General Theory Of Behavior In

his search for a general theory of behavior, the American social/behavioral scientist Richard D. Alexander (1975) offers the desideratum that such a future theory must correspond with current knowledge concerning evolutionary theory, and he suggests that a useful, predictive, and general theory of behavior is unlikely to be constructed by building upward toward greater complexity starting from the "engram," the "reflex," or some other simple theoretical unit of activity. Alexander describes several principal/critical elements that may be included, eventually, in a general theory of behavior: group-living (when individuals congregate, they increase the intensity and directness of competition for existing resources, including mates); sexual competition (sex-ratio selection is such that approximately equal numbers of adult males and females are produced in all human and primate societies, regardless of the proportion of either sex that goes mateless); incest avoidance (avoidance of close inbreeding is one of the salient universals in human society); nepotism (the reproductive interests of different individuals will overlap to the degree that their genetic makeup overlaps); reciprocity (the degree and extent to which humans have "traded benefits" to mutual reproductive advantage); and parenthood (the evolution of adult humans so as to assist the reproduction of their offspring, and the use of their individual offspring so as to maximize the parents' overall reproduction). Alexander emphasizes that scientists' theories of human behavior (as well as their theories of animal behavior) must be evolutionary in the sense that modern biologists understand the process of natural selection - not in the terms of progress or movement from level to level characteristic of "anthropological evolutionism," not in the "social Darwinist" sense of natural laws that should not be violated (or instincts that cannot be thwarted), and not in the poorly focused and inadequate terms of the biology of the first two-thirds of the 20th century. According to Alexander, failure of the behavioral sciences to develop an adequate general theory of behavior is seen as a result of the difficulty in deriving a sub-theory or set of sub-theories, from evolutionary theory. Alexander's recommendation, and prescriptive first step, is to combine the approaches and data of biologists and social scientists in analyzing the notion of reciprocity in social interactions. See also EVOLUTIONARY THEORY. REFERENCE

Alexander, R. D. (1975). The search for a general theory of behavior. Behavioral Science, 20, 77-100.

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