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Grooming, Gossip & the Evolution (USA) Paperback – 1 Nov 1998

4.7 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 242 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (Nov. 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674363361
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674363366
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.4 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,533,942 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Review

We're chatterers and snoops, every one of us, according to this fresh, witty book, and there's an evolutionary reason: gossip, like primate grooming, helps cement social ties.

ÝDunbar's¨ is an intoxicating idea, somewhere between brilliant and loopy. On the way to fleshing out this bracing thesis, Dunbar gives us what he calls a 'magical mystery tour' of scientific disciplines, including neurology, linguistics, evolution and more...ÝH¨is ideas and language can be delightful. -- John Schwartz "Washington Post Book World"

Fascinating theories and cogent insights into why and how we use language, as learned from our simian relatives. Dunbar is a psychologist at the University of Liverpool, but his lucid Darwinian forays into the evolution of language draw widely on the fields of anatomy, linguistics, sociology, and anthropology...An enjoyable romp through the past few hundred thousand years. Where else could you learn that it takes a village to grow a neocortex or that, to reproduce the best genes, women network and men advertise?

Dunbar has written provocative book about the sociology of language use...[A] fascinating study.

Robin Dunbar's Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language, is a highly enjoyable speculation, in Neo-Darwinian mode, of how and why humans came to have language. The argument of the book is the now not unfamiliar argument that the point of talking is being able to make small talk (the 'gossip' of the title), and that small talk produces social cohesion and mitigates social conflict. In other words, it does what primatologists have long claimed grooming does for non-human primates...The book is frequently humorous and charming, always readable, and often modest in tone...The citations to his own and others' original research and the review of the literature on non-human primate language and grooming practices, are part of what make this book well suited for a general readership, but also appropriate for a more specialized academic and student readership.

It may seem a stretch to connect the origin of speech with the grooming behavior of baboons, but Dunbar's research has persuaded him of such a link. This intriguing book presents his thesis, which he formulated after noting a relationship between maximum group size and the ratio of neocortical tissue to total brain volume. Dunbar then extrapolates to humans, proposing 150 as the upper range of people any one person can personally maintain relationships with via our equivalent of grooming: gossipy chitchat...[H]e argues the case, in evolutionary biological terms, in an elucidating and entertaining manner. How language began fascinates most of us, and consistently delightful are Dunbar's excursions into paleoanthropological anatomy, exigencies of nomadic living, philology of root languages, and the conversational styles at cocktail parties. A relaxed, concise presentation of an evolving theory of linguistic evolution.

At the heart of this fresh and witty book is the thesis that gossip is the human version of primate grooming..."Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language" is in many ways a wonderful book, and its ideas deserve an airing. Mr. Dunbar is a clear thinker and a polymath, marshaling evidence for his thesis from such varied fields as primatology, linguistics, anthropology and genetics.--Natalie Angier "New York Times Book Review "

Dunbar asks interesting questions, provides a fresh perspective on an old problem and gives readers a zippy intellectual ride.--Jo Ann C. Gutin "The Nation "

[Dunbar's] is an intoxicating idea, somewhere between brilliant and loopy. On the way to fleshing out this bracing thesis, Dunbar gives us what he calls a 'magical mystery tour' of scientific disciplines, including neurology, linguistics, evolution and more...[H]is ideas and language can be delightful.--John Schwartz "Washington Post Book World "

A novel and exciting argument--delivered with great verve--about the evolution of human intelligence and language.--Alison Jolly, Princeton University

If you've ever wondered why we gossip, read Dr. Robin Dunbar's "Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language." Humans are the only primates that use language, and Dunbar theorizes that we gossip to strengthen our social status because we can't groom each other.--Johanna Huden"New York Post" (09/24/2000)

This book, which gives a deep insight into the emerging field of evolutionary psychology, is about as smart as they come. It tackles the related questions of brain size and the evolution of language, and relates our love of gossip and small talk to the endless grooming routines of other primates. It's 'Dilbert' for those who want to know "why."--David Warsh "Boston Globe "

Robin Dunbar's "Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language," is a highly enjoyable speculation, in Neo-Darwinian mode, of how and why humans came to have language. The argument of the book is the now not unfamiliar argument that the point of talking is being able to make small talk (the 'gossip' of the title), and that small talk produces social cohesion and mitigates social conflict. In other words, it does what primatologists have long claimed grooming does for non-human primates...The book is frequently humorous and charming, always readable, and often modest in tone...The citations to his own and others' original research and the review of the literature on non-human primate language and grooming practices, are part of what make this book well suited for a general readership, but also appropriate for a more specialized academic and student readership.--Charis Cussins "Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences "

The "grooming" of this book's title is when primates leisurely go over each other's fur and skin, picking and pinching in a practice that produces not only mutual pleasure but also social bonding. The "gossip" is supposed to be what happens when humans do much the same thing with language. And the "evolution" gets us from one stage to the otherSo could human language have replaced grooming? This central hypothesis is important because it involves a vision of what language is all about; it may stand or fall on the strength of that vision.--Anthony Pym "The European Legacy ""

From the Back Cover

Apes and monkeys, humanity's closest kin, differ from other animals in the intensity of their social relationships. All their grooming is not so much about hygiene as it is about cementing bonds, making friends, and influencing fellow primates. But for early humans, grooming as a way to social success posed a problem: given their large social groups of 150 or so, our earliest ancestors would have had to spend almost half their time grooming one another - an impossible burden. What Dunbar suggests - and his research, whether in the realm of primatology or in that of gossip, confirms - is that humans developed language to serve the same purpose, but far more efficiently. It seems there is nothing idle about chatter, which holds together a diverse, dynamic group - whether of hunter-gatherers, soldiers, or workmates. Anthropologists have long assumed that language developed in relationships among males during activities such as hunting. Dunbar's original and extremely interesting studies suggest otherwise: that language in fact evolved in response to our need to keep up to date with friends and family. We needed conversation to stay in touch, and we still need it in ways that will not be satisfied by teleconferencing, e-mail, or any other communication technology. As Dunbar shows, the impersonal world of cyberspace will not fulfill our primordial need for face-to-face contact.

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By A Customer on 15 Dec. 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is really interesting and gives a fascinating insight into how networking and social 'grooming' (and I don't mean dressing presentably in public!) are not only essential but important for our personal safety and survival... look how easy it is to perpetrate crimes against, or renege on deals with, people to whom we have no loyalty ties: Dunbars' example is the taxman! Despite a tendency to reduce human existence to Machiavellian self-interest and propogation of the species, Dunbar makes some very pertinent points and shows how similar we are in many respects to our primate cousins. The true value of this book, however, lies in Dunbar's explanation for the evolution of language in our species. It is a fairly academic read and heavy going at times but well worth the effort. Highly recommended for all 'seekers' of knowledge about the human condition;  though I would suggest the childless-by-choice, and/or those with a higher sense of purpose, among us temper any ensuing existential neurosis by reading it in conjunction with The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield!
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Dunbar proposes that language evolved to facilitate gossip. Rather than being trivial, this was crucial for early-human communities, allowing people 360-degree views of their peers' behaviour. This let them detect freeloaders or liars who might compromise the fragile ecology of the group. With the desire to share information about others comes the desire to tell stories of the self - a means of controlling one's own reputation. We might see this as 'phatic' storytelling - we do it to 'groom' and soothe our companions.
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Format: Paperback
This book examines the origin of language in a way that helps you understand why we talk about the things we do. I have found this a useful way to help me understand behaviour of frends, family and workmates.
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Lots of stuff about the Dunbar Number and how it manifests itself in modern life. Well-written, well-researched and humbling insofar it reminds us how very close we are, socially and physiologically, to chimps...
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Format: Kindle Edition
Robin Dunbar presents the understanding of a researcher with a talented educator's clearly written style. This is a carefully woven patchwork of many disciplines and intellects that shares examples of data, analysis or conjecture. The reader is treated to a five million year canvas, scores of species, groups and individual perspectives derived from our biological history, relations and prospects.
I'll be following some of recommendations for further reader (pushing the boundaries of my knowledgr and opinions in the process) and seeking novels that delve into arenas I'd not considered before. Several of Dunbar's almost casual observations, used to clarify a point, are themselves avenues for my curiosity. For example, that Victorian mantra "children should be seen and not heard" seems succinctly explained as the consequence of the family group dynamic being stretched too taut thanks to greater survivability of infancy.

I thoroughly recommend Dunbar's writing, not least because I suspect other windows of interest and action may be inspired by it.
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