Exploring the folkbiological conception of human nature

Stefan Linquist*, Edouard Machery, Paul E. Griffiths, Karola Stotz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


Integrating the study of human diversity into the human evolutionary sciences requires substantial revision of traditional conceptions of a shared human nature. This process may be made more difficult by entrenched, 'folkbiological' modes of thought. Earlier work by the authors suggests that biologically naive subjects hold an implicit theory according to which some traits are expressions of an animal's inner nature while others are imposed by its environment. In this paper, we report further studies that extend and refine our account of this aspect of folkbiology. We examine biologically naive subjects' judgments about whether traits of an animal are 'innate', 'in its DNA' or 'part of its nature'. Subjects do not understand these three descriptions to be equivalent. Both innate and in its DNA have the connotation that the trait is species-typical. This poses an obstacle to the assimilation of the biology of polymorphic and plastic traits by biologically naive audiences. Researchers themselves may not be immune to the continuing pull of folkbiological modes of thought.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)444-453
Number of pages10
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1563
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2011
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Exploring the folkbiological conception of human nature'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this