The Superorganism Account of Human Sociality: How and When Human Groups are Like Beehives
92 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2011
Date Written: September 26, 2011
Biologists call highly cooperative and socially integrated animal groups such as beehives and ant colonies “superorganisms”. In such species, the colony acts like an organism despite each animal’s physical individuality. This paper frames human sociality through the superorganisms metaphor by systematically reviewing the superorganismic features of human psychology. These features include: (1) mechanisms to integrate individual units, (2) mechanisms to achieve unity of action, (3) low levels of heritable within-group variation, (4) a common fate, and (5) mechanisms to resolve conflicts of interest in the collective’s favor. It is concluded that human beings have a capacity to partly and flexibly display each of these superorganismic properties. Group identification is a key mechanism that activates human superorganismic properties, and threats to the group a key activating condition. This metaphor organizes diverse aspects of human psychology (e.g., normative conformity, social identity processes, religion, and the “rally-around-the-flag” reflex) into a coherent framework.
Keywords: superorganisms, human sociality
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