Course description

In addressing the question of what makes us human, this course examines the origins, evolutionary foundations, and psychological underpinnings of human behavior by synthesizing research from across the social, psychological, and biological sciences. Rather than opposing biological and cultural explanations, this course lays out a framework that illuminates learning and culture within a broad evolutionary framework that permits us to explore kinship, parental love, sibling rivalry, food preferences (such as sugar and salt), incest, altruism, sex differences, social status, homicide, warfare technology, language, and religion. Using a comparative approach, we contextualize human behavior by examining both studies of non-human primates, especially chimpanzees, as well as the full breadth of human diversity, including both ethnographic and experimental data from hunter-gatherers, herders and agriculturalists, and—the most unusual of all—people from industrialized societies. We also consider how cultural evolution has shaped our genetic evolution, both over our species evolutionary history and in more recent millennia.


Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University

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