Marilyn A. Norconk, PhD

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Marilyn A. Norconk

ANTH - 48830 - Human Behavioral Ecology & Evolution


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ABOUT THE COURSE: There are many ways to view human behavior. The social sciences - psychology, sociology, and cultural anthropology, offer points of view starting from different perspectives. Psychology uses the individual as the point of reference. Sociology uses societal or group norms as the jumping-off point. And, cultural anthropology uses inter-cultural comparisons to study the fundamentals of human behavior. Another perspective on human behavior is biological, based on evolutionary theory.

Called sociobiology or evolutionary biology, "shared inheritance" is the starting point from which biological anthropologists examine explanations for the existence of similarities in human behaviors, particularly those behaviors that influence reproduction. Since all humans have a shared biology, we ought to find striking similarities in the way that humans of all cultures approach behaviors such as finding and attracting mates, and producing and raising children.  However, just as in the social sciences that are also devoted to the study of humans, variation is a real and important phenomenon. Variation in individual expression leads to novel behaviors - some successful, others disastrous.

We will look at human behavior from the perspective that you are the current "endproduct" of hundreds of generations of humans who adapted successfully to biological and environmental problems. Solutions to these problems are often incorporated into culture so we expect to find convergences in solving problems culturally even among widely separated populations geographically. During this semester, you will recognize behaviors that you may have interpreted as unique to yourself as belonging to a family of behaviors that converge in all humans. In this way, evolutionary biology provides one of many possible interpretations of who we are and why we behave the way we do.