Major Movements in Psychology

Sociobiology and Evolutionary Psychology

Who is Edward O. Wilson?

Edward O. Wilson (1929–) is considered the father of sociobiology. A professor of entomology (the study of insects) in the Harvard biology department since 1956, he has maintained a lifelong interest in the social behavior of animals. His original specialty was the social life of ants. Wilson’s great contribution was to state that the evolutionary explanation of animal behavior could be applied to the study of human behavior. He did not mean that culture and environment had no influence, only that our behavioral repertoire has its origins in our genetics and has been shaped by the processes of natural selection.

When he first published his classic text Sociobiology: The New Synthesis in 1975, it was met with much resistance. To many people it was politically offensive because it seemed to dismiss the importance of environment. As with Eugenics and other earlier movements that proclaimed the heritability of human behavior, it seemed to endorse social inequality as the natural order of things. Over the last few decades, however, sociobiology and evolutionary psychology have become more widely accepted. With advances in brain imaging technology and other methods of studying biology, our understanding of the biological underpinnings of human behavior has grown dramatically. Likewise, our appreciation of the complex interplay between genes and environment has also advanced, so that it is now accepted that a focus on the genetic basis of behavior does not have to mean that environment is irrelevant.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Psychology Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App