Concept/Content social context to learning / wounded war correspondent Leo Disher receives Purple Heart medal
Information caption Interactions at the social level may affect learning and biological fitness at the individual level. Here, the awarding of a medal to a journalist wounded in wartime-reporting functions in part to convey how the community values service and sacrifice. Such social rewards or punishment help shape what is learned. When an organism (with an open behavior program) ventures into trying new social behaviors, the environment of other group members can reinforce them, positively or negatively. Organisms also learn from successful (or failed) reciprocities. Social context can foster (or discourage) helpful or cooperative behavior. Further learning through observation and imitation then tends to amplify socially successful behavior.
Social interactions provide an environment for biological selection, as well. Innate dispositions such as extending sympathy beyond kin, an unschooled tendency to try helpful behavior, or readiness to punish may enhance survival and reproduction in certain social environments. Social environments may also promote general traits that enhance social or moral behavioral abilities, such as improved language skills ("reading" emotions, interpreting signals, articulating needs, etc.), perceptual skills in differentiating group members, or memory. Indeed, anthropological evidence indicates that we have inherited many such tendencies and skills from our primate and early hominid ancestors (Boehm 1999; Richerson and Boyd 2005). Society and morality may ultimately be forces in evolution as much as they are products of it.
Inquiry caption Society is often viewed as the simple sum of individual interactions. But consider how social interactions may, in turn, shape individual behavior and even biological fitness. Here is one example: the awarding of a medal to a journalist wounded in wartime-reporting. The award conveys publically how the community values service and sacrifice. Such social rewards, like punishment too, help shape what an indvidual learns. Can you identify other possible examples where social context may foster, discourage or shape moral behavior? Some possibilities to explore: expressions of sympathy? readiness to punish? tendency to help? language ability? perceptual abilities? depth or acuity of memory? What effect might these various contexts have had earlier in human evolutionary history? How might these factors vary in family groups, small multi-family groups or larger tribes?
Target Concept: Social interactions may affect individual learning and biological fitness.
Credit public domain [wikipedia]
SIZE in pixels [file size] 469x540

© 2008