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Why Do Individuals Make Personal
Sacrifices to Benefit a Group?
All theories of human behavior recognize that individuals must relinquish some of their freedoms to socialize within a group. The similarities largely end there. Researchers still dispute the underlying human nature and motivations driving sociality the compromises that individuals make, the mechanisms they use, and the means by which they maintain these social groups.
Today sociobiology dominates both popular and scientific examinations of sociality. In sum, this theory maintains that humans lack the potential for genuine moral and social development. They are ruthlessly selfish, controlled by their genetic heritage, and relentlessly controlled by an intense drive to compete with others for natural resources and reproductive advantage. Few theories today present the case that primate and human sociality may be driven by factors other than aggression and self-interest.
The proponents of sociobiology are being challenged by researchers who offer alternative theories based on more comprehensive data analysis and more scientifically valid ways to understand the biological bases of cooperative behavior. Their work is presented in "The Origin and Nature of Sociality," a new book edited by Robert W. Sussman, AAAS fellow/member and professor of anthropology, Washington University, St. Louis, Mo., and Audrey R. Chapman, AAAS's director of science and human rights programs. It is an outgrowth of activities conducted under the auspices of AAAS's Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion, which strives to facilitate discussion among scientists, ethicists and religion scholars on critical multidisciplinary issues.
This volume presents research from the study of primates, other social animals, paleoanthropology, and small-scale human societies to understand the nature of the adjustments necessary to live successfully in social groups. Authors identify mechanisms, such as the emotional and social bonds that are formed during maturation and the affiliative skills practiced throughout life, that influence cooperative behavior, social bonding and parenting. Hormonal, neurological and genetic factors also influence sociality and its evolution.
"As we know from recent history, some 'scientific' theories, such as social Darwinism and eugenics, can become very powerful both among scientists and the general public, and yet they can be very, very wrong," the editors write. "This volume presents ample evidence that there are alternative and more convincing hypotheses that may lead to better explanations and to a better understanding of patterns of nonhuman and human primate sociality."
The authors of chapters in the volume come from a diversity of fields. Written for both an academic and educated popular audience, the book is also designed for use in undergraduate and graduate courses. "We hope to stimulate discussion and controversy as well as an impetus for others to delve into theories at odds with those now in vogue," said Chapman.
"The Origins and Nature of Sociality" (ISBN No. 0-202-30730-1) can be ordered from Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble ($65.95 hardcover; $32.95 paperback; plus shipping and handling). AAAS members receive 5 percent off the online price of all products purchased through the AAAS/Barnes & Noble.com online bookstore.
2 June 2004