The Nature of Sociobiology and the Nurture of an Understanding of Social Behaviour essay

In the article Dale Lott reviews ‘Sociobiology: Beyond Nature/Nurture? ’ edited by George Barlow and James Silverberg. In particular, the author provides overview of sociobiology, its criticism and support, key ideas and assumptions. The edition contains 21 insightful essays written brilliantly by distinguished scholars. Their presentations are effective, valid and informative.

Some essays offer philosophical overviews presenting scientific movements, their relevance to development of sociobiology as science, whereas other essays demonstrate examples, interesting interpretations and new predictions about the future development of sociobiology. Sociobiology deals with general conception of behaviour, social organization, adaptive skills, etc. Lott stresses that the majority of sociobiologists argue human behaviour has resulted from natural selection and, thus, it is transmitted genetically from generation to generation.

This idea is the key to sociobiology because the science emphasizes biological adaptation to have evolved from natural selection. Sociobiological symposium was held to offer new evolutionary accounts in human social organization. As far as sociobiology prefers evolutionary approach, it should offer evolutionary account or to remain silent. Lott claims that “of course an approach with an environmental emphasis must account for the status quo also, but with such an approach it seems easier simultaneously to explain and reject the status quo”.

(Lott) The problem is that sociobiologists assume that status quo is inevitable because of adaptive interpretation of social organization, and sociobiologists don’t address the issues of justice in human or animal. Lott concludes that the field of sociobiology is an area, where the role of advocate and investigator are blurred, and people seem to be suspicious. Sociobiology views behaviour as genetic phenomenon and, thus, behaviour is affected by either environment or genes. The nature-nurture debate arises.

Lott hopes that contributors will shift the discussion of social behaviour to the concepts of nurture and nature. He says that dichotomy is something that can’t be easily supplanted. Lott admits the links between human behavior and genes, but he stresses that culture should not be treated as antithesis of nature. He underlines the role of nurture in modifying human behavior. He assumes that genes are not able to produce anything without the help of environment, and when scientists say that this or that human trait is inherited, they simply mean that genetic factors may explain part of its variability.

Nature and nurture are both important for patterns of social behaviour. For example, Silverberg argues that anthropologists are committed to the interactive model when considering model of social behaviour and the synthesis of nature and nurture appears later. Lott writes that “one reason for the persistence of the dichotomy may be that people find that combined perspective important but not motivating”. (Lott) He means that complex behaviour is complexly determined, and all relevant factors should be taken into account.

Lott calls for innovations in social behaviour data stressing it is necessary to take off the shoes and to run barefooted. In such symbolically way Lott shows that the field of sociobiology needs new ideas, assumptions and arguments not to become exhausted. Radical behaviourist position is needed to construct hypothetical reinforcement to account for observed behaviour. Nonetheless, he admits that behaviour is complex, and complex explanations are needed for its determining.

Nature and nurture should be considered simultaneously as they are the key determinants of social behaviour. Lott concludes that variation in social organization may fail, and thus, one-sided approach may succeed in defining complex behaviour. The positive shift in nurture-nature debate is that the number of reports is increasing and new studies tend to refer to considerations of both environment and biology in modifying human behaviour. The present study is very likely to synthesize nature and nurture at the working level.