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
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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
 |  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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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 64-page printed course guidebook
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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 3 out of 5 by from Interesting but not the best This is only the second TGC I would not recommend. I bought it on sale; 17 years after it was first published. I would not buy it at full price. The course addresses a really important subject. But the course is very limited in its scope compared to the amount of research available today. Professor King acknowledges that the materiel is changing frequently. I think there is useful information in the course for the novice in the subject. Read the other reviews before buying. Obviously some people really liked it at the time they took the course. The usefulness of the course probably depends on the extent of your previous knowledge on the subject.
Date published: 2019-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinaitng and worthwhile In this course, Professor King talks about aspects of biological Anthropology that are apparently very close to her field of expertise – she points out on many occasions aspects that were directly related to her own research. The main method of research is to study various aspects of human behavior, and to investigate if these can somehow be seen in some of our animal relatives. It is often surprising to see that aspects that we usually automatically associate with humans – human innovation as it were – are actually also manifested in Great Apes and sometimes even in various monkey species. The most fascinating aspects for me were animal social and family bonds, social learning, animal cultures. As one goes through the lectures, it becomes apparent that many of these traits which we are used to think of as strictly human really are not, and the timeless question of what makes human special becomes harder and harder to answer. This course was particularly fascinating for me because I am higly interested in Zoology in all of its aspects and this course turned out to be unforeseeably close in content. Professor King is a good presenter. She is clear, structured and interesting. The lectures are strictly academic, however, without any attempt at being entertaining so as to be more palatable to a non-committed audience. This must be taken to into account as some may not like this. As many have mentioned, the course is old and there probably are many corrections and additions to the material. Still, I found the course to be absolutely fascinating, and to provide a good basic understanding of the field. I am quite positive that for the most part the data is still correct and relevant.
Date published: 2018-01-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Roots of Human Behavior Content is good for someone new to the field of study but is very dated (15 years old). Instructor is very knowledgeable in the field but tends to have a very monotone presentation which is sometimes hard to hold the student's attention.
Date published: 2016-07-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds audio download version There are indeed many gems, along with Lucy in this study of non-human primates. Dr. Barbara King, a biological anthropologist, (a discipline that I did not know even existed) delves deeply into behavioral aspects of apes and monkeys both by observation in the wild and zoos and by the use of controlled experiments in the laboratory. For example, professor King details language understanding, not only by the famous Koko, but the teaching of ASL to some chimpanzees and the ability of others to learn some symbolic language by observation. Most impressive. Professor King also details some of her own (and others) field work, mentioning not only the successes,, but also the difficulties that this work entails For example who knew that an already funded research could be derailed and changed to something else simply by the decision of a government to not grant a visa at the last minute. Or that field work sometimes had to be curtailed due to reacquiring supplies or to write observations. Another area that I found fascinating was her explanation of the use of tools by some apes and monkeys. And that in some cases that tool use could be taught and passed along. And more. Dr. King also gives a short review of hominid evolution (including the aforementioned Lucy, among others). Although she presents plenty of her own findings and views (always being properly scientifically cautious), she never neglects to credit the many other researcher's findings and opinions. Some other reviewers have disliked professor King's presentation style. For me. her delivery while not overly dynamic, was clear, thoughtful, concise and logical and often including a bit of humor. Recommended.
Date published: 2016-06-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Roots of Human Behavior I thought this would be more about humans than apes and monkeys. Not so. Was disappointed to learn that it was mostly animal behavior. Not interested in that even though it may apply somewhat to human behavior.
Date published: 2016-01-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from An overview of primate behavioral research This is a worthwhile set of lectures, but it is not really about the "roots of human behavior." It is about research in nonhuman primate behavior at the time the lecture was given - specifically, the speaker's research and experience. Unfortunately, it does not say much about why we humans behave as we do. I would have liked to have heard more on male-female interaction, social hierarchies, aggression, cooperation, emotions, and the "roots" of human environmental destructiveness. In the last lecture, she gives an impassioned plea for endangered ape species, a vital concern to be sure. But she offers no insights from behavioral primatology or evolutionary theory into why we tend to destroy other species. Do other species "over-grow" their habitats, wipe out other species, and degrade the ecosystem? Does observation of other primates help us understand ourselves any better? If so how? But the lectures do contain a lot of interesting material, stories, and anecdotes.
Date published: 2016-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Made me want more! I really enjoyed listening to Professor King! I'm on a personal quest to better understand human nature and Dr. King studies our closest relatives in the animal kingdom: the primates. She's obviously quite knowledgeable and is really good at explaining concepts and divergent opinions. Since we share common ancestors, learning how anthropoid primates live may shed some light on how our distant ancestors lived and evolved. You'll be surprised by the similarities we share with them. She's done another course which is longer and seems to go deeper: "Biological Anthropology" which I started after finishing this one.
Date published: 2016-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Humans are not So Different as we Might Think I'm only now into the third lecture, but I'm sure I'll watch this several times more and will certainly read the recommended texts. Dr. King relates how anthropoids transfer from one group to another on leaving adolescence. Reflecting back on my and my school classmates' experiences, I find that we humans are not all that different. It would seem more often than not that males in our species leave the home territory and venture elsewhere, not only in search of adventure and resources, but in search of mates outside the group. I am finding the parallels within the anthropoid world most interesting and useful. This about the 10th course I've taken from The Great Courses and I highly recommend everyone to check out their offerings.
Date published: 2016-01-20
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