Human behavioral ecology
Human behavioral ecology (HBE) or human evolutionary ecology applies the principles of evolutionary theory and optimization
Optimization (mathematics)
In mathematics, computational science, or management science, mathematical optimization refers to the selection of a best element from some set of available alternatives....

 to the study of human behavior
Human behavior
Human behavior refers to the range of behaviors exhibited by humans and which are influenced by culture, attitudes, emotions, values, ethics, authority, rapport, hypnosis, persuasion, coercion and/or genetics....

al and cultural diversity
Cultural diversity
Cultural diversity is having different cultures respect each other's differences. It could also mean the variety of human societies or cultures in a specific region, or in the world as a whole...

. HBE examines the adaptive
An adaptation in biology is a trait with a current functional role in the life history of an organism that is maintained and evolved by means of natural selection. An adaptation refers to both the current state of being adapted and to the dynamic evolutionary process that leads to the adaptation....

 design of traits, behaviors, and life histories
Life history theory
Life history theory posits that the schedule and duration of key events in an organism's lifetime are shaped by natural selection to produce the largest possible number of surviving offspring...

 of humans in an ecological context. One aim of modern human behavioral ecology is to determine how ecological and social
The term social refers to a characteristic of living organisms...

 factors influence and shape behavioral flexibility within and between human populations. Among other things, HBE attempts to explain variation in human behavior as adaptive solutions to the competing life-history demands of growth, development, reproduction, parental care, and mate acquisition.

HBE overlaps with evolutionary psychology
Evolutionary psychology
Evolutionary psychology is an approach in the social and natural sciences that examines psychological traits such as memory, perception, and language from a modern evolutionary perspective. It seeks to identify which human psychological traits are evolved adaptations, that is, the functional...

, human or cultural ecology
Cultural ecology
Cultural ecology studies the relationship between a given society and its natural environment as well as the life-forms and ecosystems that support its lifeways . This may be carried out diachronically , or synchronically...

, and decision theory
Decision theory
Decision theory in economics, psychology, philosophy, mathematics, and statistics is concerned with identifying the values, uncertainties and other issues relevant in a given decision, its rationality, and the resulting optimal decision...

. It is most prominent in disciplines such as anthropology and psychology where human evolution is considered relevant for a holistic understanding of
human behavior or in economics where self-interest, methodological individualism
Methodological individualism
Methodological individualism is the theory that social phenomena can only be accurately explained by showing how they result from the intentional states that motivate the individual actors. The idea has been used to criticize historicism, structural functionalism, and the roles of social class,...

, and maximization are key elements in modeling behavior . It has been resisted in departments such as sociology and political science where the findings on human evolution are either ignored or regarded as irrelevant.

Evolutionary theory

Human behavioral ecology rests upon a foundation of evolutionary theory. This includes aspects of both general evolutionary theory and established middle-level evolutionary theories, as well. Aspects of general evolutionary theory include:
  • Natural selection
    Natural selection
    Natural selection is the nonrandom process by which biologic traits become either more or less common in a population as a function of differential reproduction of their bearers. It is a key mechanism of evolution....

    , the process by which individual organism
    In biology, an organism is any contiguous living system . In at least some form, all organisms are capable of response to stimuli, reproduction, growth and development, and maintenance of homoeostasis as a stable whole.An organism may either be unicellular or, as in the case of humans, comprise...

    s with favorable traits are more likely to survive and reproduce
    Biological reproduction
    Reproduction is the biological process by which new "offspring" individual organisms are produced from their "parents". Reproduction is a fundamental feature of all known life; each individual organism exists as the result of reproduction...

  • Sexual selection
    Sexual selection
    Sexual selection, a concept introduced by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book On the Origin of Species, is a significant element of his theory of natural selection...

    , the theory
    Scientific theory
    A scientific theory comprises a collection of concepts, including abstractions of observable phenomena expressed as quantifiable properties, together with rules that express relationships between observations of such concepts...

     that competition for mates between individuals of the same sex results in differential mating and reproduction.
  • Kin selection
    Kin selection
    Kin selection refers to apparent strategies in evolution that favor the reproductive success of an organism's relatives, even at a cost to the organism's own survival and reproduction. Charles Darwin was the first to discuss the concept of group/kin selection...

    , the changes in gene frequency across generations that are driven at least in part by interactions between related individuals, and
  • Inclusive fitness
    Inclusive fitness
    In evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology, the inclusive fitness of an organism is the sum of its classical fitness and the number of equivalents of its own offspring it can add to the population by supporting others...

    , the sum of an individual's own reproductive success, (natural and sexual selection), plus the effects the individual's actions have on the reproductive success of that individual's kin, (kin selection).

Middle-level evolutionary theories used in HBE include:
  • The theory of parental investment
    Parental investment
    In evolutionary biology, parental investment is any parental expenditure that benefits one offspring at a cost to parents' ability to invest in other components of fitness...

    , which predicts that the sex making the largest investment in lactation
    Lactation describes the secretion of milk from the mammary glands and the period of time that a mother lactates to feed her young. The process occurs in all female mammals, however it predates mammals. In humans the process of feeding milk is called breastfeeding or nursing...

    , nurturing and protecting offspring
    In biology, offspring is the product of reproduction, of a new organism produced by one or more parents.Collective offspring may be known as a brood or progeny in a more general way...

     will be more discriminating in mating and that the sex that invests less in offspring will compete for access to the higher investing sex.
  • Parent-offspring conflict
    Parent-offspring conflict
    Parent–offspring conflict is a term coined in 1974 by Robert Trivers. It is used to signify the evolutionary conflict arising from differences in optimal parental investment to an offspring from the standpoint of the parent and the offspring...

    , which predicts that because the genetic interests of parents and offspring are not identical, offspring will be selected to manipulate their parents in order to ensure higher investment, and that, conversely, parents will be selected to manipulate their offspring.
  • The theory of reciprocal altruism
    Reciprocal altruism
    In evolutionary biology, reciprocal altruism is a behaviour whereby an organism acts in a manner that temporarily reduces its fitness while increasing another organism's fitness, with the expectation that the other organism will act in a similar manner at a later time...

    , a form of altruism
    Altruism is a concern for the welfare of others. It is a traditional virtue in many cultures, and a core aspect of various religious traditions, though the concept of 'others' toward whom concern should be directed can vary among cultures and religions. Altruism is the opposite of...

     in which one organism provides a benefit to another in the expectation of future reciprocation
    Reciprocation may refer to:* Reciprocating motion, a type of oscillatory motion, as in the action of a reciprocating saw* Reciprocation in geometry, an operation with circles that involves transforming each point in plane into its polar line and each line in the plane into its pole...

  • The Trivers–Willard hypothesis, which proposes that parents should invest more in the sex that gives them the greatest reproductive payoff (grandchildren) with increasing or marginal investment.
  • r/K selection theory
    R/K selection theory
    In ecology, r/K selection theory relates to the selection of combinations of traits in an organism that trade off between quantity or quality of offspring...

    , which, in ecology
    Ecology is the scientific study of the relations that living organisms have with respect to each other and their natural environment. Variables of interest to ecologists include the composition, distribution, amount , number, and changing states of organisms within and among ecosystems...

    , relates to the selection of traits in organisms that allow success in particular environments. r-selected species - in unstable or unpredictable environments - produce many offspring, any individual one of which is unlikely to survive to adulthood, while K-selected species - in stable or predictable environments - invest more heavily in fewer offspring, each of which has a better chance of surviving to adulthood.
  • Evolutionary game theory
    Evolutionary game theory
    Evolutionary game theory is the application of Game Theory to evolving populations of lifeforms in biology. EGT is useful in this context by defining a framework of contests, strategies and analytics into which Darwinian competition can be modelled. It originated in 1973 with John Maynard Smith...

    , the application of population genetics
    Population genetics
    Population genetics is the study of allele frequency distribution and change under the influence of the four main evolutionary processes: natural selection, genetic drift, mutation and gene flow. It also takes into account the factors of recombination, population subdivision and population...

    -inspired models of change in gene frequency in populations to game theory
    Game theory
    Game theory is a mathematical method for analyzing calculated circumstances, such as in games, where a person’s success is based upon the choices of others...

  • Evolutionary stable strategy, which refers to a strategy
    Strategy (game theory)
    In game theory, a player's strategy in a game is a complete plan of action for whatever situation might arise; this fully determines the player's behaviour...

    , which if adopted by a population, cannot be invaded by any competing alternative strategy.

Ecological selectionism

Ecological selectionism refers to the assumption that humans are highly flexible in their behaviors. Furthermore, it assumes that various ecological forces select for various behaviors that optimize humans' inclusive fitness in their given ecological context.

The piecemeal approach

The piecemeal approach refers to taking a reductionist approach as opposed to a holistic approach in studying human socioecological behavior. Human behavioral ecologists assume that by taking complex social phenomena, (e.g., marriage patterns, foraging behaviors, etc.), and then breaking them down into sets of components involving decisions and constraints that they are in a better position to create models and make predictions involving human behavior. An example would be examining marriage systems by examining the ecological context, mate preferences, the distribution of particular characteristics within the population, and so forth.

Conditional strategies

Human behavioral ecologists assume that what might be the most adaptive strategy in one environment might not be the most adaptive strategy in another environment. Conditional strategies, therefore, can be represented in the following statement:
  • In environmental context X, engage in adaptive strategy A.
  • In environmental context Y, engage in adaptive strategy B.

The phenotypic gambit

The phenotypic gambit refers to the assumption that humans possess a high amount of phenotypic plasticity
Phenotypic plasticity
Phenotypic plasticity is the ability of an organism to change its phenotype in response to changes in the environment. Such plasticity in some cases expresses as several highly morphologically distinct results; in other cases, a continuous norm of reaction describes the functional interrelationship...

. Human behavioral ecologists attempt to control for culture, genetic variation, human cognition, and human phylogeny
Human evolution
Human evolution refers to the evolutionary history of the genus Homo, including the emergence of Homo sapiens as a distinct species and as a unique category of hominids and mammals...

. It's not that human behavioral ecologists think that these concepts are irrelevant. It's simply that the primary focus of HBE is to discover correlations between variations of ecological contexts and variations of human behavior.


Theoretical models that human behavioral ecologists employ include, but are not limited to:
  • Optimal foraging theory
    Optimal foraging theory
    Optimal foraging theory is an idea in ecology based on the study of foraging behaviour and states that organisms forage in such a way as to maximize their net energy intake per unit time. In other words, they behave in such a way as to find, capture and consume food containing the most calories...

    , which states that organisms focus on consuming the most energy while expending the least amount of energy.
  • Life history theory
    Life history theory
    Life history theory posits that the schedule and duration of key events in an organism's lifetime are shaped by natural selection to produce the largest possible number of surviving offspring...

    , which postulates that many of the physiological traits and behaviors of individuals may be best understood in relation to the key maturational and reproductive characteristics that define the life course.
  • Sex allocation theory, which predicts that parents should bias their reproductive investments toward the offspring sex generating the greatest fitness return.
  • The polygyny threshold model
    Polygyny threshold model
    The polygyny threshold model is an explanation of polygyny, the mating of one male of a species with multiple females. The model shows how females may gain a higher level of biological fitness by mating with a male who already has a mate...

    , which suggests that polygyny
    Polygyny is a form of marriage in which a man has two or more wives at the same time. In countries where the practice is illegal, the man is referred to as a bigamist or a polygamist...

     is driven by female choice of mates who control more resources relative to other potential mates in the population.

See also

  • Behavioral ecology
    Behavioral ecology
    Behavioral ecology, or ethoecology, is the study of the ecological and evolutionary basis for animal behavior, and the roles of behavior in enabling an animal to adapt to its environment...

  • Biocultural evolution
    Biocultural evolution
    Biocultural evolution refers to historical evolutionary processes that occur as a result of culture's interaction with biology.-Cultural factors:...

  • Dual inheritance theory
    Dual inheritance theory
    Dual inheritance theory , also known as gene-culture coevolution, was developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s to explain how human behavior is a product of two different and interacting evolutionary processes: genetic evolution and cultural evolution...

  • Evolutionary developmental psychology
    Evolutionary developmental psychology
    Evolutionary developmental psychology, , is the application of the basic principles of Darwinian evolution, particularly natural selection, to explain contemporary human development...

  • Evolutionary educational psychology
    Evolutionary educational psychology
    Evolutionary educational psychology is the study of the relation between inherent folk knowledge and abilities and accompanying inferential and attributional biases as these influence academic learning in evolutionarily novel cultural contexts, such as schools and the industrial workplace...

  • Evolutionary psychology
    Evolutionary psychology
    Evolutionary psychology is an approach in the social and natural sciences that examines psychological traits such as memory, perception, and language from a modern evolutionary perspective. It seeks to identify which human psychological traits are evolved adaptations, that is, the functional...

  • Foraging
    - Definitions and significance of foraging behavior :Foraging is the act of searching for and exploiting food resources. It affects an animal's fitness because it plays an important role in an animal's ability to survive and reproduce...

    , Autonomous foraging
  • Hypergamy
    Hypergamy is the act or practice of seeking a spouse of higher socioeconomic status, or caste status than oneself....

  • Mating system
    Mating system
    A mating system is a way in which a group is structured in relation to sexual behaviour. The precise meaning depends upon the context. With respect to higher animals, it specifies which males mate with which females, under which circumstances; recognised animal mating systems include monogamy,...

  • Psychogenomics
  • Universal Darwinism
    Universal darwinism
    Universal Darwinism refers to a variety of approaches that extend the theory of Darwinism beyond its original domain of biological evolution on Earth...

Further reading

External links

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