A review of Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans: an Evolutionary Perspective on Male Aggression Against Females edited by M.N. Muller and R.W. Wrangham. Harvard University Press (2009), 504 pages, £40.95 ($55.00), ISBN: 0674033248 (hardback).
Authors:Kevin N. Laland, Jeremy R. Kendal, and Gillian R. Brown
The vibrancy of the field of evolution and human behaviour belies the fact that the majority of social scientists are deeply unhappy with evolutionary accounts of human behaviour. In part, this reflects a problem within evolutionary biology: neo-Darwinism fails to recognize a fundamental cause of evolutionary change, “niche construction”, by which organisms modify environmental states, and consequently selection pressures, thereby acting as co-directors of their own, and other species’, evolution. Social scientists are rarely content to describe human behaviour as fully determined by naturally-selected genes, and view humans as active, constructive agents rather than passive recipients of selection. To be aligned with this viewpoint, evolutionary biology must explicitly recognize the changes that humans bring about in their world to be drivers of evolutionary events. Learning and culture have played important evolutionary roles, by shaping the pattern and strength of selection acting on our ancestors. The incorporation of niche construction as both a cause and a product of evolution enhances the explanatory power of evolutionary theory and provides what ultimately will prove to be a more satisfactory evolutionary framework for understanding human behaviour. Here we spell out some of the important implications of the niche-construction perspective for the field of evolution and human behaviour.