Reflections on the Benefits of Being a Social Animal

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Among the emerging concepts that I have found most interesting and, at times, challenging during the course of my PSY 1001 experience is the idea that our position as social creatures is indeed double-edged. As covered in last week's discussion, our pronounced tendency towards sociability (at least when compared with a number of other creatures) has both benefits and drawbacks. Social organization increases chances of survival, as organisms (in this case, people) can provide assistance to each other and can engage in a division of labor which allows for specialization and thus allows specific individuals to hone higher levels of skill in specific areas.


While humans indeed have a range of sociability, as we have discovered both through personal experience and the study of personality psychology, as a species we tend to fall towards the social end of the spectrum. We are thus social animals. Compared to say, reptiles or certain kinds of fishes, all but the most reclusive humans show a need or desire to be with members of their own species in varying degrees. Yet there is indeed variation within the human race. While some people prefer to live with others in the midst of a teeming city, still others choose a life of relative isolation and live in the wilderness with few contacts.

This built-in dependence on associating with others has both its benefits, as described above, and its faults. We have discussed the pitfalls of conformity and obedience, in terms of behavior that ranges from the silly (following certain fashion trends that in restrospect are aesthetically appallingl) to the truly horrifying (the massive organized violence - from lynch mobs to the GULAG to death camps - in the twentieth century). As social creatures, we have the capacity, when making numerous decisions as members of a group of when led by a powerful and charismatic leader, to exhibit cruelty upon others of our kind.

Yet for all its possible evils, our social nature, combined with our ability to use tools and think abstractly, is what has allowed us to develop from hunter-gatherers to people who use technology and social engineering to alter our world. Were humans more isolationist in nature, it is unlikely the the social bonds necessary to build cities or form governments could ever have come into being. Indeed, it is the social nature of humans, augmented by our ability to communicate in a remarkably detailed manner, that has allowed for the division of labor that allows some of us to engage in survival activities (agriculture or medicine for example) while others can devote their working lives to quality of life activities (art and music among others). Despite the violence and stupidity that social pressures can lead to, without our need for interacting with each other, we would never have crossed the oceans or erected great cities or left our own planet. We are social creatures, for worse, but mostly for better.

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This page contains a single entry by J. Whitebread published on December 5, 2011 7:49 AM.

Our Belief Live On -- Despite The Evidence was the previous entry in this blog.

Life on Mars is the next entry in this blog.

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