Humans are a social species. First, we explore the reasons why humans are social beings and briefly consider the broad implications of this characterization. Next, we go somewhat more deeply into the question what it means to be social. In other words, how does an individual function whose primary mode of existence is that of a group member rather than of a solitary individual? After that, we consider some important ‘natural' social groups and we briefly discuss their role in shaping human behavior. Against this background, we describe designs and strategies used by researchers to study the interaction between humans and their social context. A separate section is devoted to the relationship between biological underpinnings of behavior and the cultural context. While in the past these were treated as competing or contrasting influences in explanations of behavior, their interactive nature has become more central in recent times. For both ontogenetic and phylogenetic reasons, humans can be characterized as social beings. Ontogenetically, newborn humans are characterized by a remarkable immaturity that renders them dependent for a long time on others for survival and growth. It is clear that infants are critically dependent on their primary caregivers for the fulfillment of even the most basic needs. Most of us spend the extended period from infancy until sexual and social maturity and reaching socio-economic independence mainly within the nuclear or extended family.
[...] Sociobiologists had little hesitation in extending this argument to the social behavior of humans. Many findings have been quoted in support, such as the higher rate of homicide by fathers of their stepchildren as compared with homicide of own- children, the pervasive presence of ingroup–outgroup distinctions, and ethnocentrism and nationalism. Whereas sociobiology and early forms of evolutionary psychology were mainly concerned with demonstrating the biological determination of social behavior, more recent theorizing is shifting towards integrationists positions. From this point of view, conditions in the social environment trigger genetically available modes of action. [...]
[...] One general assumption underlying experimental research is the belief that important elements of people's social context can be manipulated separately from each other. This implies that experimenters can sovereignty define the research setting and manipulate those elements of it that they deem relevant for the participants' behavior. Obviously, such assumptions are not always realistic and this may make experimental research vulnerable. Moreover, many aspects of social behavior do not lend themselves readily to strict experimentation, either because this would lead to an ethically unacceptable treatment of persons, or because the behavior of interest cannot be isolated from the social context. [...]
[...] For instance, until a few years ago the extrapolation to the human species of male dominance, so clearly observable in the behavior of chimpanzees and other ape species seemed obvious and straightforward. Since then the description of the more gentle social interactions of the bonobo has shown the danger of such a generalization. Still, one may ask what the likely consequences are of this ontogenetic and phylogenetic background for human behavior. Dimensions of Being Social What does it mean to be social? [...]
[...] Social Interactions in Childhood As already mentioned, social interactions of young children predominantly take place within one setting, namely, the family. For a long time, psychologists believed that the infant's attachment to its primary caregiver was no more than a learned or secondary reaction to the fulfillment of an infant's primary need for food by the caregiver. Impetus for change came from the famous experiments by Harlow and his associates. They provided rhesus monkeys reared in isolation with different types of ‘surrogate mothers'. [...]
[...] Extensions of the Social Context Growing up in a complex society implies becoming part of a number of groups. After the family, kindergarten and primary school are the groups that typically constitute the first expansion of one's social world. Later on, individuals engage in a variety of other formal and informal groups such as high school classes, neighborhood friendship groups, sports clubs, and, later on, work teams and romantic relationships thus further expanding and complicating the social world, especially in complex, urban industrialized societies. [...]
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