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Roots of Human Behavior

Roots of Human Behavior

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

About This Course

12 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

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?

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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?

View Less
12 Lectures
  • 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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Barbara J. King
Ph.D. Barbara J. King
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 monkey behavior in Gabon, Kenya, and at the Language Research Center at Georgia State University. The recipient of a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, she has published three books on anthropology, including The Information Continuum: Social Information Transfer in Monkeys, Apes, and Hominids. At William and Mary, Professor King has won four teaching awards: The William and Mary Alumni Association Teaching Award, the college's Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award, the Virginia State Council of Higher Education for Virginia's Outstanding Faculty Award, and the designation of University Professor for Teaching Excellence, 1999-2002.

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Reviews

Rated 3.9 out of 5 by 32 reviewers.
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
Rated 2 out of 5 by Dull, dull, dull Sorry, but this course is a real drag. The content is reasonable, but the presentation is so drab and boring. The professor has no charisma, expresses no excitement in the subject matter. No enthusiasm, nothing to incite or even encourage the viewer/listener to take a real interest. Far greater use should have been made of graphics and video/film clips. This course cries out for such. I think a better choice would be to read a book on this topic. May 24, 2014
Rated 2 out of 5 by Disappointing I was disappointed by both the style and the content of this class. Dr. King's delivery resembles the reading of a textbook, and her diction suffers an obfuscatory tendency toward the vague, the overgeneral, and the gratuitously polysyllabic. Nuggets of enlightenment are scarce, diluted with too much discussion of things like terminology disputes among anthropologists. The exciting-to-know parts of this class would fit in a single, briskly paced, one-hour lecture. Reflexive deference to political correctness interrupts the flow of several lectures, as when Dr. King remarks that chimp infants sleep with their mothers, while human infants might wish to sleep with their mothers or primary care-givers. That example is brief and does no harm to the content of the class, but I got the clear impression that Dr. King is very reluctant to discuss the possibility of instinct having much influence on human behavior, and that that reluctance robs the student of much interesting material that belonged in this class. The last lecture is mostly a soapbox harangue about causes which Dr. King obviously embraces dearly but which are not necessarily interesting to someone seeking to learn about the Roots of Human Behavior. May 9, 2013
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