science . World Scientific , River Edge (NJ) 2001, ISBN 981-02-4791-5 , pp. 141 f .
  20. Marcus Anhäuser: The true egoist cooperates. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung. October 26, 2006.
  21. ^ Marshall Sahlins: The Use and Abuse of Biology: An Anthropological Critique of Sociobiology . University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 1976, ISBN 0-472-08777-0 , pp. 65 f.
  22. Wilson: The Social Conquest of the Earth. 2013, p. 213.
  23. Wilson: The Social Conquest of the Earth. 2013, p. 221.
  24. Wilson: The Social Conquest of the Earth. 2013, p. 127.
  25. cf. Wilson: The social conquest of the earth. 2013, p. 127.
  26. cf. Morris: Who rules the world , 2011, p. 124
  27. cf. Morris: Who rules the world , 2011, p. 38
  28. Wilson: The Social Conquest of the Earth. 2013, p. 207
  29. Bernd Ehlert: The falsification of sociobiology in favor of the evolution of spirit, culture and democracy. In: Enlightenment and Criticism - Journal for Free Thought and Humanistic Philosophy , Edition 4/2019, p. 162