Roots of Human Behavior

Course No. 168
Professor Barbara J. King, Ph.D.
The College of William and Mary
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3.9 out of 5
45 Reviews
53% of reviewers would recommend this product
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
 |  Average 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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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 64-page printed course guidebook
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider
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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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Roots of Human Behavior is rated 3.9 out of 5 by 45.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not up to the standards of the Great Courses I have many Great Courses offerings and this one simply isn't up to the high standards set by the others. The presentation style is dry and uninspired, the material is unevenly selected, and the course is one person's opinion far too often rather than science. The instructor seems to be talking down to students rather than enlightening us. This would make a poor junior high school examination of the subject matter, much less an exceptional college level course. I was very disappointed with this instructor and the material, especially given the very high standard set by other Great Courses programs.
Date published: 2015-11-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2015-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2014-12-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2014-10-19
Rated 1 out of 5 by from 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?
Date published: 2014-07-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2014-05-24
Rated 2 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2013-05-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Roots of Human Behaviour I did not understand that this course was solely on the subfield of biological anthropology, I would have enjoyed it more if the cultural anthropology aspect was explored.
Date published: 2012-03-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from mediocre This set could have been summed up in a few sentences. The professor sounded genuinely interested only in her own field work and job history, which were the real major topics. It would have been better in 3-6 lessons or if she had filled out the scope more completely. Humans are almost never mentioned - this course just compares primates with the implication that we fit in. I found myself daydreaming to fill the gap between title and lack of content.
Date published: 2011-12-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting and Worthwhile A good course to find out where some of our human attributes originated. You might look at yourself a little differently after finishing this course.
Date published: 2011-11-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from title a bit misleading Review based on audio download. As others have commented, the title is somewhat misleading. The instructor explains in good detail some of the behaviors of various apes and monkeys. She, however, doesn't do a great job tying it to human behavior or how the human behavior evolved. In one lecture (#11) she does some evolution comparisons but with as much effort as expected. The instructor's delivery is easy to listen to, and the content is entertaining and educational to a degree. Easy listening in the car in between some of the more cerebral TGC material...
Date published: 2011-10-20
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Dud I have purchased several Teaching Company Courses over the last few years and have been very satisfied. It makes good use of my drive to and from work. The only dud in all my purchases is “Roots of Human Behavior.” Please remove it from your selection.
Date published: 2011-08-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not Quite What I Expected [Audio Version] Dr. King has a pleasant voice, and I had no problems with her delivery. The course became more interesting in the second half. I did have a problem with the structure of the course, and found the title a tad misleading. The course is mostly about the professor’s meticulous, detailed observations of various ape species. The actual connections to the origins of human behavior were not especially compelling and were overly cautious. I also became more aware of the almost-celebrity status of the superstars of primatology: Goodall, Fossey, et. al. Dr. King states she also does courses in women’s studies. The vital importance of preserving ape habitats and saving the apes from extinction was touchingly and sincerely expressed. Generally speaking, this is a highly academic course about biological anthropology. It is not anything like the 1967 best-selling book, ‘Naked Ape,’ by Desmond Morris (which is not listed in the bibliography). I wish the course had been more provocative and exciting, but it is understandable in the context of knowing that Professor King is a careful, disciplined academic. I would not hesitate to recommend the course.
Date published: 2011-08-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Interesting This review refers to the CD's. I must confess this lecture series lies outside any major interest of mine. Nevertheless, Dr King's brilliant presentation was captivating to someone who had never heard of a discipline entitled biological anthropology. She begins with a careful definition of her area of interest and how it interlocks with other specialties encompassing the anthropology field. While she is an academic, she appears to have done substantial field work, including foreign assignments. She enlivens her lectures with actual illustrations of what she has observed in the course of that work. She reiterates that we and our anthropoid brothers and sisters spring from mutual, unknown ancestors. They are not our predecessors. However, she points out we can learn much about our origins by studying these animals for characteristics we appear to share in various degrees. She observes there are four major categories of anthropoids considered great apes: Orangutans, Gorillas, Chimpanzees, and bonobos. Humans are closer to the apes than the monkeys. In an amusing sidelight, she points out that the "monkey bars" that children swing on found on many school yards actually should be called "ape bars" since apes swing from limb to limb while monkeys tend to walk on top of the limbs. The real meat of the lectures to me is where she discusses the origins of humans. She describes our development as akin to a bush rather than a tree. There were many offshoots and dead ends in homo sapiens history, and we are continuing to develop and grow. Just look at what we know today about the human brain. It's hard to sum up this series of lectures. As I indicated, her field is not one of great interest to me. Even so, I felt I learned a great deal from listening to this program, and Dr King is most impressive. Thus, the general "liberal arts drifter" may wish to dip into this series. On the other hand, those who desire to know more about this subject will find this course indispensable. In that context, it's highly recommended. One word of caution. Some reviewers have commented on Dr King's delivery. I found her pleasant voice rather soft, and it may be difficult to comprehend if one is riding a motorcycle or some other noisy commute. However, what she has to say is extremely interesting and worth the effort to overcome aural distractions.
Date published: 2011-04-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Started slow but ended strong Professor Barbara King developed her theme slowly but finished strong. I listened to audio CDs during my daily commute, and since my old compact car is rather noisy, I had to listen with the volume turned up loud. At times Professor King's voice seemed shrill and almost made me wince. But I definitely wanted to finish the course, and the last few lectures made it all worthwhile.
Date published: 2011-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting introduction to field I have no background in this field, so this was a perfect introduction to understanding the different types of monkeys and apes and how their cultures work. Because it is short, it is only an introduction. The professor is very careful to define terms and describe methods. She also explains the limits of what is known versus what is believed to be true by scholars at this point. Left me wanting to learn more, which is a great way to end a course in a new field.
Date published: 2011-01-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Introductory level course. This course would probably be most interesting to people who haven't had a college class in Anthropology or read much about primate/human behavior. I found parts of it very interesting, especially in the later lectures. I enjoyed her other series on Evolution much more.
Date published: 2010-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Roots of Human Behavior I, being a rootician by trade,was sucked in by the title. And to good effect. The discussion of culture alone was worth the time. I was compelled to go through the whole six CDs without dallying.
Date published: 2010-01-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, not Great I thought I'd enjoy this course more than I did, but ended up finding it a mix of too elementary, too (scientifically) cautious, too mundane. I was left wanting it to be either more general; a broader comparative study in animal cognition (not the intended scope of this Biological Anthropology class), or more psychologically specific; a direct exploration of the implications of primate behavior for the variety of human behaviors. Instead the 12 lectures covered a general background to the field and some rather interesting specific studies of monkey and ape behavior (sexuality, tools and language being my favorite), concluding with an impassioned appeal for conservation (and the continued ability to do such studies). I also found the presentation by Professor King to be distracting. Her over use of inflective emphasis is a bit like hearing a sentence packed with bold and italicized words, to the point of being almost shrill at times. Maybe this delivery is more appropriate for getting and keeping the attention of her usual adolescent college students, but I found it consistently distracting and a bit irritating. Yet there are good points about this course. It is short, clearly organized, and the professor gives a well informed, articulate and logical presentation, and its a fascinating subject - how our behavior is so much like our closest primate relatives.
Date published: 2010-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Great Apes and Us I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. King's presentation and plan to listen to it again. I was sad when it was completed. While I'm sure that the DVD version would allow greater immediate understanding of the differences among primates, visuals would distract from the pure beauty of King's voice. Her excitement about her subject is contagious. She relates not only theory, but her personal experiences in observing the great apes in the wild and in captivity. I also appreciated her acknowledgement of controversies in the field and that new discoveries are being made almost continually. My only criticism is that the course was too short.
Date published: 2009-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating lectures I watched these 12 lectures while exercizing on my stationary bicycle and completed them for the first time in record time. (I also got in shape much quicker) Dr. King is a fascinating lecturer pesenting at a good pace, sharing excellent photos of apes and monkeys she has worked with personally. I would have been happier with 24 lectures on this topic. I watched it a second time with my husband who also gives ithe course 5 stars.
Date published: 2009-04-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from My First Anthropology Course I liked the presentation and the subject matter of this course (on DVD). Much of it was not new to me, and I was not shocked or amazed by any of the professor's conclusions regarding, for example, technology, language or behavioral roots in our cousins, the apes and monkeys. After watching this the first time, I wanted "more". More pictures and video clips, that is, of those wonderful animals. Little or no time -- and time is limited here, as there are just twelve lectures in all -- is wasted on talking about what is going to be discussed, or recapping what has already been. The professor, a biological anthropologist, is always careful to present both sides of any controversial issues, and these appear to represent the majority of issues in this field. Make no mistake, this course is not about psychology or child develoment. It mainly focuses on apes and monkeys, and how their behavior may relate to that of humans. If you don't happen to like "evolution, apes, and monkeys", there are many other courses available.
Date published: 2009-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Interesting and thought provoking I loved this course. It's one of those topics you just keep thinking about after a while, and you describe what this wonderful animals can do to your friends. After watching the lectures I went up to people and told them things like "did you know Bonobos make umbrellas, but chimps don't?" and that made for interesting conversation. If you like monkeys or ape behavior, this course is for you. Now, I was expecting something completely different, I'm not sure this course has much to do with origins of human behavior. But I was pleasantly surprised to see it mostly deals with great apes and their behavior. Professor King is a great Lecturer. She describes her (fascinating) experiences with monkeys and apes and one doesn't have to put any effort into paying attention. It feels she is just talking to you, telling you interesting stuff and making you learn in the process. She is more on the passive side of the lecturing bar, definitely, and I had to speed things up in the video player, because she speaks slowly (but clearly).
Date published: 2009-02-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, but a bit glib I bought this course as audio wallpaper for a family trip, taking our oldest off to college. While we all enjoyed it, I've read a fair amount of anthropology, and didn't hear much that was new; my older son had the same reaction after a single community college class on anthropology. His 13 yo brother liked it, though.
Date published: 2009-01-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This course explained a complex subject so that a neophyte can understand.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Dr. King was easy to listen to, informative and sometimes humoros asides. So far the (one) supplementary reading, How monkeys see the world, Cheny & Seyforth, has been interesting.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Female prof had unfortuantely a high pitched voice making it difficult for aging ears to understand every word.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The professor introduced me to anthropology with this course. Interesting and I will purse this subject further in the future. Professor king made the subject interesting.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I was goign to visit an in-law and wanted to talk to her about something she would know about. SO i ordered a course I thought I would find boring but I found the course fascinating.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very excited about prof. Kings "Roots of Human Behavior" course. Fascinating Study of our distant relatives.
Date published: 2008-10-17
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