Wilson's 1975 book, Sociobiology, generated a firestorm of controversy that persists to the present day. In addition to presenting a huge compendium of knowledge about social systems in animals, Wilson made two key arguments. First, he argued that sociobiology, as a new field, would integrate many different areas of scientific endeavor, ranging from neurobiology to genetics to ecology. Second, he argued that the principles developed from the study of animal behavior could be applied beneficially to gain an understanding of human behavior.

It was this second argument that became so controversial. Almost immediately he was accused of fostering social Darwinism and biological determinism. To the extent that social Darwinism and biological determinism were historically used as rationales for rascism and sexism, sociobiology was stained by this association. Wilson came under considerable personal attack for promoting this point of view (see Levins and Lewontin 1985). Many biologists, sociologists, and philosophers found (and still find) the concept that humans behavior may be tightly constrained by genes repugnant (see, for example, Travis, 2003).

Presently, on one side of the divide stand the investigators who conclude that human behavior is malleable, based on experience, and that we are not trapped by our genes into patterns of behavior (Travis 2003). On the other side of this chasm are biologists and psychologists who have been quietly working to understand the relationship between genes and environment in influencing human behavior (e.g. Dunn and Plomin 1990). Given the emotionally charged nature of the debate, no resolution is likely.

See also the page on nature versus nurture.

Dunn, J. and R. Plomin 1990. Separate lives : why siblings are so different. New York: Basic Books

Levins, R and R Lewontin 1985 The dialectical biologist Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press

Travis, C. B. ed. 2003 Evolution, gender, and rape. Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press

Wilson, E. O. 1975 Sociobiology : the new synthesis. Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press

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copyright ©2003 Michael D. Breed, all rights reserved.Behavior is the culmination of many processes and properties acting together.