Dictionary of Human Evolution and Biology

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Wilson, Edward Osborne

US entomologist and sociobiologist. Wilson’s empirical work was with haplo-diploid insects; he described communication by pheromones and the caste system, and he explained their relationship to observed behaviors. His empirical and theoretical work culminated in the monumental synthetic work now considered to be a classic of genetic-behavior analysis, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975); the book included a final chapter in which he suggested that, as in ants, social behaviors have a genetic basis in mammals and primates, including humans. This extrapolation from ants to humans evoked criticism from many social scientists. Wilson subsequently published several popular works with sociobiological themes, most notably the Pulitzer Prize-winning On Human Nature (1978), which hypothesized that many cultural behaviors are gene-based. He has also published The Diversity of Life (1992), as well as several more controversial works co-authored with Charles J. Lumsden such as Genes, Mind and Culture (1981); Wilson’s autobiography was Naturalist (1996). Wilson’s work has become central to anthropology because of these proposed gene- behavior connections; several of his students favor similar hypotheses, especially with respect to behaviors mediated by the limbic system.

See sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, W. D. Hamilton, R. Trivers, and G. C. Williams.

Cf. environmental determinism.

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