Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture

Lecture | Mark Moffett | War and Peace and Social Identity

Episode Summary

Lecture | Mark Moffett | War and Peace and Social Identity

Episode Notes

An essential feature of any society is the capacity of its members to distinguish one another from outsiders and reject outsiders on that basis. Some social insects and humans are able to form huge societies because their membership is anonymous—members aren’t required to distinguish all the other members as individuals for the society to remain unified. Societies are instead bonded by shared identity cues and signals, such as society-specific odors in ants and learned social labels in humans. I contrast this with societies of nonhuman vertebrates, which achieve a maximum of 200 members by the necessity that each member recalls every other member individually. The capacity to form an anonymous society is a complex trait that I will show could have arisen in our ancestors well before language. While there has been a perennial focus on the cooperative networks that emerge inside each society, identification with a clearly defined group of members, and not coop­eration or kinship as many experts assert, is the most fundamental defining characteristic of societies in humans and other animals. I will discuss how this identification bears on aggression in humans and other animals. [March 5, 2015]