Heritable Behavior and Abilities
Anything that is not heritable is of no evolutionary significance
In the 1960's, an endeavor in the field of psychology called "Behaviorism" matured. The scientific studies
that were embodied in this field were valuable for the study of learning and motivation, which is
covered under it's own chapter in this book. Most of the early studies in Behaviorism were conducted with animals
and were later expanded and applied to human studies. It was found, indeed, that most of the principles discovered
with animals did apply to humans. However, Behaviorism should have been labeled "Learning and Motivationism"
because it gave the mistaken impression that all behavior is learned. Those who study animals know that there are many
behaviors which are not learned and are characteristic of each species including humans. These are their
"heritable" behaviors and abilities, or traits.
To review, heritable traits are from three sources: 1. DNA "mistakes" which are slight, seldom occurring, usually
negative mutations. This will spontaneously occur in one generation but are passed to the next. 2. Traits that are
passed from both parents, and 3. Traits that are passed from just one parent. The spontaneous absence of a previously
endowed trait may be just as pertinent as the addition of a new one.
Heritable Animal Behavior (Ethology)
In many cases the heritable behavioral patterns are so diagnostic of the species that they may be distinguished
when nothing else can be discerned. Ask any bird watcher who has identified several hawk species by watching barely
visible spots in the sky through binoculars. These heritable species-specific behaviors may be used to catalogue
nearly every creature on Earth.
Kittens and puppies
That the idea that behavior is heritable could not be discounted by any one who has raised an isolated kitten
and puppy together. The kitten will stalk, climb, pounce, scratch, hiss, and meow, while the puppy will chase,
bark, bite, and sniff. Both creatures will behave characteristically without the benefit of a conspecific adult
from which it can learn. The kitten will always bury its defecation, and the puppy will always poop on the plain,
no matter how isolated their upbringing.
The method by which heritable behavior works is through a neurological system. In general terms, we walk on two
legs, rather than on our hands and knees, because it "feels right". Walking on two legs with the arms hanging by
our sides is distinctively and characteristically human behavior. "Feels right" is the same thing as saying that
each heritable behavior has a complex neurological system to insure it's promotion. This neurological system is a
reflex nerve system usually involving a ganglion nerve center. If we knew where to point our microscopes, we could
see them. There is one such nerve anatomy of which we can see a part. In this instance it involves appetite control
in a common house cat. Ethologists who study animal behavior call this a fixed action pattern.
As is often the case, we come to best understand this appetite control instinct when something is wrong with it.
In this case the pathology is introduced artificially in a laboratory. Two nerve centers in the hypothalamus of
the cat, a small body of nerves in the center of the brains of humans too, are damaged by inserting a needle into
them with freezing liquid nitrogen. They found that if damage is induced in the ventro-lateral nuclei of the
hypothalamus, also called "satiety centers", the cat develops a voracious appetite and becomes obese. In contrast,
if damage is introduced into the upper portion of a nuclei in the lateral hypothalamus, instead, the cat has a fatal
anorexia. The satiety centers apparently sense blood sugar levels and accordingly suppress the lateral hypothalamus
which controls feelings of hunger. This is an experiment which can be repeated and from which we can get reliable
The satiety centers, themselves, are depressed by hot weather and stimulated by cold weather. In wild animals these
four centers are tuned to a fine line by natural selection eliminating any heritable error. The net result is that
these four centers act to measure a quantified intake of food energy remotely related to current activity and the
environment. All adjustments are made to a limited degree with respect to past events in that maladjusted animals
have not survived. Adjustments to intensive activities are balanced more by additional rest than by increased food intake. Increased
food with increased activity would lead to larger musculature and vascular systems which would commit the animal to
more weight and a greater need for food. This illustrates the fact that many instincts are complex reflexes involving
real anatomical nerve centers called ganglia inside and outside the skull.
The animal's work
The most common type of heritable behavior is involved with the animal's work. Like humans, every animal has its
work to keep alive. Most evident of its work is its daily search for food, but there is other animal work such as
defending territory, determining pecking order, seeking shelter from the sun and inclement weather, building nests
and dens, finding water, grooming, courting, and so on. These are species-specific behaviors and are essential to
every animal's life. For example we will cover some competitive aspects of animal behavior.
It is interesting and worthy of comment that nearly all known species have competitive features to their lives.
It is a wonder that there are some philosophers who would do away with such competition among humans. Such a policy
leads to severe psychological problems. A healthy psychological status is strong enough to deal with whatever
competitions there are in life. Each field of endeavor entails more or less competition, and each individual must
find his own level of endurance. To try to reduce any requirement of one's competitive endurance is counter to
the bioeconomy of the animal as the following examples suggest.
Cardinal and tradition
A male cardinal can hold a territory against almost all other cardinal intruders until it is weakened by age.
Agonism between male cardinals only tests the tenant's vigor. If he is still vigorous, he holds the territory against
all intruders regardless of size and strength. The intruders must continue along until they find a territory where
the tenant has fallen victim to an accident, fallen prey to a predator, or grown too old, and is feeble. Only holders
of territory will father offspring. Intruders, no matter how fit they are, will not. Here a sort of tradition reigns,
but it is based on a firm bio-economy of survival which we have yet to fully understand. We must also be wary of
human traditions for this same consideration. For reasons of survival, they should not be lightly put aside.
The leader baboon
We have grown to expect the leader of any group to be the strongest of the troop. As we examine troops of baboons
we almost always see the strongest males as lesser members. An instance of a dominant, small, wizened up baboon with
one eye, completely changes our expectations. Among baboons the leader of the troop fathers most of the pups. This is
an example of a rule throughout the mammalian world. There is a link between power and available sex. This phase of
animal life is most impressive and is the basis of continued misguided acceptance of Darwin's rule: "Survival of the
fittest". When we understand that the most powerful is not always the strongest, heaviest, and most capable, the
rule seems to break down. There must be something else.
The wasp and the twig
Since our encounter with insects and their almost unbelievably complex heritable behaviors, we are less prone to
try to avoid heritable motives for activity as a concept. One can lie on his stomach and watch a wasp climb a sprig
of grass and place a paralyzed green caterpillar in the crook of the grass blade. After caressing it with her
antennae and seemingly memorizing its location, she will move off a few inches and dig a hole in the ground. While
she is thus preoccupied, one can use a little stick to gently move the caterpillar to another nearby blade.
When the little lady is finished with her short tunnel, she will return to the original sprout of grass and
purposefully climb to the crook where she had left her prey. Not finding it where she had left it, her purpose
seemingly will disintegrate. She will hurriedly return to the ground and retrace her path to the hole and back
again. Then she will try some nearby blades, climbing them. Finally, a few flying hops over the grass will reveal
where the worm is, then she will get acquainted with the new position and go dig another hole. Her heritable pattern
of activity is not flexible enough to accommodate the new position of the worm with respect to the position of the
first hole. The game might extend to two or three digs, depending on one's time and interest. The little wasp never
does solve the puzzle of the moving worm and the dug hole.
The game can be stopped by not moving the worm and letting the little mother finally move her prey to the tunnel
where she will pack it in with a single egg and camouflage the entrance with gently tamped dirt. The egg will hatch
a tiny grub which will eat the worm until it is consumed. Then it will weave an underground cocoon and transmute
into a new wasp that will dig its way out and go hunt for a male, and then green caterpillars to place in grass
crooks while digging holes in which to hide them with her eggs. However, some behaviorists will not be convinced
that the new female will not first find another female and watch her to learn the process.
The Monarch butterfly
The monarch butterfly seems to clinch the case of heritable patterns of activity in insects. This butterfly is
hatched from an egg somewhere on the North American Continent. A worm will emerge and eat the leaves of several
weeds. Many of them will eat the leaves of a certain milkweed containing digitoxin, a substance affecting the heart
rate of birds and other animals. At the end of the summer it will spin its cocoon and change into a pupa. After
wintering over, a monarch butterfly will emerge from the cocoon in the spring. In an experiment, a tiny number was
glued to the butterfly's wing by a naturalist. It was then released to take a long lonely flitting route to the
south from everywhere, sipping nectar to fuel its flight. Any birds that might eat a monarch butterfly with digitoxin
in its system will suffer heart palpitations that will knock it off its twig. Birds soon learn to leave the Monarchs
alone. The sacrifice of a few individual butterflies will thus protect the whole species.
The goal of the Monarch is a solitary acre or two in the heart of a Mexican jungle where the bugs gather in such
packed numbers as to break the limbs off trees. Pictures and stories have been published in the National Geographic
Magazine, but where those acres are is a well kept scientific secret. Observation of the Monarchs identified by the
little numbers glued to their wings shows that, after mating in the south, they fly back alone to the identical area
from which they started. There they lay their eggs and die. The newly hatched worms carry heritable navigational
instructions to unerringly guide them to that Mexican connection on the following year. It seems that some six
generations have been tracked back and forth. To presume that the information is not inherited one must postulate
a schooling where a mature butterfly with experience somehow teaches the navigation instructions to the new
The first flight of the fledgling
For that matter we don't have to go as far as Mexico to see a fantastic heritable behavior. Just consider the
heritable abilities of a fledgling blue-bird as it takes its first flight from its bird house. The control in the
first flight must be nearly perfect like a first parachute jump. Otherwise, they fall to our cat which has been
watching the nest for hours since the level of cheeping signaled her that the babies were getting ready to leave
Heritable behavior with respect to aerodynamic activity and navigation is essential for birds and bats. A similar
capability of gulls and terns nesting on a cliff over-hanging a pounding surf emphasizes the necessary first time
capabilities of a fledgling off its nest. Such empirical information from nearly every animal species throughout
the biological world has relegated the expression: "All behavior is learned" to oblivion.
Every newborn animal has a heritable program for play that will develop and strengthen sets of musculature and
coordination that will be needed later to cover it's work. Even among adults, above and beyond work, there is play.
In animals this usually is a modification of the activity they perform in their work. The work-like activity of
play is usually modified in that the motions may be incomplete, repeated, and sometimes, displaced and bizarre.
An otter will sometimes displace its normal swimming motions to a slippery clay or snow bank. With immature humans
the play may be imitative and more bizarre due to a more flexible imagination. In animals, however, much play
activity may be subjected to a genetic direction because it strengthens certain essential muscles needed in their
normal interactions with their environment and other special interactions with their predators or mates. The
development of play activity follows the evolutionary laws. In essence, the existence of play exercise, in the
face of strong predatory pressure, is balanced by a powerful selective advantage. The selective advantage is
specifically: developed muscles by an animal interacting with a specific environment.
Work and play in philosophy
Here, again, is a place where logical philosophy gets into trouble. The philosophical question is: If play is so
essential, is it play?!! We are so caught up in the idea that play is non-essential, even wasteful, activity,
that it is hard to grasp when play fills a very important place in animal development, including the human animal.
If one is engaged in one's chosen work for which one is best trained, the work can be fun. Among animals, most
probably all work is fun. Very much like our iconoclastic experience with altruism and egoism through
Dr. Edward O. Wilson, we can resolve the dichotomy of work and play by looking at Nature. If we cannot find the
needed function that play fills in an animal's development, we have missed the point. Play is preparation for
future work. Never mind the lexicographic separation! Maybe, just maybe, some human play might be construed as being
frivolous and non-essential. That might be one more human distinction; human, but not animal. Card games seem far
removed from any instinctive need on first examination, but aside from gambling for money, they do seem to fulfill
a social function. Gambling may be in response to a heritable motive for thrills and risk.
As can be expected, all animals as species and individuals have a basic inefficiency in doing their work. This may
vary with good times and bad times. In bad times their efficiency may improve up to a point, while their efficiency
may be more relaxed in good times. Anyone who has observed a ground hog in their sweet corn may have a comment on
the efficiency of the groundhog's work as they go from stalk to stalk taking two or three nibbles off each cob and
dropping it to the ground as they move along. So, work plus their inefficiencies is a part of every animal's work
activity. Most animals have no frontal lobes and thus we know that they have no long term foresight. Much of their
programmed development must depend on a heritable agenda of behavioral motives. As we shall see, the human shares
this characteristic of a heritable agenda.
The food chain
An important heritable aspect of each creature including humans, is its place in the food chain. What an animal eats
determines much of its shape, musculature and abilities. Among mammals, carnivores do not eat carnivores unless they
are starving. Carnivorous creatures prey primarily on herbivores. Where carnivores eat carnivores, the prey is usually
a picevore (fish eater): Polar bears eat seals. Carnivores will also eat lactivora: nursing cubs of any carnivores,
including its own species. We can see jackals and hyenas living in the same areas in Africa. The hyena is four to five
times as big as the jackal. The hyena will try to run past the jackals to get at their nursing cubs but will not try
to eat the parents. Scavengers have digestive tracts that are specially designed for the decaying remains of almost
anything. Exceptions to these rules are usually governed by a desperation; such as famine.
In support of this rule we see that American domestic dogs will bring home and eat squirrels, rabbits, ground hogs,
as well as parts of deer. They will not, however, bring home opossum, raccoons, cats, and dogs for eating. I have
seen them kill and partially eat a raccoon once in their life. After that they avoid them. Dogs raised as food by
Indians and Chinese are specially fed on breads, grains, and milk products. Now that scientists are able to determine
the diet of the animals of ancient times by analyzing their bones for relative carbon isotope values, they have found
that prehistoric Peru Indians, who ate dogs, fed them on maize. The dogs, therefore, were herbivores at the time they
An animal that can eat meat is not necessarily a carnivore. An animal that can eat meat does not become a carnivore
until it eats meat regularly. When an animal eats meat regularly, its aroma is characteristically sour. People who own
domestic dogs will note a change in their odor as their diet changes. Dogs fed principally soy proteins smell sweet.
Dogs fed principally horse-meat smell sour. We all know that what an animal eats affects the flavor of the meat. That
is why we have feed lots for cattle and hogs. Animals that eat animal proteins are unpalatable unless strong spices
cover the flavor. It is no accident that cattle fed on grains taste better to us granivora.
Heritable Human Behavior
Anyone experienced with children knows that moods and mood expressions are available without any learning necessary.
A child's first tantrum can come as quite a shock to a parent mainly because the parent has no idea as to where the
child "learned" that behavior. The news is, the child did not learn to have a tantrum. Not all children have this
heritable behavior, and those children who witness another child's tantrum and the attention it draws, will be tempted
to try it themselves. Without a good talent for acting, however, they rarely pull it off convincingly.
Moods and their heritable expressions
In the definition of communication, the most important, basic, throughout the animal kingdom fact about communication
is the projection of moods. Once one gets this in mind, one will find it much easier to communicate with animals. One
can be surprised at the control one can have over domestic pets if one projects moods to the animals: happiness at
their behaving well; anger at a misconduct; and basically love at all other times. Domestic pets are animals which
have been bred to remain in their preadolescent emotional state in which they are emotionally dependent on their
master. They are dependent on the continual mothering and fathering of their mistresses and masters. As we observe
the expression of moods in chimpanzees and other primates, we find amazing similarities to our own expressions. This
is an indication of just how ingrained mood expression is in our genetic make-up. With all moods (or behavior
associated with moods), a specific hormone will flow in the body.
There is a modern movement not to use sex oriented words, such as: host - hostess, actor - actress, waiter - waitress,
etc. To eliminate these terms is to eliminate important attitudes. Men and women acting in those capacities
affect contrasting hormonal conditions in their subjects and observers. Just consider a story about a man taking
a shower in an instance where a stranger entered the bathroom, disrobed and stepped into the shower with him.
Without going any further as to the resulting mood, there is something wild missing from that story.
Anger and fear
Anger is now understood to be physiologically due to norepinephrine flowing from the adrenal medulla. Fear is due
to epinephrine (adrenaline) from the same organ. Norepinephrine (anger) underlies a more active attitude toward a
competitive circumstance, whereas epinephrine (fear) is more passive. A good example is a foot-ball game with
spectators. Norepinephrine is consistent with the players; and epinephrine with the spectators.
The dictionary merely relegates this to disdain or dislike. The dictionary fails to point out that "hate" is a
conditioned anger towards an object or person. This is also true with bigotry: a prejudicial hatred. Both are learned
or conditioned. If we encounter a situation that provokes anger, we might generalize the situation in our minds, and
then it becomes prejudice (to pre-judge).
In another example: The word "propaganda" as usually defined, misses the point that this is conditioning in which
a mood is associated with a subject sufficiently frequently that the recipient conjures up the prescribed mood
relating to the subject without thought or analysis of the situation. Think of the commercials for soft drinks. Very
little is said about the relative merits of the contents of the beverages. The products are presented with laughing,
vigorous, happy youths playing and drinking bubbly frosted liquids. When one creates a drink without food value or
stimulants, one has a drink with foreign, useless chemicals and dyes with unknown toxic effects. The commercial is
pure propaganda in which a happy mood is associated with a product. "How are you?" is a daily example of the
importance of mood communication without pause for mental analysis is the standard salutation: "Hello, how are you?"
The originator is not so much interested in how the other person is, as he is in the tone of the voice and body
language that goes with the answer. The hidden question is: "How do you feel about me?".
A charismatic person has a talent for projecting moods. There is a positive charisma in which a person projects
happiness, confidence, and success. There is also a negative charisma that can be threatening and villainous. With a
little more effort one can think of many types of charismatic personalities.
Identical Twin Studies
Identical twins have identical genes. Because of this, some three thousand identical twins that were separated
at birth and raised in different adoptive homes, without knowledge of each other's existence, were located and
closely examined. Similarities in the lives of these twins would tend to be interpreted as genetic, while differences
would tend to be interpreted as acquired from their separate environments.
This series is being studied in Minneapolis, Minnesota by Thomas Bouchard, Jr. with a group of seventeen other
professionals. Each pair of twins was studied intensively for six days with fifteen thousand written questions
and many biological laboratory studies. These factors are so extensive as to be unbelievable at first glance. It
takes study and insight to clarify the forces at work.
One example worth noting concerns two twins who were both Captains of Fire Departments in separate towns, one in
Paramus, New Jersey and the other in Brooklyn, New York. On meeting for the first time after thirty one years apart,
they found they had many similarities. They both were bachelors, incurable flirts, and both preferring tall slim
women with long hair. They were raucously good humored, drank only Budweiser Beer, holding the can with their little
finger curled under the can, and crushing the can when they were finished. On a night on the town they both preferred
to end with a Chinese dinner in the wee hours of the morning. Their pastimes were hunting, fishing, going to old
John Wayne movies, and watching pro wrestling. Both had key rings on their right belt. There were many other
similarities. They were both six foot six inches, and weighed over two hundred fifty pounds, though one was notably
more than the other in weight.
In another case both twins preferred Miller Lite Beer, both had been married twice. Both first wives had been named
Linda and second wives were named "Betty". Both had sons named "James Allen". Both had had dogs named "Toy". Both
had wood working hobbies. Both took vacations in the same three blocks along a beach in Florida. An outstanding
feature of this pair and nearly all the other pairs was their propensity to answer questions simultaneously, finish
each other's sentences, and think simultaneous thoughts.
One must look behind what one sees on the surface. Genetics are obviously pervasive, but one does not inherit the
tendency to wear firemen's uniforms. One has to be in a fire department. What is heritable is a similar strong tendency
toward altruism and risk-taking. As one looks around the society, the only situation that fits those motives to a
tee are in a fire department. Not even a rescue squad or police squad would suit as well. The fact that both were
strong and above average in intelligence accounts for the fact that they both became captains.
Another point is that the two must also have similar opportunities. If one of the firemen had been raised in Europe,
he probably would not have preferred Budweiser Beer. If one had been raised in the wilderness of Brazil, he would
not have had the opportunity to join a volunteer fire department. An environment that provided poor nutrition to one
of them probably would have made a difference in their stature.
When these fire captains were tested for the following personality variables they tested as similar as the
same person tested twice:
In other twins the following traits seem to be genetically related.:
need for glasses,
and general health
Homosexuality and genes
In identical twins raised in the same family, where one was homosexual, 100% of their twins were also homosexual.
Among the identical twins raised in separate families, the results were not as consistent. The results were mixed and
did not all support the genetic hypothesis. In contrast to the men, none of the three females who said they were
lesbians, and a fourth who said she was bisexual, had an identical twin with a matching sexual orientation. Though
far from conclusive, it is suggestive that this type of sexual orientation is environmental. In several families
without twins, but with adopted males, all were homosexuals, also suggesting an environmental factor. This will be
covered in further detail under "Family Tradition".
I.Q. and Heritablity
All the twins studied had almost identical I.Q.s. In all cases the average I.Q. variation was only four points.
Psychologists and neurologists have found that our capabilities are each fostered and contained in specific areas
of the brain. By looking at the results of performance tests, psychologists can identify the actual location of an
injury to the brain. Brain injury results in the loss of specific abilities and show depressed performance scores on
specific tests. Recent technology, such as C.A.T. scans and M.R.I. have made this technique obsolete, but the point
remains. The presence, or absence, or degree of development of specific areas of the brain can be dependent on genetic
evolution in the absence of deleterious environmental effects. This is "biological determinism". People who are
blessed with strong abilities in some areas have brains which enable these strong abilities, or talents, to develop.
Talent is nature's way of being unfair.
The loss reaction
The "loss reaction" is another heritable behavior, closely related to moods, which is pervasive among humans and
also in primate animal behavior. Many aspects about the loss reaction are cultural. However, the characteristics
of denial, often anger, and especially emotional expression follow what we know about the human brain and the
activities of a socially oriented mammal. One of the primary functions of the brain is to inhibit extraneous stimuli
so we can focus on the task at hand. Denial of a loss is what is necessary to allow us to accept the loss a bit at a
time and to keep us from suffering undue stress. Acceptance of a loss is the gradual repeal of denial as readjustment
and emotional reinvestment in a new object, or objects, is achieved. Anger is an unconscious response to the
frustrations of a loss. Emotional expression during the loss reaction is a mechanism to arouse sympathy and assistance
from those around us. Except in the most adverse conditions, any normal person is affected by a weeping child, woman
or man and might offer assistance. Another affirmation of the heritability the loss reaction, including grief, is that
it's impact is sometimes a surprise to an individual.
Human social bonding is unique among humans but is suggested in the animal world in other ways. Dogs are pack animals.
The pack is their social bonding. It is their way of working together. They live and work in packs. Their brains are
incapable of anything else. Dog experts will tell you how this enables them to live with humans. There are also herd
animals. Their brains are different from dog brains and are incapable of anything else. If a human's brain is normal
and healthy, they are obligated to be social in a human way. We are "obligatory social creatures". Later in this book
we will see how our obligatory social nature affects our behavior, our children's well being, and society as a
It is also evident that there is no evolutionary plan that Nature is following. There is no cause in the future that
can effect the present. All is determined by heritable abilities and traits. Anything that is not heritable is of no
evolutionary significance. So far, no specific studies have been done on the heritability of "superstition" though
there has been noted a similarity of eccentricities, anxieties, politics, and religions. In one pair of identical
twins both were terrified of water, and to go swimming, both had to back into the water.
Chapter 15. Learning and Motivation