Nature & Behavior, Inc.

Placitas, New Mexico, USA


workshop offerings

Nature and Behavior, Inc., is a registered non-profit organization (EIN: 85-0477297) dedicated to helping secondary school teachers, education majors, and others in the sciences and humanities enrich their curricula with concepts, examples, and exercises based on evolutionary theories of animal and human behavior.

We offer interactive curriculum-building workshops nationwide to secondary school teachers and administrators, education students, and the general public. We also participate in open-ended brainstorming sessions with groups of teachers and students expressly intended to produce concrete lessons for life sciences, math, and humanities classrooms. Experiential workshops involving both teachers and their students can also be designed.

For an Adobe Acrobat (PDF format; 2128 KB) version of our workshop information packet, click here!

Workshop One
Elucidation and Updates of Darwin's Theory of Evolution.
Two discussion oriented 4-6 hour workshops in a relaxed off-campus setting. Our aim is to provide a synthesis of modern evolutionary theory relevant to an understanding of animal behavior and human evolutionary psychology. These workshops will provide a strong foundation for the development of cross-disciplinary evolutionary curricula for teachers of any subject, as well as providing copious material for direct immediate inclusion in the participants' current classroom teaching.

In the last forty years there has been some change with staggering elaboration and insight into the meaning of Darwin's original theories of natural selection and sexual selection. We comprehensively introduce workshop participants to Darwin's own thinking processes, pointing out how his naturalistic observations and his reformulation of the conventional scientific wisdom of the 1850's led to the theory of evolution by natural selection. We discuss implications of the idea that the mind was created by a historical process of natural selection.

We then cover the contributions of George C. Williams, whose writings in the early 1960's finally allowed naturalists to understand the broad implications of Darwin's ideas, and who demonstrated that group selection was extremely unlikely to have evolved. Group selection is the idea that organisms evolve to behave altruistically for the good of the species or group per se, instead of for their own individual good. Williams also elucidated an evolutionary theory of aging, which dramatically illustrates the central role that the reproductive interests of genes play in the evolution of life histories, a point further articulated by the prominent evolutionist Richard Dawkins.

We also several momentous extensions of Darwin's theory (and the first to make real use of the knowledge of genes, which Darwin lacked) by perhaps the most important evolutionary theorist since Darwin, William D. Hamilton . In his theory of "kin selection" (i.e., on behalf of siblings, parents, nieces , or nephews), Hamilton proved that altruism can evolve when it is nepotistic. In doing so, he revolutionized the way that biologists calculate fitness. He also helped explain why sex evolved, and why organisms of most species, including humans, tend not to mate indiscriminately.

We go on to explain and discuss key ideas of one of Hamilton's most productive disciples, Robert Trivers, who developed the Darwinian underpinnings of parent-offspring conflict, the evolutionary theory of sex differences, how non-nepotistic reciprocal altruism might evolve as a major feature of animal and human sociality, and the evolutionary basis for mechanisms of self-deception in animals, especially social animals, and especially-especially (especially , if you prefer) in humans.

Also covered are critical thoughts of key pioneers in human evolutionary psychology such as Richard Alexander, Nicholas Humphrey, Randy Thornhill, E.O. Wilson, and others. These individuals played pivotal roles in helping us to understand the social and sexual selection pressures that fueled the evolution of the unusually big brain of humans and its awesome abstract cognitive capacities and complex emotionality. Thereby, they helped us to see more deeply into what the "Hallowed-Gray-Matter" is ultimately up to, from a biological viewpoint, at least when it is left to freely engage in unprincipled imagination and introspection for 75+ years. A spattering of ideas of Watson, Wymore, and others, on the evolutionary functions of everything from unipolar depression to the lusty rebelliousness of adolescents, the complementary roles of instinct and learning in human behavior, and the basic nature of attention and "intention," rounds out our students' exposure to modern evolutionary thinking as applied to humans.

After completion of the introductory workshops, our wish would be to work with teachers in small special interest groups to help brainstorm new and original concrete classroom lesson plans. These follow-up sessions would provide classroom material over and above that afforded by the introductory workshops themselves.

Workshop Two
Topics in Behavioral Evolution Series
A sequence of 8 to 10 two-hour discussions concerning topics of great interest in the evolution of behavior. Here, the faculty of each school can customize the content of workshops to a high degree by choosing from among a growing list of discussion topics. Each topic could easily provide several classroom lessons. To the extent possible, we shall develop concrete possibilities for classroom activity during each of these mini-workshops. Each workshop should provide material for 1-2 concentrated and enlightening lessons in the actual classroom. In most cases, heuristic evolutionary concepts and principled claims are presented at the beginning each workshop and the topic is then developed interactively.

Potential topics, in no special order, include:

1) Taking Gambles - The evolution of risk-taking behavior. Understanding the social and ecological factors that control risky behavior and sex differences in risk-taking. Understanding the high propensity for adolescents to take risks.

2) Gangs and Our Grouping Imperative - understanding the socioeconomic and ecological factors and sex differences that promote the participation of animals and humans in competitive and sometimes violent gang-like behavior. This will touch on the importance of group living in humans, our unique love of engaging in group sports, and the evolution of the propensity to wage war.

3) How to Avoid Stupid Arguments About Nothing: The Levels of Analysis - an important intellectual tool for young and old biologists that clarifies the different complimentary ways that any biological question can be answered. Provides fresh insight into the nature-nurture controversy in behavior. Helps students understand the research goals of different kinds of biologists. Also helps people understand that explanations of behaviors and feelings that make reference to brain chemistry or neurophysiology are not the only meaningful answers; this is highly relevant to understanding important phenomena like the various forms of psychological pain, including depression.

4) Parasites, Pathogens, and Sexual Selection - modern ideas about the role that sexual displays of all kinds might play in signaling potential mates information about current health and immunocompetence. An important class of explanations for all sorts of secondary sexual traits, from peacocks tails to high cheek bones in humans.

5) Mommy's Babies, Daddy's Maybes - a discussion about the sex difference in certainty of paternity in internally fertilizing animals and its consequences, e.g., for the evolution of sex differences in jealousy and mate-guarding behavior. Huge implications for understanding important sex differences in behavior that impact the quality and dynamics of human relations.

6) What Good Is Feeling Bad? - a workshop on the possible adaptive functions of various forms of psychological pain, with a special emphasis on depression and associated suicidal tendencies.

7) Dracula, The Altruist - the evolution of reciprocal altruism and cooperation among non-relatives. The evolutionary basis will be discussed using a famous model from economics and sociobiology, "the prisoner's dilemma". Animal examples will be discussed, like the sharing of blood meals by roosting vampire bats.

8) How to Evolve True Altruism, NoT! - a discussion of the onerous theory of group selection, which still plays a strong role in the general public's thinking. Group selection is the evolutionary process (as opposed to standard Darwinian individual selection) which you need in order to get pure or non-contingent altruistic behavior to evolve. We explore the fundamental problems with explanations of behaviors as serving "the perpetuation of the species" or "the good of the group." Key concepts for understanding our lemming logo, stolen from a classic Gary Larson cartoon.

9) Mom May Very Well Have Liked You Best: Nepotism & Hamilton's Rule - one of the most important contributions to evolutionary theory since Darwin was W.D. Hamilton's explanation for the mechanism whereby altruism among relatives (nepotism) could evolve. This discussion will point out how to calculate fitness the modern way, and elucidate the causes and conditions for the evolution of general nepotistic and parental behaviors. Enormous implications for understanding the complex contingency of altruistic behavior in family groups.

10) Eating Disorders - here we discuss another class of psychological "Illnesses" from an adaptationist, evolutionary perspective. Understanding hypotheses about anorexia and bulimea from an evolutionary perspective can help people help each other with these painful and dangerous conditions.

11) Greed, Or, "Its Never Enough" - a discussion of the ramifications of the fact that biological fitness is a relative, not an absolute quantity. Insights into the human condition and a much richer understanding of evolutionary theory are possible once the relativity of fitness is understood.

12) Nature versus Nurture - here we develop modern views on the complimentary roles of instinct and learning in the development of behavior. The discussion will include the controversy around genetic determinism and the role of culture in molding human and animal behavior.

13) Whaaat's Love, What's Love, Got-To-Do-withit? : The Evolution of Romantic Love - cutting edge modern evolutionary views on the possible adaptive functions of romantic love and what is going on when two people fall deeply in love. The idea of two becoming one may not be so far from the literal truth!

14) How Did We Get a Non-Boring Universe? : Natural Selection in the Cosmos - a discussion of how the basic parameters of the standard model of physics (which currently relates electromagnetic force, and the weak and strong nuclear forces, but not yet gravity) may have been set by natural selection acting on the level of universes (of which ours may be just one).

15) Consciousness, The Bystander, or "The Matrix" - modern views of the role of consciousness in the control of behavior and how the contents of consciousness may be under tight control of adaptive (but not necessarily nice or pretty) unconscious mental mechanisms. Meet, if you will, Agent Smith, in yourself!

16) Orchids Only Mimic Female Insects! - this discussion is all about the evolution of sex differences. We cover the basic theory that allows understanding of all manner of sexual differences in mind and body! Then we discuss examples of sex differences, including a key one that allows all orchid species to agree that the best way to attract pollinators is to pretend you are a female, and never a male.

17) Self-deception and Social Life - this discussion focuses on the phenomenon of self-deception and its role in human and potentially animal social life. We will try to use evolutionary social theory to explain individual subjectivity and the difficulty of going beyond intersubjectivity in human social interactions. We shall discuss the relationship between human language and the evolution of self-deception, and the basic role that self-deception plays in behaviors aimed at deceiving others.

18) Is Ain't Ought: The Naturalistic Fallacy - how to help students understand that scientific knowledge about the world may inform, but cannot be used to derive morals, ethics, and values. An important philosophical tool that defends against naively going too far with evolutionary biological knowledge, especially in the domain of social policy and decision-making.

19) The Social Function of Intellect - why have humans got big brains? This discussion will cover evolutionary psychological arguments that our intelligence is specialized for solving problems inherent to navigating complex social networks. This workshop is an excellent prelude to discussions concerning the evolution of religion and self-deception. Note that these discussions are not bent on invalidating religion or spirituality. Our view is that evolutionary thinking can potentiate a spiritual search and help us understand their pitfalls and inherent difficulty.

20) Dealing with Creationism: The Ultimate "Who Done It?" - in this workshop we will discuss strategies and tactics for dealing with objections to evolutionary theory often raised by creationists. Dealing with creationist arguments effectively can greatly aid students in their understanding of the basic differences between science and ideology.

21) Evolution of Religion - here we delve more deeply into evolutionary reasons for our strong cross-cultural tendency to "populate the world with spirits" and to develop elaborate ethico-religious belief systems (see also 19). We explore the ecological and social competitive functions of various forms of religion and the ecology of the transformation of polytheistic into monotheistic religious systems.

22) Cresh Test Dummies - cross-species comparisons of parental care behavior will be discussed, illuminating the circumstances that favor different kinds and amounts of parental care, and the similar or different roles of fathers and mothers in providing nuturance to offspring.

23) Ecological Determinants of Mating Systems - here we looks at the factors that favor the evolution of various forms of polygynous, polyandrous, promiscuous (?), and monogamous mating systems across species. Our discussion will cover the paradoxical-seeming active role females may play in the formation of polygynous mating systems; this part of our discussion will employ a graphical quantitative model of polygyny very good for honing student's quantitative reasoning ability.

24) I'm OK, You're OK: Understanding Polymorphism in Populations - individuals within a species can differ dramatically in body and behavior. Sometimes, the differences are quite categorical. How does selection favor and maintain such variants in populations? (see also #25)

25) Power of Math for Field Biologists - here we deal with a well-studied polymorphism in the sexual strategies of male bluegill sunfish - some choose to become large parental, territorial males while others choose to become small-bodied cuckolders. The example shows how a bit of math can transform and simplify the investigation of a basic question central to our understanding of the evolution and maintenance of polymorphism. Our discussion will prepare everyone to dramatically show the power of quantitative reasoning in planning a practical evolutionary field study. Quantitatively inspiring!

26) Evolution of Artistic Ability, or, "The Wit to Woo" - here we explore possible adaptive explanations of why artistic talents might enhance an individual's reproductive success by demonstrating their smarts, including their social intelligence.

27) Everyones Got One Mother and One Father - one of the most important puzzles that Darwin explicitly left for future generations to solve was the evolution of the 50:50 sex ratio seen so commonly in the animal kingdom. This workshop will elucidate the evolution of even sex ratios both conceptually and with an explicit quantitative evolutionary model, really the very first model in the history of biology to use the concept of an evolutionarily stable strategy or ESS. While showing the power of evolutionary thinking in solving fundamental mysteries of biology, this workshop also shows the wonderful power of simple quantitative reasoning in the formulation of scientific explanations. Great workshop for both math and biology teachers.

28) Barnacle Bill's Giant Penis - in this workshop we discuss implications of the evolutionary theory of sex differences for male versus female body size across the animal kingdom. The workshop uses examples from familiar as well as some bizarre species to point why males are expected to be larger than females in some mating systems and smaller in others. Methods will be given to involve the class in guessing how much bigger and smaller males can be than females and of what kinds of tissues their body mass should consist of at the extremes of sexual size dimorphism.

29) War and Acupuncture - it is often amazing how evolutionary thinking can provide a common conceptual foundation for understanding key elements of what would seem to be utterly unrelated phenomena. In this workshop, we shall discuss the evolutionary origins of the well-known "placebo effect." Our exploration will reveal sound principles for understanding certain auspicious and inauspicious tendencies toward self-deception and suggestibility that contribute to behaviors of great social and economic importance.

30) Analysis of Characters in Literature - the point of this workshop is to wet the appetite of both biology and humanities teachers for including evolutionary analyses in their discussion of their favorite human (or non-human) characters in literature. We'll come armed with our own favorite personalities to discuss, but first and foremost we want the participants in this workshop to bring up one or two of their own, describing why they love or are fascinated or confused by the character's personality and behavior. We shall take that gem of a character and subject them to and evolutionary psychological analysis. The aim will be to show how fun and both biologically and psychologically insightful such an evolutionary "take" on the complex characters from great literature can be. This workshop offers the possibility for humanities and biology teachers to coordinate their more closely so that their classes contain complimentary and synergistic conceptual material. Consilience!

31) Human Mate Choice 1: The Observable Mechanisms - this should get their attention! We shall discuss very concrete similarities and differences in male versus female mate choice criteria that are known to exist across diverse cultures. The patterns will be elucidated with reference to the evolutionary theory of sex differences. Our discussion will go a long way toward showing how cultural influences on behavior interact logically with more fundamental biological influences, helping the student understand geneenvironment interactions and the sense in which "culture is biology." Elements of human mating rituals will also be related to the behaviors and sexual ornamentation of animals. Excellent sex education for teens, that may help them to understand the game of the opposite sex and make them more wary and conservative in their sexual relations.

32) Human Mate Choice 2: Orgasmic Cryptic Mechanisms - this may grab their attention even more, as its all about largely unconscious mechanisms of human mate choice, or, more specifically sire choice. Social mateships don't equate to perfect genetic mateships. that involve understanding the functional design of male versus female genitalia, the circumstances under which women experience orgasm and what happens during female orgasms (both copulatory and masturbatory) that can affect male fertilization success. Illustrates, among other things, how intimately our sex-specific anatomical and psychological designs are intertwined. We are soooo amazing!

33) Sociobiology of Families - great advances have been made over the past 10 years in understanding family dynamics and the circumstances under which the strength of within family alliances wax and wane. Here we will discuss recent synthetic work on this topic and develop discussion questions about the family life of animals, and your students' families, for the classroom.

34) Puff Daddy - in animal and human conflicts, ritualized displays that render conflict resolution less risky have evolved in many animals species. In this discussion we look at some examples of displays and understand their evolution via Darwinian individual selection. We also look at circumstances in which such low risk behavior erupts into deadly violence. There are nice opportunities to understand the evolution of transient cooperation here among non-relatives and even non-reciprocators. The topic also has important implications for students in understanding conflict management.

35) Biology of Moral Systems - all human cultures and sub-cultures develop moral systems. Whether they are embedded in a religious tradition or secular, moral codes play a central role in human social life, enabling humans to live in groups large and small. But, the often asymmetrical (i.e., unfair?) relational dynamics around morals can be subjected to penetrating evolutionary analysis. In this discussion we will explore the idea that "ideologies are the strategic closing of questions," hence the existence of blasphemy. We shall also explore the role of storytelling and myths as means of communicating moral teachings -- to what social end(s)?

36) Biology of Aging - it may seem paradoxical that since natural selection builds animals to survive and reproduce that it has not designed many more beasts, including us, to live and reproduce for hundreds if not thousands of years. But there is a robust evolutionary theory of aging and understanding it can really deepen one's understanding of natural selection, and what it really means that natural selection is all about maximizing the propagation of genes, with individuals like you and me acting only as convenient promoters of the replicative imperative of genes. Lifetimes are designed in the interests of genes, not individuals. The discussion will have major implications for the medical system's search for life-prolonging magic bullets and deepen understanding of the evolution of life histories within and among species and the genetics of the evolutionary process. Why do males live less long, on average, than females? Fundamental questions such as this will be answered.

37) Honest Signaling - one of the most important findings in evolutionary biology of behavior in the past 25 years is that systems of communication do not evolve for the dissemination of truth. In sexual and social interactions, individuals are selected to be hypnotists and, usually, social partners receiving communications are configured to resist being hypnotized. This situation results in an evolutionary arms race that never ends, but reaches an unstable equilibrium in which much of what is communicated among sexual and social partners is quite honest. This discussion will focus on understanding the evolution of honest signaling, important for understanding the evolution of adaptive mate choice and profitable social relations.

38) Parenting and Lying - parents teach social skills (or at least that's the idea...). Their teaching interacts with learning instincts all kids are born and grow up with. Everybody knows, deep down, that lying is an important social skill. The degree of lying needs to be adjusted amongst many contexts, but we have to admit its dynamic range is very broad. How do kids learn to lie, and how can parents and perhaps teachers conspire to minimize being lied to by their own children and students. This workshop uses some basic evolutionary ideas as a jumping off point for a discussion of how to teach and allow the practicing of social skills involving both honesty and dishonesty in ways that do not sever contact between the teaching adult and the learning child or adolescent. This workshop has great potential for understanding edgy family and intergenerational dynamics which can increase rapport in the classroom as well as provide new material for discussion of relations portrayed in literature.

39) Free Will - hey, we got it right? Big assumption. How would natural selection produce a creature that is anything but an automaton, inexorably driven by thought and emotion to pursue (knowingly or not) maximal gene propagation? If we have free will, then why do so many schools of psychotherapy tell us that we are so stuck in interpersonal relationships mainly characterized by intersubjectivity, even though we may feel a genuine desire to have more objective and hence potentially empathic contact with one another? This workshop is about relationships and free will, and how natural selection may have fostered a degree of free will that can be expanded and empowered. Approaching the issue of free will is fundamental to a liberal arts education, and this workshop will provide help foster curiosity, hope and will provide fresh material for discussion with students. A valuable workshop for teachers of psychology, literature, and religious studies.

40) AHHH!!..., AHHHHHHHHH!!! : Stress Physiology - it not meant to be a chronic physiological state, but for many of us (teachers and students alike) it is. And, it damages us. This workshop offers material that would be great to share with students and yourselves concerning how stress affects us and how to deal with it, including the neurohormonal basis of stress and why certain measures, such as exercise, actually work to ameliorate the ill effects of stress on body and mind. Some very relevant applied physiology for biology, pre-med, and physical education teachers, and anyone who is stressed.

Please let us know of topics that YOU would like to see added to this list! We will acknowledge your contribution in future revisions of this nationally distributed list of two hour workshops.

Thanks, from Nature & Behavior, Inc. We look forward to invigorating, inspirational, and supportive interactions with you and your teaching colleagues!

Special thanks to Russ Fisher-Ives, Sue Passell, and the teaching staff of Rio Rancho High School, Rio Rancho, New Mexico, for participating in an early workshop and providing valuable feedback.

About the N&B workshop staff:

John D. Wymore

* has a BA in Anthropology from California State University - Northridge and an MA in Counseling from Webster University

* has trained in psychotherapy at Gestalt Institute of New England and consultation skills at National Training Laboratories (NTL)

* is a member of the American Academy of Psychotherapists

* has presented workshops in the application of Evolutionary Theory to:

Association for Advancement of Gestalt Therapy

International Gestalt Conference

National Association of Sports Counselors

Esalen Institute (with Paul Watson)

* Web site:

Paul J. Watson

* has a Ph.D. in Behavioral Biology from Cornell University's Section of Neurobiology and Behavior

* has done NSF-funded postdoctoral work in behavioral ecology and evolutionary psychology at The University of Oxford and The University of New Mexico

* is a member of the Research Faculty at the University of New Mexico and a Faculty Adjunct of The University of Montana, performing NSF-funded research in behavioral ecology

* has graduate and undergraduate mentoring duties in behavioral biology at the University of New Mexico and the University of Montana's Flathead Lake Biological Station

* has a background studying human behavior from an both evolutionary psychological perspective, and via the introspective methods of several major spiritual traditions

* Web site: _html/pjw_cv.htm

This page last updated 27 April 2002.