Overview of Dominant Approaches to Human Behavioural Evolution

So, here’s an overview of current Schools of Thought tackling Human Behavioural Evolution:

School Neo-Darwinistic Sociobiology Human Behavioural Ecology Environmental Psychology Dual-Inverse Theory Memetics
Focus of selection Gene / individual / group Individual / behaviour Individual / behaviour / psychological
Individual / group / gene / culture variantPotential / predicted impact on genetic and cultural fitness Meme / gene
Measure of natural selection Reproductive success or proxy measure of
Reproductive success of proxy measure of
fitness (enegetic balance)
Potential / predicted impact on reproductive
success / fitness
Potential / predicted impact on genetic and
cultural fitness
Potential impact on genic and memic fitness
Methodology Genic functionalism- construct genic level
fitness enhancing / optimality models, test data against them
Test data against optimality models,
ecological expectations / prediction models from behavioral ecology
Construct selection scenarios and describe
predicted fitness increasing strategies, test with datasets
Construct mathematical and conceptual models
and simulations, sometimes test with datasets
Construct selection scenarios, controlled
thought experiments
Core causes of evolution of human behaviour Genetic evolution produces both human general
behavioural capacities and specific behavioural patterns / strategies
Behaviour and behavioural strategies arise
from adaptation to ecological and other selective pressures
Psychological mechanisms (and thus behaviour)
arose/arise through adaptation to pressures of the Environment or
Evolutionary Adaptiveness (Pleistocene) and Adaptivity Relevant Environments
Gene-culture coevolution results in patterns
of complex, symbolic and linguistic human behaviour
Selfish meme replication and meme-gene
coevolution result in most human behaviour
Basic premise(s) Humans are very complex and highly social
animals whose behaviour is best analyzed via Neo-Darwinian approaches
Humans, while highly adaptable, can be modeled
using same premises as other animals, socioecological contexts drive most
selection pressures
Human universals and human behavioural
strategies are reflections of adapted modules (psychological mechanisms) in
the mind
Humans are under genic and group selection for
physical and cultural traits; culture and genetic co-evolve via natural
Memes/memeplexes are primarily responsible for
human behavioural variation and culture
Data Ethnographic datasets, observations,
comparisons with other animals especially primates, fossil record
Behaviour observations, physiological and
ecological measurements, ethnographic datasets
Questionnaires, surveys, interviews,
demographic and behavioural datasets, public records
Ethnographic datasets, mathematical models Popular ethnography, survey and interviews,
general cultural information

Adapted from Fuentes, A. (2009), Evolution of Human Behavior, Oxford University Press, Oxford/New York, p. 60-61.

2 Responses to “Overview of Dominant Approaches to Human Behavioural Evolution”

  1. Cheryl E. Fitzgerald says:

    I would be interested in knowing your own thoughts about all of this. (No rush on that, of course, as I would hope to get something a bit in-depth. Perhaps something for a future post?)
    Is Fuentes merely giving a survey of the competing theories of human behavior, or is he also offering his own perspectives of those theories and which, if any, he thinks are on the right track?
    Do you recommend the book? (Perhaps more specifically, can you make any comparison between this and others you may have read that you found very good?)

    I certainly find this sort of topic *highly* interesting despite never having studied it. But alas, what *don’t* I find interesting? Too much to ever study it all, or even half…

  2. Jelte says:

    Fuentes is attempting an overview. I’ll try to honour your request for my detailed take on all this when the time is ripe. For now, I will say this much:
    (1) The five strands that Fuentes isolates are highly theoretical in nature, and make suspiciously little use of palaeontology, archaeology and mammal/primate/hominid behaviour studies. I suspect Fuentes would agree.
    (2) The difference between the tabulated theoretical approaches hinges largely on the choice of unit of analysis: groups, kin, individuals, genes; cultural units, memes. Whether implicitly or explicitly, these disparate approaches are going to have to take a stand on Reduction somewhere.

    Yes, I recommend the book highly. It’s the most up-to-date single-volume treatment on the issue that I know of. Although it can hardly avoid being sparing in detail, it provides a good platform for deeper exploration.

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