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Profile: Social theory based on natural selection

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

Robert Trivers
Affiliation:
Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA
Tamás Székely
Affiliation:
University of Bath
Allen J. Moore
Affiliation:
University of Exeter
Jan Komdeur
Affiliation:
Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, The Netherlands
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Summary

I went into evolutionary biology because I became convinced in 1965 that the foundation for psychology and social theory more generally should, and could, be based on the theory of natural selection.

In 1964, a senior-year course at Harvard in psychology convinced me that that discipline was nowhere near putting itself together as a unified science, and that their approach was, in fact, hopeless at the outset, a series of competing guesses about what was important in human development, none based on any underlying knowledge. Within a year, while writing and illustrating children's books on animal behaviour, I was exposed to animal behaviour (chiefly gulls and baboons), and the logic based on natural selection for interpreting their behaviour. It was at once obvious that this was the logic missing from psychology, and that rooting psychology in biology not only gave it a firm foundation in pre-existing knowledge but also greatly expanded the available evidence, even if you were only interested in humans. I had never had a course before in biology or chemistry, but it seemed worthwhile learning at least the former because of the importance of building a secure scientific foundation for social theory. I spent a year learning biology and began graduate work at age 25.

I then threw myself into a series of interrelated topics – reciprocal altruism, parental investment and sexual selection, parent–offspring conflict, adaptive control of variation in the primary sex ratio, and the evolution of the social insects.

Type
Chapter
Information
Social Behaviour
Genes, Ecology and Evolution
, pp. 489 - 490
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2010

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References

Burt, A. & Trivers, R. L. (2006) Genes in Conflict: the Biology of Selfish Genetic Elements. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Seger, J. & Trivers, R. (1986) Asymmetry in the evolution of female mating preferences. Nature, 319, 771–773.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Trivers, R. (1985) Social Evolution. Menlo Park, CA: Benjamin/Cummings.Google Scholar

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