A criticism often flung at evolutionary studies of human behaviour is that, in revealing the origins of the human psyche’s darkest aspects, they might substantiate our worst traits. The hysteria over sociobiology arose from concerns that a biological understanding of human behaviour and society would be used to justify racism, sexism, and various other forms of prejudice.

Ideologues will usually grab at anything that suits their worldview and ignore whatever contradicts it. But that should not change the questions scientists ask. In fact, modern evolutionary biology is making enormous contributions to our understanding of how our ideas of race, racism, gender, and sexism arise.

In this vein, I’ve enjoyed catching up on some of the most recent research on the evolution and neurobiology of race and racism. Two of the most interesting reads are an article on the roots of racism by Elizabeth Culotta, and a Nature Neuroscience review by Jennifer Kubota and colleagues on the neuroscience of race.

Where Does Racism Come From?

Culotta’s article, part of a special section in Science on human conflict, isolates two important themes that are gathering support. First, racism is one of many expressions of our evolved capacity to live and work in groups. The very human tendency to identify with an “us” defines the broader “them.” Out-group “hate,” then, is a mirror image of in-group “love.” Religious bigotry, ethnic mistrust, and even an intense dislike of Oakland Raiders Fans arise at first from our tendency to form coalitions and allegiances.

Read more at Huffington Post

Published On: July 27, 2012

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