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Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

"study of the biological basis of social behavior," 1946, from socio- + biology. Related: Sociobiological.


n. The science that applies the principles of evolutionary biology to the study of social behaviour in both humans and animals


n. the branch of biology that conducts comparative studies of the social organization of animals (including human beings) with regard to its evolutionary history


Sociobiology is a field of scientific study that is based on the hypothesis that social behavior has resulted from evolution and attempts to examine and explain social behavior within that context. It is a branch of biology that deals with social behavior, and also draws from ethology, anthropology, evolution, zoology, archaeology, population genetics, and other disciplines. Within the study of human societies, sociobiology is closely allied to the fields of Darwinian anthropology, human behavioral ecology and evolutionary psychology.

Sociobiology investigates social behaviors, such as mating patterns, territorial fights, pack hunting, and the hive society of social insects. It argues that just as selection pressure led to animals evolving useful ways of interacting with the natural environment, it led to the genetic evolution of advantageous social behavior.

While the term "sociobiology" can be traced to the 1940s, the concept did not gain major recognition until the publication of Edward O. Wilson's book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis in 1975. The new field quickly became the subject of controversy. Criticism, most notably from Richard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould, centered on the contention that genes play a role in human behavior and that traits such as aggressiveness can be explained by biology rather than social environment. Sociobiologists responded to the criticism by pointing to the complex relationship between nature and nurture. Anthropologist John Tooby and psychologist Leda Cosmides founded the field of evolutionary psychology.

Usage examples of "sociobiology".

They may be invoked to privilege the personal, to protect us from a crassly reductionist biology - at its worst, vulgar sociobiology - but such attempts at privilege merely serve to harden the resolve of biological reductionists, and to encourage the fragmentation of our understanding of what can ultimately only be understood as a unitary world.

For the sociobiology debate, see, on the one side, Wilson, E O sociobiology, the new Synthesis, Harvard University Press, 1975, or Dawkins, R The Selfish Gene, Oxford, 1976, and these two authors' several subsequent books.