A branch of biology and sociology, sociobiology also draws from ethology, anthropology, evolution, zoology, archaeology, population genetics, and other disciplines. As a study of human societies, sociobiology is allied to Darwinian anthropology, ethology and evolutionary psychology.
Sociobiology investigates social behaviour, such as mating patterns, territorial fights, pack hunting, and the hive society of social insects. It argues that just as selection pressure led to animals evolving useful ways of interacting with the natural environment, it led to the genetic evolution of advantageous social behaviour.
Sociobiology is based upon two fundamental premises:
- Certain behavioural traits are inherited,
- Inherited behavioural traits have been honed by natural selection.
- Therefore, these traits were probably "adaptive" in the species` original environment.
The new field quickly became the subject of heated controversy. Criticism by Richard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould centered on the idea that genes play a large role in human behaviour, and that traits such as aggressiveness can be explained by biology rather than a person's social environment. Sociobiologists generally responded to the criticism by pointing to the complex relationship between nature and nurture.
To avoid some of the controversy, and because their ideas were not quite the same as Wilson's, anthropologist John Tooby and psychologist Leda Cosmides founded the field of evolutionary psychology. This new field shares with sociobiology a belief in the evolutionary origin of behaviour patterns. However, it is much more specific, and more concerned with testable hypotheses. It is aimed more at a union of evolutionary ideas with psychology rather than sociology.
- Wilson E.O. 1975. Sociobiology: the new synthesis. Harvard University Press. 25th anniversary edition, 2000: ISBN 0-674-00089-7
- Lewontin, Richard; Leon Kamin & Steven Rose 1984. Not in our genes: biology, ideology, and human nature. Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-394-50817-3
- Segerstråle, Ullica 2001. Defenders of the truth: the sociobiology debate. Oxford Univ. Press. ISBN 978-0192862150
- Alcock, John 2001. The triumph of sociobiology. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195143836
- Pinker, Steven 2002. The blank slate: the modern denial of human nature. New York: Viking. ISBN 978-0-1402-7605-3 (Penguin edition)