Human Nature (Gen Ed 1056)

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020


What does it mean to be human, from a biological perspective – and how did we get that way?

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Erin Hecht and Martin Surbeck

This course asks: What makes us behaviorally and psychologically human? In what ways are humans similar to other species and in what ways are we different? What are the evolutionary origins of the behavioral and psychological features found across human societies including parental love, sibling rivalry, pair-bonding, incest aversion, social status, war, norms, altruism, religion, language, and cooking? At the same time, how can we account for the immense diversity we observe in behavior and psychology across time and across societies? Tackling these questions within a broad evolutionary framework, the course will draw on the latest insights and evidence from evolutionary biology, primatology, anthropological ethnography, neuroscience, genetics, linguistics, economics and psychology. We’ll fully contextualize contemporary behavior by examining studies of non-human primates, especially chimpanzees, and a broad breadth of human variation, based on comparative studies of hunter-gatherers, herders, agriculturalists and—the most unusual of all—people from industrialized societies. We’ll also consider how cultural evolution has shaped our genetic evolution, both over our species’ deep history and in more recent millennia. Along the way, we’ll consider how understanding the evolutionary origins of human behavior, psychology and culture informs how we approach contemporary issues such as patriarchy, polygamous marriage, sex differences, child abuse, mating preferences, homosexuality, racism, psychological variation among populations and the use of oral contraceptives. 

Register for Gen Ed 1056