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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Eric A Smith
BIO A 520
Seattle Campus

Human Behavioral Ecology

Principles and methods of evolutionary behavioral ecology, and critical examination of their application to human behavior in such areas as resource utilization, mating, parenting, life history, cooperation, and competition.

Class description

Behavioral ecology examines patterns of behavior as adaptations -- that is, as products of evolved cognitive mechanisms designed to respond in fitness-enhancing ways to social and environmental variation. In the last three decades, a growing number of anthropologists, archaeologists, and other social and biological scientists have been testing, refining, and elaborating theories and models from behavioral ecology in human populations. This seminar examines this body of work and its underlying theoretical basis.

Topics to be covered include: * frameworks for studying behavioral adaptative mechanisms (phenotypic adaptation, dual transmission theory, evolutionary psychology) * variation and change in subsistence strategies (including foraging strategies, emergence of agriculture, time allocation and spatial organization) * parental investment, mating systems, and life history strategies * evolutionary perspectives on cooperation (e.g., resource sharing, collective action) * the behavioral ecology of competition and hierarchy * costly signaling analyses of generosity, cooperation, and mate choice

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Class sessions will focus on seminar discussion, plus student presentations and interactive lecturing. The primary written assignment is a mock research proposal outlining empirical research (in an ethnographic or archaeological setting) based on hypotheses derived from a particular model or topic in behavioral ecology.

Recommended preparation

This course is intended for graduate students in Biocultural Anthropology, and others who have a strong background in anthropology, evolutionary biology, or cognate fields. Non-anthropology students with sufficient background and interests are encouraged to contact the instructor about enrolling. Enrollment is limited to 15 students.

The reading consists of selections from two edited volumes (Evolutionary Ecology and Human Behavior, ed. Smith & Winterhalder; and Evolutionary Behavioral Ecology, ed. Westneat & Fox) plus a variety of journal articles. Those lacking sufficient background in the principles of behavioral biology and evolutionary adaptation will need to remedy this by additional reading from the Westneat & Fox text.

Class assignments and grading

The primary written assignment is a mock research proposal outlining proposed empirical research (in an ethnographic or archaeological setting) based on hypotheses derived from a particular model or topic in behavioral ecology. A class presentation on current debates over one of the topics in the syllabus will also be required.

Mock research proposal; class presentation; discussion topics and participation.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Eric A Smith
Date: 12/07/2010