Brain complexity enhances speed of behavioral evolution

H. P. Lipp
1979 Behavioral and Brain Sciences  
Human ethology is defined as the biology of human behavior. The methods it employs and the questions it poses are elaborations of those generally used in the various fields of biology, but especially adapted to the study of man. Observation and experimentation in the natural and seminatural setting as well as the comparative method derived from morphology play important roles in human ethology, and the exploration of phylogenetic adaptations constitutes one of its focal interests. On the basis
more » ... f observations on experientially deprived and nondeprived children, comparative primate and animal behavior studies, and cross-cultural investigations, certain universal phylogenetic adaptations (in terms of fixed action patterns, innate releasing mechanisms, releasers, innate motivating mechanisms, and innate learning dispositions) have been found to occur. However, human ethology does not restrict itself to the investigation of phylogenetic adaptations. The question as to how a behavior pattern contributes to survival can be posed with respect to cultural patterns as well. Similar selection pressures have shaped both culturally and phylogenetically evolved patterns. Through cross-cultural studies a number of universal social interaction strategies have been discovered. Some of their apparent variation can be accounted for by the fact that innate and culturally evolved patterns of behavior can often substitute as functional equivalents for one another within a given context. Some social interactions can even become completely verbalized. Nevertheless, underlying structural rules remain the same. The discovery that nonverbal and verbal behaviors can substitute for one another bridges the gap between these seemingly distinct categories of behavior, and opens the way for the study of a grammar of human social behavior encompassing both the verbal and nonverbal. Eibl-EIbesfe!dt: Human ethology referable to some appropriate instinct? The absurdities of thought that have been committed in the name of 'instinct' constitute an object lesson in the systematics of confusion" (Montagu, 1976, pp. 63 -64). Having thus exposed the simplistic ways of ethological thinking and the obsoleteness of the concept of the innate (see the chapter "The Innate and the Acquired or Learned -a False Dichotomy"), Montagu emphasizes marrs lack of instincts. Tobach et al. (1974) attack ethologists in a similar vein, accusing them, amongst others, of biological determinism. It seems timely, therefore, to present our point of view for discussion in this multidisciplinary forum. In particular, I shall examine the concept of the "innate" and its relevance to an understanding of human behavior. A discussion of the comparative, approach and the subject of functions and adaptations will introduce our theme. I wish to express the hope that this discussion will serve to bridge the gulf between ethologists and opposing groups of behavioral scientists. We share, after all, the basic objective of attempting to understand why we behave as we do, and even though some of what will be said concerning our approach is still tentative, I hope to demonstrate that even these speculations derive from observations worthy of consideration. L What is human ethology? Human ethology can be defined as the biology of human behavior. Its special interests are distributed along lines largely congruent with its parent discipline, biology, namely morphology, ecology, genetics, phylogenetics, developmental biology, sociobiology, and physiology. The questions posed, and the methods employed in the efforts to answer them, are elaborations of the approach of these parent fields, but specially adapted to the study of man. Human ethology is based upon the theory of selection and inquires, for example, as to what selective pressures have operated to bring an observed structure into being, on the assumption that the structure somehow contributes to the inclusive fitness of its possessors. Students of animal behavior have developed refined observational techniques, employed primarily in the natural setting. These allow for the discovery of regularities in the flow of events, from which conclusions as to function as well as underlying causal factors can be derived. The studies of Baerends and Drent (1970) exemplify the approach. This method of passive observation in the natural context is the basis for any study in human ethology, which begins with documentation and description and then proceeds to experimental analysis. Of particular importance is the comparative approach, arising from an interest in the phylogenetic aspects of behavior. The formal application of ethological methods to the study of man began about fifteen years ago. During the last ten years human ethological research has concentrated upon a number of focal points. These can be subsumed under the following headings: nonverbal and verbal communication, aggression, mechanisms of bonding, and aspects of social structure (rank order, incest taboo, gender roles, etc.). The themes listed under these headings overlap, of course. Moreover, the categories are broad. The ethology of aggression encompasses questions as to ontogeny and socialization, phylogeny, functional and physiological matters, territoriality, individual distance, conflict management, war, and so forth (Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1975a). Names have been given to these subfields; "proxemics," for example, deals with certain aspects of man's distance keeping (Hall, 1966) . And research on communication covers no less diverse fields. In terms of their objects and methods, certain focal areas of research could also be subsumed under the general rubric of "child ethology" (Blurton-Jones, 1972; McGrew, 1972) . This wide category also impinges upon, amongst others, all four themes listed above. Although not the sole concern of human ethology, one of its principal questions is whether biological heritage has determined human behavior to any significant degree. We will pursue this question below, and in order to do this, the comparative method, as well as adaptation, function, and some other basic concepts of ethology will be discussed. Originally, human ethologists tended to issue from the ranks of biology and closely related disciplines (e.g., Tiger
doi:10.1017/s0140525x00060611 fatcat:qhsguia74nddva2ofenxdtsawq