Sociobiology Research Paper Example

This sample Sociobiology Research Paper is published for educational and informational purposes only. If you need help writing your assignment, please use our research paper writing service and buy a paper on any topic at affordable price. Also check our tips on how to write a research paper, see the lists of research paper topics, and browse research paper examples.

The scientific study of the social behavior of biological systems from an evolutionary perspective is known as sociobiology, a term coined by the entomologist and biologist Edward O. Wilson in 1975. Researchers from a diverse array of disciplines including biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and archaeology study social behavior from a sociobiological perspective. According to this perspective, the social behavior of animals, including humans, has been shaped by the process of natural selection in which any behavior that increases the ability of an individual to live to reproductive age and to successfully reproduce subsequently becomes more prevalent in future generations. Sociobiologists therefore attempt to understand how current social behavior would have provided a reproductive advantage to individuals of previous generations. To facilitate this process researchers identify problems that social beings recurrently faced over evolutionary history and then determine the behaviors that would have been adaptive to successfully deal with these problems. The term sociobiology has now largely been replaced with the term evolutionary psychology. Using this approach, researchers have found empirical support for the evolutionary origins of a number of social behaviors including mate attraction and selection, helping behaviors, and aggression.

Mate Attraction And Selection

One of the most influential theories of mating behavior is the parental investment theory proposed by Robert L. Trivers in 1972. Trivers postulated that in sexually reproducing species the sex that invests the most in offspring will be more selective in whom they choose as mates whereas the sex that invests the least in offspring will compete more with each other for sexual access to the more selective sex. In humans, the minimal parental investment that a woman must expend on a child involves the nine months of gestation and parturition, plus a period of lactation that can last from several months to a few years. For men, the minimal parental investment can conceivably involve a single sexual encounter. Given that women are a more limited reproductive resource, competition among men to mate with women should have been stronger during evolutionary history than competition among women to mate with men. Consistent with the predictions derived from this theory, research has shown that men are more willing than women to take advantage of short-term sexual opportunities with different mates. In comparison, given the higher costs of reproduction for women, they are more selective than men in whom they choose as sexual partners and tend to desire longer-term relationships.

Parental investment theory also makes predictions regarding the traits men and women should find attractive in each other. If men tend to prefer short-term sexual opportunities to maximize their reproductive success, then they face the problem of identifying which women are fertile. Certain physical cues are associated with fertility, and it has been found that men are more attracted to women that possess these physical traits. For example, women with a waist-to-hip ratio around .70 (where the waist is 70 percent the size of the hips, producing a curvy appearance) and women with more feminine facial features (e.g., larger eyes, smaller chin) have been found to possess high amounts of estrogen and thus are relatively more fertile. Men are also more attracted to young women, perhaps because women’s fertility continually declines through their adult years. By contrast, if women tend to prefer long-term relationships so that their high parental investment can be offset by investments from their mate, then they face the problem of identifying mates that have the ability to accumulate status and resources that can then be shared with themselves and their offspring. Research shows that women are attracted to men with good financial prospects, men who have social status, and men that are more ambitious. Women are also more attracted to men who are older than themselves, because older men have had more opportunity to turn their ambition into actual status and resources.

Once a relationship is formed, people face the problem of maintaining the relationship. David M. Buss (2000) has suggested that for humans jealousy was an important adaptation for maintaining relationships because people who became upset when they were in danger of losing their partner would have experienced greater reproductive success than those who did not. He also suggested that women and men should differ in the types of cues that activate their jealousy. Whereas a woman can be confident that she is in fact the mother of her children, because of internal fertilization, a man cannot be certain that he is the father. Paternity uncertainty should therefore have made men more sensitive to cues of sexual infidelity of their partners and wary of rivals that are friendly or flirtatious with their partners to ensure that their partner’s children are also their own children. For ancestral women, securing the resources to raise highly dependent offspring was a challenge. The ability to raise offspring to reproductive age would be severely compromised if paternal investment were to be directed elsewhere, and therefore women should be sensitive to cues indicating emotional infidelity of their partners.

Altruism And Aggression

Two behaviors that have also received much attention from sociobiologists are altruism and aggression. When presenting his theory of evolution by natural selection in 1859, Charles Darwin commented that his theory was not able to explain why individuals helped others, particularly when these altruistic behaviors limited the reproductive success of the helper. In 1964 William D. Hamilton addressed this problem with his theory of kin selection. He stated that because individuals share a portion of their genes with genetically related individuals, providing assistance to kin can therefore further one’s own reproductive success. Helping behaviors should thus be observed to be directed mainly to genetically related individuals. Kin selection theory, although supported by research, could not account for why individuals were observed to provide assistance to unrelated individuals. Trivers addressed this problem in 1971 by proposing his theory of reciprocal altruism, hypothesizing that an individual will help an unrelated individual when the former expects to be the benefactor of assistance from the latter in the near future. Indeed, help is directed to unrelated individuals with the expectation that these acts of kindness will be repaid.

Aggressive behaviors may also have evolved because of the adaptive benefits they bestowed on the aggressor. According to Mark Schaller and colleagues’ intergroup vigilance theory (2003), it was adaptive for human ancestors to develop a fear of strangers and of individuals who were diseased. One consequence of fear is that it can motivate aggressive behaviors to defend against perceived threats. The ancestors of contemporary humans lived in small groups and relied on each other for survival, and the presence of individuals from another unknown group could have aroused fear because of the possible threat of intruders to one’s survival. People who did not fear strangers from other groups may have been more vulnerable to attack, whereas people who did fear intruders and acted to defend themselves and their group would have been more likely to survive. This tendency to respond aggressively to strangers may no longer be adaptive, however, given that humans now live in very large groups that are very diverse. Over evolutionary history people may also have developed a fear of others who were sick or diseased, given that the illness may be contracted and put one’s life at risk. Stigmatizing those who were ill and removing them from the group may have been one way to avoid illness given that early humans did not have access to modern-day medicine.

Testing Sociobiological Theories

Sociobiological theories are tested in many different ways. Laboratory experiments have been used to test cause-and-effect relationships between variables by manipulating the context study participants are exposed to and then measuring participants’ responses. Survey studies that ask people to answer questions about their own personalities or about their likes and dislikes have been used a great deal to study, for example, the mate preferences of men and women all over the world. Field studies have been used to observe the natural behaviors of individuals as they interact in small or large groups. Archaeological records have been used to discover the types of tools human ancestors used to hunt game or to study the evolution of brain size. In addition, public records recording the behaviors of citizens of various countries over hundreds of years exist, and these records have been used to test sociobiological hypotheses regarding homicide (Daly and Wilson 1988) and the effects of birth order on behavior (Sulloway 1996).

Sociobiology is still considered a controversial field by many. Sociobiologists study current social behavior and then make conclusions about what life must have been like for humans living thousands of years ago. Because what happened in the distant past can never truly be known, opponents of sociobiology suggest that researching current behaviors does not provide insights on the evolutionary origins of these behaviors. Sociobiology has also been blamed for justifying negative social behaviors such as male violence against women and intergroup violence. Stated differently, suggesting that social behaviors evolved because they were adaptive implies that these behaviors are natural and acceptable. Although explaining why behaviors exist does not necessarily justify the existence of the behavior, many sociobiologists have not always made the effort to differentiate explanation from justification.


  1. Buss, David M. 2000. The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy Is as Necessary as Love and Sex. New York: Free Press.
  2. Daly, Martin, and Margo Wilson. 1988. Homicide. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.
  3. Darwin, Charles. 1859. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection; or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London: Murray.
  4. Hamilton, William D. 1964. The Genetical Evolution of Social Behaviour I and II. Journal of Theoretical Biology 7 (1): 1–16 and 17–52.
  5. Schaller, Mark, Justin H. Park, and Jason Faulkner. 2003. Prehistoric Dangers and Contemporary Prejudices. European Review of Social Psychology 14 (4): 105–137.
  6. Sulloway, Frank J. 1996. Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives. New York: Pantheon.
  7. Trivers, Robert L. 1971. The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism. Quarterly Review of Biology 46 (1): 35–57.
  8. Trivers, Robert L. 1972. Parental Investment and Sexual Selection. In Sexual Selection and the Descent of Man, 1871–1971, ed. Bernard Campbell, 136–179. Chicago: Aldine.
  9. Wilson, Edward O. 1975. Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press.

See also:

Free research papers are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to buy a custom research paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price.


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality
Special offer! Get discount 10% for the first order. Promo code: cd1a428655