There are numerous areas of study that look at the evolution of human beings as social creatures. Why we are social; how we developed social skills; how different cultures evolved. This area of study have thousands of theories and models that look to understand why it is human beings are social and how that came to be through the history of the world. This leaves this domain incredibly expansive. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on some more broad theories that have been used across many areas of research in social and cultural evolution.
Many theories and ideas within how human beings became social beings and the development of cultures around the world stem from Darwin's theory on evolution and natural selection. The most basic idea from Darwin's work was that in order to survive, it was advantageous for human beings to travel together in groups. Traveling in groups allowed there to be more people for hunting and gathering, as well as gave the group protection against predators, as they had more people to fight off animals or other groups. So with the basic tenet of Darwin's natural selection being that the organism (living creature) who figured out the most advantageous ways to get water, food, shelter, and protection would survive to reproduce, and the skills they developed evolved over time and were passed down through generations. Therefore, developing basic social skills in the form of communication through sounds and gestures allowed people to rely on other people, and in doing so form a cohesive group. With such groups formed, people within the groups would reproduce and their children would expand that social group.
The well known philosopher, Montesquieu, who lived during the 1600's into the 1700's, also know as the Age of Enlightenment, developed the theory that socializing developed across three stages of humanity; hunting/savagery, barbarism/herding, and civilization. This was the idea that in starting in the beginning of mankind, human beings started off with little to no group. They would reproduce, but then soon die off. Using Darwin's natural selection and ideas of Montesquieu, Lewis Henry Morgan wrote extensively on the evolution of the social beings. The human's that did begin to stay in smaller groups were more likely to survive. As human beings evolved, the groups became more tight-knit as members of the group reproduced with one another, which led into the barbarism stage, in which human beings were still uncivilized, yet it was the beginning of customs within the groups. As these groups continued to evolve and grow, along with the advancement in technologies over the course of history, human beings were able to organize their groups into societies with traditions, rules, and order.
The benefits of relating and connecting to other human beings also was shown as different members of the group had different strengths or skills to offer that allowed for the group as a whole to thrive. Therefore, the most successful social groups (success equals survival) were those that were able to use forms of communication to organize who would be responsible for each task necessary for survival. Not only did language and communication evolve, but it was beneficial for each member of the social group to learn to get a long. Any conflict within the group could put the social unit at risk for harm against predators, or energy spent in conflict could take away from the need for food, water, and shelter. So very early on, the human brain began to develop the complex skills of conflict resolution. Through such tolerance and acceptance of other human beings, feelings of care and concern also formed, which were reinforcing to the human brain as such caring meant a safety and security. Such safety and security would also trigger the reward center of the brain and this area would continue to evolve so that caring for other members of a social group became an automatic function of the brain.
As humans evolved to need the benefit of social order and connections, the human brain also began to change to form new connections. More specifically, the human brain began to form the neocortex. This led to the development of more complex language skills, which is one of the largest distinctions humans have from other animals. As language evolved, it also become advantageous for human beings to develop the skill to sense what others felt in order to connect with one another and continue as a strong unit. This skill is defined as empathy. Empathy was a huge advancement in the human brain because the reward centers of the human brain became associated with connecting and building relationships. With the new brain developments in the skill of empathy, emotions also evolved to be more complex. In early human beings, emotions largely involved a stress response so as to activate the fight or flight reaction in the brain. This evoked similar responses that anxiety creates with rapid heart beat, shut down of the digestive system, dilated pupils, and hypervigilance. This fight or flight reaction was a survival mechanisms for early humans. As the social brain continued to evolve, more complex emotions developed in the brain. Sadness associated with loss of humans in your group or family unit, joy or activation of the reward center when you felt safe and secure around those in your close knit social group, or anger when another social group threatened your own social group. Each of these emotions continued to evolve as civilizations formed and societies became more complex. However, each emotion served a useful purpose in advancing and maintaining the early social unit.
As human beings evolved and the neocortex formed more connections, people literally became wired to socialize and connect. Every behavior and actions involved another human being, whether it be for pleasure, survival, or quality of life, no matter the behavior it revolved around socially connecting to others. The modern day human is now embedded within very complex systems of cultures and societies. Such societies and culture evolved as groups of humans became civilized. Civilization evolved as groups of humans adapted their customs to the environment so that their needs could be met and a secure and happy life could be established. Over time, with the growth in the human population, societies developed even more complex ways life that included organized industries, religious institutions, and legal and economic systems. Each of these domains of living were created to create a foundation of security, order, and meaning in life. It is within these systems that each human begin operates.
As each person developed embedded within the complex societies, belief systems were formed and ways of socializing have developed. However, important in unstinting the evolution of humans as social beings is that there are still great individualistic differences in how each person can operate within a group.
It is thought by some social neuroscientists, that as human beings continued to evolve and reap the benefits of social groups and working together, the human brain adapted and evolved to this behavior so that such social connection was experienced in the brain as rewarding. Matthew Lieberman wrote Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect (2013), which provides an overview of the neural pathways in the brain that are associated with communication, socialization, and human connection. This work provides numerous examples of how the brain evolved to be wired in a way that promotes social behaviors. Some studies using brain imaging have demonstrated that as human being take in new information, the brain is interpreting that information in a way that it is already considering how to engaged a future audience to share that information with. In other words, how our brain interprets information is dictated by those in our social environment. In addition, the brain developed a function that researchers call "mentalizing." Mentalizing evolved in the brain to allow human beings to try and psychological read other people with the goal of connecting, cooperating, or in some cases competing. Such research evidence demonstrates the entire circuitry of the brain has been largely formed as the result of social interactions.
Discussing the evolution of humans as social beings also leads to an understanding on how people came to develop skills of empathy and love. There are numerous theories and philosophies on the role of love and empathy in why and how human beings operate socially. For the purpose the article, it is helpful to consider love and empathy as a function of the desire for human connection. Through human connection, the human brain centers for happiness are activated. Happiness leads to motivation and encouragement to continue to advance, which further creates a cycle of self-reinforcement. This cycle has evolved to have different meaning depending on your belief systems and culture. However, it does play a vital role in how human beings operate as social beings.
Many social evolution experts also discuss the importance of technological advances through history and the role this played in the continued evolution of humans as social beings. As technology advanced, even early on in human evolvement, with the advancement of materials to build with or the discovery of fire, each of these created systems in which human beings also needed to work together, communicate, and connect. In looking through history and the evolution of human beings, every advancement in technology has stemmed from the need to remain social and connected to other groups of humans in some fashion. The 20th century saw the most advancement of any century with the onset of computers and the internet. This has revolutionized the way in which human beings socialize and stay connected.
The literature and discussion on the social evolution of human beings is incredibly expansive. This article provides a brief overlook of the early development of human beings as social creatures and a snapshot understanding of how and why cultures and societies evolved. Understanding a basic idea of how human beings evolved socially helps to lay a foundation for identifying some of the sources for why people are inseparable from other people.