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Roots of Human Behavior

Roots of Human Behavior

Professor Barbara J. King, Ph.D.
The College of William and Mary

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Roots of Human Behavior

Course No. 168
Professor Barbara J. King, Ph.D.
The College of William and Mary
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Course No. 168
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Course Overview

While human behavior is usually studied from the historical perspective of a few hundred years, anthropologists consider deeper causes for the ways we act. In this course, anthropologist Barbara J. King uses her wealth of research experience to open a window of understanding for you into the legacy left by our primate past.

By looking for roots of human behavior in the behavior of monkeys, apes, and human ancestors, you explore such questions as:

  • Are language and technology unique to humans?
  • Have human love and loyalty developed from our primate cousins?
  • Do ways in which human males and females relate to each other come from our primate past?
  • Have we inherited a biological tendency for aggression?

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12 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Four Facets of Anthropology
    Anthropology comprises many ways to study humanity, but a biological anthropologist focuses on the evolution of the human, anatomically and behaviorally. We begin with the evolutionary link between humans and other anthropoid primates that was posited by Charles Darwin more than 100 years ago. x
  • 2
    Social Bonds and Family Ties
    The very idea of a "solitary anthropoid" is a contradiction in terms. Monkeys and apes are social animals, whose life experiences are defined by their place as an individual within a group. These arrangements have practical advantages and are emotionally and developmentally meaningful. x
  • 3
    The Journey Away from Mom
    An anthropoid infant's progress to adulthood is one many of us would recognize. Beginning in absolute dependence, the infant adapts to the world through exploration and play. Some will stay "at home" to form the core of their native communities, while others will disperse to find new homes. x
  • 4
    Males and Females—Really So Different?
    Forty years ago the stereotype of males as promiscuous aggressors and females as passive mother figures held sway. Studies of the most recently discovered great ape, the bonobo, changed this uncomplicated dichotomy dramatically. x
  • 5
    Sex and Reproduction
    As with male-female differences, ideas on sex and reproduction have withstood revision in recent years. Variations in behavior across species complicates any conclusions we might draw about a fixed and clearly defined sexual nature in humans. x
  • 6
    Tool Making—Of Hammers and Anvils
    New research shows that great apes engage in spontaneous problem solving and other advanced cognitive behavior in producing tools for grooming and feeding, and even escaping from captivity! A study of orangutans in Sumatra suggests that social tolerance and cooperation play a critical role in this behavior. x
  • 7
    Social Learning and Teaching
    A conundrum faced by any primatologist is determining whether an advanced behavior has been spontaneously invented, learned through a trial-and-error, or acquired through teaching. What is certain is that learning is a dynamic process that is actively pursued, not passively absorbed. x
  • 8
    Culture—What Is It? Who’s Got It?
    No concept other than culture has been more controversial historically. Many great ape communities have developed group-specific behaviors that have survived and been passed on over time, and some of these actions are even thought to show conceptual understanding and convey symbolic meaning. Whether this represents culture depends on your definition of the term. x
  • 9
    Dynamics of Social Communication
    It was once thought that communication in great apes and monkeys was limited to expressions of emotion and states of arousal. But data on predator-specific alarm calls among vervet monkeys in Kenya suggest that anthropoid primates can communicate information to achieve dynamic social coordination. x
  • 10
    Do Great Apes Use Language?
    Great apes raised in an enriched human environment exhibit an expanded range of linguistic skills, showing the equally important roles played by both biological dispositions and the rearing environment. Are our complex languages unique in kind or only in degree? x
  • 11
    Highlights of Human Evolution
    More than four million years ago the hominids emerged, and by 30,000 years ago Homo sapiens had outcompeted and replaced other hominids. Yet despite bipedalism, mastery of fire, and construction of stone tools that render the hominids unique, a surprising number of their behaviors are found in our anthropoid relatives: the monkeys and apes. x
  • 12
    Exploring and Conserving a Legacy
    Anthropoid primates are valuable as creatures in their own right and as a critical lens through which to view ourselves. How, then, should we deal with the forces that imperil them, from medical research to economic development and the deadly bushmeat trade? Dr. Barbara J. King offers a balanced assessment. x

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  • 64-page printed course guidebook
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  • 12 lectures on 6 CDs
  • 64-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 64-page printed course guidebook
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider
  • Glossary

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Your professor

Barbara J. King

About Your Professor

Barbara J. King, Ph.D.
The College of William and Mary
Dr. Barbara J. King is a biological anthropologist and Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at The College of William and Mary in Virginia. She earned her B.A. in Anthropology from Douglass College, Rutgers University, and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma. Professor King's research interests concern the social communication of the great apes, the closest living relatives to humans. She has studied ape and...
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Also By This Professor


Rated 3.9 out of 5 by 34 reviewers.
Rated 2 out of 5 by Course title can be misleading I think the course was limited to only one aspect of the biological anthropology and that is: Field work on primate behaviors. There wasn’t much about how these behaviors are presented in humans; something that I expected given the name of the course. Also, the actual content for each lecture seems a little bit small to me, I think we could’ve got the same amount of information in 6 or maybe 8 lecture, if it was more precise and avoided repetition. To me the more accurate title will be in the line of: “Introduction on biological anthropology field work on primates’ behaviors”, as there wasn’t really much discussions or explanations on the link between the lectures content and the Human Behaviors in general. For 6 hours course on anthropology, I don't feel I got much. May 30, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by Very Thought Provoking This is a really good course. It does go through a lot of details in the beginning that sometimes seem somewhat superfluous, but you find that it is all necessary background for later lectures. This course will make you realize that humans are not the only ones with excellent cognition and complex emotions. There is no doubt that the great apes and monkeys demonstrate the roots of human behavior and i would even say that perhaps there are animals even further back on the evolutionary time line that show roots of our behavior also. The apes are so close to us in behavior fundamentally, that one is left wondering where the roots of THEIR behavior originated. December 22, 2014
Rated 4 out of 5 by Lucy in disguise...? Audio download. As other reviewers have noted, this course's title may be a bit misleading. To me, the lectures attempt to explain the evolution of early hominids (4-6 million years ago) by examining our closest living (evolutionary) relatives, the great apes. Baselines are established by the great apes community, mating preferences, intelligence (tool use/making) and, finally, communication and the ability to learn new things. Dr King's presentation is clear (perhaps a bit flat-toned) and concise, much like what you would hear in an actual college lecture hall. Her material is basic, but to the point, and makes her point...even though it took a while to figure that out. My rating is 4 stars, but it really should be a 3.5. It is a good companion to the good professor's other course, "Biological Anthropology: An Evolutionary Perspective", and many of the comments I made in that review can well apply here. I recommend these lectures, especially when on sale, with a coupon. October 19, 2014
Rated 1 out of 5 by evolutionary misleading I give this course one star for professor’s excellent opening lecture with clear categorizing all the related fields and jargons, not for the way she speaks. She does sound like a parent on the PTA conference. I give all the credit to the lecturer for her passion and dedication to this science – if you agree to call it science. What is the purpose of human studying apes? 1. treat them better by studying them. The best and easiest way to treat others better is to leave them alone. It’s the golden moral rule for treating other human species as well. 2. to understand human ourselves better hence the title The Roots of Human Behavior. I think we give the theory of evolution too much credit. Yes, apes monkeys are our close relatives, so do all animals. What makes human different is the localized cultures, religions and philosophical thinking, not so-called bio-culture – if you call it culture. Aren’t these scientists taking it too far by saying “apes have culture and human has not.” What is the use to study apes? One important outcome is realizing the benefits of co-sleep. Isn’t that just a common sense, or the same realization can get from studying the cats dogs? Or we’re getting too wealthy and lazy with more rooms to sleep in big houses? Or is it because of the conviction that the pursuit of happiness is the universal value and purpose of life? July 3, 2014
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