The Evolution of Human Emotions

  • Jonathan H. TurnerEmail author
Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)


Humans are, in essence, evolved apes carrying the genome that we shared our common ancestor with present-day great apes (chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans). Since the great apes are not highly social and, moreover, do not organize into permanent groups, it is likely that this low-level of sociality existed in humans’ common ancestor with the great apes, perhaps seven to 8 million years ago. It is argued that natural selection dramatically increased the hominin ancestors of human’s emotional capacities as a mechanism for getting around low sociality and lack of groups when these hominin ancestors were forced to begin living in open-country savanna conditions, where solidarity and groups would enhance fitness. Surprisingly, despite the many pro-social propensities evident in apes’ behavioral phenotype and underlying genotype, these were insufficient to increase sociality to the point of sustaining groups with high solidarity on the savanna. Hence, natural selection worked on the basic phenotype of hominins (and underlying genotype) to make them more emotional and, thereby, more social and group oriented. A methodology is outlined to test this basic hypothesis and is offered as a sociological alternative to either sociobiology or evolutionary psychology.


Emotions Evolution Sociality Groups Apes Hominins Natural selection 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CaliforniaRiversideUSA

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