4 Tutorials that teach Sociobiology
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Author: Zach Lamb

This lesson will analyze biological context and sociobiology.

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Introduction to Sociology

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello, hope you're having a good day. Welcome to Sociological Studies. As always, thank you for taking the time to study society. Today, we're going to talk about sociobiology.

Sociobiology is a theoretical approach interested in the relationship between human culture and human biology. This approach draws heavily from the theories of evolution presented by Charles Darwin. And it's interested in this interplay between culture and biology.

It will be helpful to briefly review Darwin's theories of evolution before we move on to discuss how sociologists have used this in developing the theoretical platform sociobiology.

Darwin theorized that natural selection is what causes evolution in society. So let's take an example of the lovely household plant, the orchid.

The more an orchid looks like the bug that goes to pollinate it, the more likely the bug is going to come to this orchid. So suppose there's a set of orchids out there. One of them has a random genetic mutation that causes its color to be slightly different, resembling more closely the color of a bug in the natural environment. Bug's going to come land on the orchid-- the brighter-colored orchid rather than the others. So this orchid is more, in that way, likely to become pollinated, to reproduce. And so over time, these genetic mutations can become amplified by interaction with the natural environment causing the species to kind of change and take on a new character. This is how natural selection works.

Because the orchid had a genetic mutation that made it a little bit different, a little more desirable to the bug that pollinates and spreads it, it was able to reproduce better than the others. So this is the mechanism of natural selection. And this same mechanism applied to human beings and to human evolution as well.

How then does our biological basis in nature being subject to the whims of natural selection and interacting with our environment, how does that influence our cultural behaviors? Does it influence?

Some people might say it doesn't, but it's an interesting debate-- the relationship between biology, culture, and society. Humans are biologically the same species and sociobiologists have argued and made the claim that our cultural universals can be explained by our common shared biology.

Recall a cultural universal was just a cultural pattern that was found in all societies. So they would say things like, well, why does this pattern repeat itself in all of these vastly different cultures? There must be some underlying propensity in human nature towards this cultural pattern. So they theorized then, sociobiologists theorized that this underlying propensity was found in our biology.

Since Darwin theorized that the goal of life is to reproduce and pass on your genes, sociobiologists have honed in on this and commonly use sexual practices, cultural practices surrounding sex and the family to make their argument. So I've got a couple on the board here. We're going to talk about how sociobiologists might theorize these cultural practices.

For starters, polygamy versus monogamy. Polygamy is many sexual partners, monogamy is one. Sociobiologists argue that our desire for multiple sexual partners or a few is determined by our biology.

For instance, men produce billions of sperm cells in their life and continue to produce them throughout their life. So if the goal of life then is to have your genes in the next generation, men might want to have sex with many different partners in order to increase the likelihood that one of these offspring makes it to adulthood, and their genes are then in the next generation.

Whereas, women take a different reproductive strategies sociobiologists argue. Women are born with all of the eggs that they're going to have in their entire life at birth. So this leads women, sociobiologists maintain, to be more selective with their mates. Because they're more concerned with long-term care, long-term investment. Women are the ones that have to bring the child into the world, go through pregnancy. And so this leads them to be much more selective about partners. Because then for women, it's not a strategy of many partners, but a strategy one committed partner to help bring this child successfully and have the genes in the next generation then.

Granted, you might think this is strange-- I do as well. This has been hotly contested and is largely discredited-- women have been historically subjugated to men. Culturally, women might be led to want to have many sexual partners just like men, but they've been historically repressed. So this is something sociobiologists ignore in their explanation. But yet still, there is something to biological underpinnings for reproductive strategy.

Next, we have the idea of dominate and submissive sexual subcultures. To either want to be dominated or to want to submit-- try on these different roles. This could have some founding in nature, in our biology. Because if you look towards sexual reproduction in nature, it tends to take a form of more dominant submissive roles.

And now if you've ever seen any of those shows on the science of sexual attraction, you might be familiar with something that's called the golden ratio, which is a 7 to 10 ratio. And this ratio says that in the eyes of men, the most attractive women are those women that have a waist size that's 7/10 the size of their hips. So if your waist is 21 inches around, then the ideal hip would be 30 inches around. You see the 7 to 10 ratio. So this is called the golden ratio. Men are biologically hardwired to see fertility in that ratio. And that's why men like it.

So now then, turning to women. Women, sociobiologists argue, are more programmed to see taller, stronger, rugged men as more protective and as more sexually attractive. And some women even prefer facial hair or body hair in this regard because it signifies testosterone and masculinity.

Finally then, some sociologists might even make the claim that all social behavior is geared towards sex. What we wear, what we do, what we eat, even the job we have, it's all trying to show-- display for a potential partner to then get our genes in the next generation.

I think this is a very simple, naive explanation. But yet, there might be something to a biological basis to social behavior. So now I've given you a brief overview of sociobiological thinking and theorization. Sociologists proper generally don't care for sociobiological explanations because they erase the need for the discipline of sociology.

If everything can be explained by wanting to reproduce and get your genes in the next generation, all behavior is geared towards sexual reproduction, then there really isn't a need for sociology. Who cares about how social relationships affect behavior and how group participation affects behavior if it's all geared towards sex anyway? So this kind of thinking can butt heads with sociological thinking.

Sociologists might be more inclined to theorize how culture can influence biology and sexual reproduction. There's an interplay involved between biology and culture as I said at the outset. At what point does biological evolution become co-opted by cultural or social factors? It's interesting to think about.

For instance, there's a trend in society today. More and more people are living alone. Some people are deciding to go solo, not reproduce. Some women are preferencing careers over family. How do we explain this? This runs counter to the biological imperative of reproduction.

Well, you need to explain this using historical and cultural factors. Society has progressed to such a state where that kind of life choice is even possible for women. So there you're using your sociological imagination to look into history to see how then an individual woman can make the decision not to have a child. So it's naive and simple to only explain things using biology, but nonetheless it's an interesting thing to think about the relationship between biology and culture.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this tutorial on sociobiology. Have a great rest of your day.

  • Charles Darwin

    A 19th century scientist world-famous for the theory of evolution by natural selection.

  • Sociobiology

    An approach to sociology which explains how culture is affected by human biology.