Social evolution

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This article is about the concept in evolutionary biology. For the concept in anthropology, see Sociocultural evolution. For the book, see Social Evolution.

Social evolution is a subdiscipline of evolutionary biology that is concerned with social behaviors that have fitness consequences for individuals other than the actor. Social behaviors can be categorized according to the fitness consequences they entail for the actor and recipient.

  • Mutually beneficial – a behavior that increases the direct fitness of both the actor and the recipient
  • Selfish – a behavior that increases the direct fitness of the actor, but the recipient suffers a loss
  • Altruistic – a behavior that increases the direct fitness of the recipient, but the actor suffers a loss
  • Spiteful – a behavior that decreases the direct fitness of both the actor and the recipient

This classification was proposed by W. D. Hamilton, arguing that natural selection favors mutually beneficial or selfish behaviors. Hamilton's insight was to show how kin selection could explain altruism and spite.[1][2]

Social evolution is also often regarded (especially, in the field of social anthropology) as evolution of social systems and structures.[3]

In 2010, Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson, a founder of modern sociobiology, proposed a new theory of social evolution.[4] He argued that the traditional approach of focusing on eusociality had limitations, which he illustrated primarily with examples from the insect world.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hamilton, W.D. (1964). The genetical evolution of social behaviour, I & II. J. Theor. Biol. 7, 1–52.
  2. ^ Hamilton WD 1970. "Selfish and spiteful behaviour in an evolutionary model". Nature 228: 1218–20.
  3. ^ see, e.g., Evolution and culture. Ed. by Marshall David Sahlins and Elman Service. Ann Arbor, MI: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1960; Andrey Korotayev, Nikolay Kradin, Victor de Munck, and Valeri Lynsha. Alternatives of Social Evolution: An Introduction. Alternatives of Social Evolution. Vladivostok: Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 2009. P.12-59.
  4. ^ a b Keim, Brandon (August 26, 2010). "E.O. Wilson Proposes New Theory of Social Evolution". Wired. 


  • Carver, Thomas Nixon (1935). The Essential Factors of Social Evolution. Chapter links, pp. ix-xi.
  • Frank, S.A. (1998). Foundations of social evolution. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ.[1]
  • Hamilton, W.D. (1964). The genetical evolution of social behavior I and II. — Journal of Theoretical Biology 7: 1-16 and 17-52.
  • Korotayev, Andrey (2004). World Religions and Social Evolution of the Old World Oikumene Civilizations: A Cross-cultural Perspective (First ed.). Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press. ISBN 0-7734-6310-0. 
  • Bergstrom, Theodore C. "Evolution of Social Behavior: Individual and Group Selection." The Journal of Economic Perspectives 16.2 (2002): 67-88. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.

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