Book ID: CBB223877625

Killer Instinct: The Popular Science of Human Nature in Twentieth-Century America (2021)


Weidman, Nadine M. (Author)

Harvard University Press

Publication Date: 2021
Physical Details: 336
Language: English

A historian of science examines key public debates about the fundamental nature of humans to ask why a polarized discourse about nature versus nurture became so entrenched in the popular sciences of animal and human behavior.Are humans innately aggressive or innately cooperative? In the 1960s, bestselling books enthralled American readers with the startling claim that humans possessed an instinct for violence inherited from primate ancestors. Critics responded that humans were inherently loving and altruistic. The resulting debate―fiercely contested and highly public―left a lasting impression on the popular science discourse surrounding what it means to be human.Killer Instinct traces how Konrad Lorenz, Robert Ardrey, and their followers drew on the sciences of animal behavior and paleoanthropology to argue that the aggression instinct drove human evolutionary progress. Their message, spread throughout popular media, brought pointed ripostes. Led by the anthropologist Ashley Montagu, opponents presented a rival vision of human nature, equally based in biological evidence, that humans possessed inborn drives toward love and cooperation. Over the course of the debate, however, each side accused the other of holding an extremist position: that behavior was either determined entirely by genes or shaped solely by environment. Nadine Weidman shows that what started as a dispute over the innate tendencies of animals and humans transformed into an opposition between nature and nurture.This polarized formulation proved powerful. When E. O. Wilson introduced his sociobiology in 1975, he tried to rise above the oppositional terms of the aggression debate. But the controversy over Wilson’s work―led by critics like the feminist biologist Ruth Hubbard―was ultimately absorbed back into the nature-versus-nurture formulation. Killer Instinct explores what happens and what gets lost when polemics dominate discussions of the science of human nature.

Citation URI

Similar Citations

Book Miller, Ian Jared; (2013)
The Nature of the Beasts: Empire and Exhibition at the Tokyo Imperial Zoo (/isis/citation/CBB001420333/) unapi

Book Peter S. Alagona; (2022)
The Accidental Ecosystem: People and Wildlife in American Cities (/isis/citation/CBB499746657/) unapi

Thesis White, N. William; (2011)
Stories from the Elders: Chronicles and Narratives of the Early Years of Wilderness Therapy (/isis/citation/CBB001567332/) unapi

Book Segal, Nancy L.; (2012)
Born Together--Reared Apart: The Landmark Minnesota Twin Study (/isis/citation/CBB001320238/) unapi

Article Ashanti Shih; (2019)
The Most Perfect Natural Laboratory in the World: Making and Knowing Hawaii National Park (/isis/citation/CBB149416703/) unapi

Book Thurs, Daniel Patrick; (2007)
Science Talk: Changing Notions of Science in American Popular Culture (/isis/citation/CBB000773753/) unapi

Thesis Newell, Catherine Lea; (2012)
The Wheels of Titan: Faith, the Future, and the American Frontier (/isis/citation/CBB001560757/) unapi

Book Lutkehaus, Nancy C.; (2008)
Margaret Mead: The Making of an American Icon (/isis/citation/CBB000950304/) unapi

Thesis Milam, Erika Lorraine; (2006)
Looking for a Few Good Males: Female Choice in Evolutionary Biology, 1915--1975 (/isis/citation/CBB001560598/) unapi

Thesis Kowalski, Philip J.; (2007)
Cultural Genetics: Theories of Inheritance and Nineteenth-Century AmericanLiterature (/isis/citation/CBB001561333/) unapi

Article Weidman, Nadine; (2011)
Popularizing the Ancestry of Man: Robert Ardrey and the Killer Instinct (/isis/citation/CBB001034550/) unapi

Book Keller, Evelyn Fox; (2010)
The Mirage of a Space between Nature and Nurture (/isis/citation/CBB001022401/) unapi

Book Alessandra Cerea; (2021)
Natura, psiche e cultura. Dal “ragazzo selvaggio” all’etnopsicoanalisi (/isis/citation/CBB136760743/) unapi

Article Staum, Martin S.; (2004)
Nature and Nurture in French Ethnography and Anthropology, 1859-1914 (/isis/citation/CBB000500190/) unapi

Thesis Santoro, Lily A.; (2011)
The Science of God's Creation: Popular Science and Christianity in the Early Republic (/isis/citation/CBB001567279/) unapi

Book Paul Weirich; (2015)
Models of Decision-Making: Simplifying Choices (/isis/citation/CBB665668336/) unapi

Authors & Contributors
Lacey, James
Abel, Richard
Boylan, Anne M.
Opal, Jason M
Russell, Keith
Staum, Martin S.
Journal of the History of Ideas
History of Political Economy
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
History of Science
Revue d'Histoire des Sciences Humaines
University of California Press
Rutgers University Press
Princeton University Press
Duke University Press
Harvard University Press
University of Wisconsin at Madison
Nature and its relationship to culture; human-nature relationships
Definition of human; human nature
Science and society
Behavioral sciences
Mead, Margaret
Ardrey, Robert
Bonestell, Chesley
Falconer, William
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
21st century
20th century, late
18th century
United States
Minnesota (U.S.)
Tokyo (Japan)
Hawaii (U.S.)
Ford Foundation

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment