Is there a role for culture in human behavioral ecology?

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42 Scopus citations


Most research in human behavioral ecology has been acultural, which raises the question of how best to incorporate the concept of culture into this approach. A necessary step in this direction is to pare the culture concept down to its ideational elements, excluding behavior and its material products (Durham 1991; Geertz 1973; Keesing 1974). The cultural and reproductive success hypothesis, though empirically successful (Irons 1993), is not a model for all of culture because of widespread discrepancies between behavior and culture to which it does not call attention. Cultural transmission models are also weakened by such discrepancies, but, more importantly, such models are most relevant to phenomena different from those central to human behavioral ecology. A better way to incorporate culture into human behavioral ecology is to see it as the context of human action and as a tool people use in social manipulation. The study of signal systems is a key to an understanding of social manipulation and to the incorporation of culture into human behavioral ecology. Examples of the manipulation of culture for reproductive benefit include Yanomamö kin term manipulation (Chagnon 1988), incest rules (Thornhill 1990, 1991), and the derogation of sexual competitors (Buss and Dedden 1990). The human behavioral ecological study of social manipulation in cultural contexts needs to be expanded. Two phenomena that might shed light on such manipulation are the Rashomon effect and the audience effect.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)181-205
Number of pages25
JournalEthology and Sociobiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 1995
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


  • Audience effect
  • Behavioral ecology
  • Communication
  • Cultural transmission
  • Culture
  • Dual inheritance
  • Evolutionary culture theory
  • Rashomon effect
  • Signals

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