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Author: Sophia Tutorial

This lesson will analyze biological context and sociobiology.

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What's Covered

This tutorial will explore the topic of sociobiology, through the definition and discussion of:

  1. Charles Darwin
  2. Sociobiology


Sociobiology is a theoretical approach that focuses on the relationship between human culture and human biology. This approach draws heavily from the theories of evolution presented by Charles Darwin. Sociologists use these theories to develop the theoretical platform of sociobiology.


Darwin theorized that natural selection is what causes evolution in society. Consider the example of the household plant, the orchid.The more an orchid resembles the insect that pollinates it, the more likely the insect will come to this particular orchid.

Suppose you have a set of orchids. One of them has a random genetic mutation that causes its color to be slightly different, resembling more closely the color of an insect in the natural environment. The insect is going to land on this more brightly colored orchid rather than the other orchids. It follows, then, that this orchid is more likely to become pollinated and to reproduce.

Over time, these genetic mutations can become amplified by interaction with the natural environment, causing the species to change and take on a new character. This is how natural selection works--because the orchid had a genetic mutation that made it a bit different and more desirable to the insect that pollinates it, it was able to reproduce better than the others. This same mechanism applies to human beings and human evolution as well.

Terms to Know


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

Charles Darwin

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


If your biological basis in nature is subject to the whims of natural selection and interaction with your environment, how does that influence your cultural behaviors? Does it influence them at all? Some people might say it doesn't, but it's interesting to debate the relationship between biology, culture, and society.

Since humans are biologically the same species, sociobiologists claim that people’s cultural universals—those cultural patterns that are found in all societies--can be explained by their common shared biology.

If a pattern repeats itself in many, vastly different cultures, then there must be some underlying propensity in human nature for this cultural pattern. 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 focus on this theory and commonly use cultural practices surrounding sex and the family to make their argument.


Consider polygamy versus monogamy. Polygamy involves having many sexual partners, whereas monogamy involves one. Sociobiologists argue that our desire for multiple sexual partners is determined by our biology.

Men produce billions of sperm cells in their life and continue to produce them throughout their life. If the goal of life is to have your genes pass on to the next generation, men might want to have sex with many different partners in order to increase the likelihood that one of these offspring will make it to adulthood and ensure that their genes are in the next generation.

Women, on the other hand, take a different reproductive strategy, according to sociobiologists. Women are born with all of the eggs that they're going to have in their entire life—the number of eggs is set at birth. Therefore, sociobiologists maintain, women are more selective with their mates, because they're more concerned with long-term care and investment. Since women are responsible for the birth of the child, their strategy is not one of many partners, but a strategy of one committed partner to help bring the child successfully into the world to ensure their genes in the next generation.

Think About It

How do you think sociobiologists’ theory on reproductive strategy might affect how women are treated? Although there may be some validity to biological underpinnings for reproductive strategy, this theory has been vigorously contested and largely discredited, as women have been historically subjugated to men. Culturally, women might be led to want multiple sexual partners just like men, but they've been historically repressed--something sociobiologists ignore in their explanation.

Other ideas included in an overview of sociobiological thinking and theorization include:
  • Dominant and submissive sexual subcultures, or the desire to either be dominated or to submit. Trying on these different roles 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.
  • The golden ratio. If you’ve ever seen a show on the science of sexual attraction, you might be familiar with this. The golden ratio is a 7 to 10 ratio that is tied to the theory that in the eyes of men, the most attractive women are those with a waist size that's 7/10 the size of their hips. Men are biologically hardwired to see fertility in that ratio, which is why they are attracted to it.

ExampleIf a woman’s waist is 21 inches around, then the ideal hip would be 30 inches around. This is the 7 to 10 ratio, or the golden ratio.

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

Some sociologists even make the claim that all social behavior is geared towards sex. What you wear, what you do, what you eat, even the job you have--it's all part of a display for a potential partner to get your genes into the next generation.

This may be an overly simple, naive explanation, yet there might be something to a biological basis to social behavior. Sociologists generally don't care for sociobiological explanations because they erase the need for the discipline of sociology. If all behavior can be explained by the need to reproduce and get your genes into the next generation, then there really isn't a need for sociology. Who cares about how social relationships and group participation affect behavior if it's all geared towards sex anyway?

You can see how 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-- the interplay involved between biology and culture. Sociologists might also question at what point does biological evolution become co-opted by cultural or social factors?

Think About It

There's a trend in society today of more and more people choosing to live alone. Some people are deciding to not reproduce. Some women are choosing careers over family. This runs counter to the biological imperative of reproduction, so how do you explain this?

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


Today you explored an overview sociobiology and its associated theories, which stem from the theories of evolution presented by Charles Darwin.

Good luck!

Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Zach Lamb.

Terms to Know
Charles Darwin

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


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