Human Sociability

Humans are innately sociable, and this is probably due in large part to an evolutionary legacy emanating from our experiences as primates becoming humans on the African savannah (e.g., Hrdy, 1999). It has been argued that early humans developed their social nature because of the fitness-enhancing properties of sharing food and coordinating other activities (Turner, 2000). Savage and Kanazawa (2004) propose that sociability is maintained by certain evolved central nervous system (CNS) responses of pleasure or anxiety in response to social cues; others have additionally made the case that the desire for interpersonal attachments is a fundamental human motivation (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). Human behavior responds to social situations quickly and unconsciously (Easton, 2005). Sociocognitive competencies, like the ability to communicate, “are a requisite feature of survival and reproduction in all primates” (Geary & Bjorklund, 2000, p. 59).

Maslow (1943) insisted that the need for love and affection were important sources of basic human motivation. Humans are designed to begin engaging in social interaction very early in life (Goswami, 2008). Infants are endowed with behavioral mechanisms, such as crying, rooting, and grasping, that ensure proximity to their primary caretakers. Chess and Thomas (1984) suggested that active social exchange with caregivers is one of two primary goals of human activity from birth onward. Infants have a preference for looking at faces and are bothered when other people’s faces do not respond to them (Johnson & Morton, 1991). Other important developments such as joint attention, adult gaze following, imitating adults, using communication signals to direct adults’ attention, and understanding how a sequence of acts is goal directed are also developed early in life (Sodian, 2005). Gauvain and Perez (2008) explain that:

“. . . the human cognitive system, as supported by neurological functioning and brain development, is biased toward and prepared to process social information, thus facilitating learning in social context. Abilities that appear in the first year that promote understanding of mind and intentionality include the coordinated attention of social partners to one another, the joint attention by social partners to an external reference, and the use of social referencing to devise an emotional reaction to external information. By the end of the first year, infants appear to understand other persons as intentional agents” (p. 604).

An enormous landscape of brain geography is allocated to social functioning. Accordingly, many psychologists have placed a strong emphasis on the role of early social interactions for a wide array of child outcomes including communication, emotionality, emotion regulation, and cognitive skills. It would not be a great stretch to speculate that individuals who either do not have the capacity for normal social development or whose social development is impaired by adverse experiences, would be at a greater risk of antisocial behavior. They might not, for example, develop adequate moral reasoning because they would be less sensitive to, or understanding of, other people’s responses or feelings. They may also fail to develop good social rules for reacting to others due to the failure to sense or understand the interpersonal consequences of their actions. It is partly due to the profound impact of human sociability and early social interaction on behavior that we selected parental attachment, parental warmth and rejection, and child abuse for further examination in this book.

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