Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
This website is no longer actively maintained
Some material and features may be unavailable
January 17th, 2010
Video Excerpt: Social Networks and the Spark

At Oxford University, Alan Alda finds out from Robin Dunbar how human social networks compare to those of chimps, and at Yale University, watches babies as young as three months old pick cooperative puppets over those that won’t play.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.
  • David Ramsay

    So, if we arrive with an innate preference to choose cooperation, why are shows like “Survivor”, where one wins by uncooperative behaviour, so popular? Have we been conditioned by our culture to win by the plethora of competitive games rather than cooperative ones? Who benefits from this conditioning?

  • Fred Slocombe

    Cooperativeness is conditioned out of our nature by marginalization. Marginalization is a tool for those who seek to contain and control us. i.e. religion, nationalism, tribalism, cultism, hierarchical organizational structures, etc.

  • Hartley Anderson

    I would like to get this message to Alan Alda, as I’m inclined to think he has an interest in this subject that is more than just lending his famous name to the series.

    In series two you were talking about the importance of the human brain’s down time, how that time is anything but “down” for the brain. And I’ve heard recently that a proper amount of sleep is also important for the same reason, but that we think we can and must get by with less because we have so many “important” things that need our attention. Then couple that with the current addiction to constant digital input and we’ve got yet another self-destructive mechanism that is peculiar to humans.

    We were apparently designed to operate best when we give ourselves time to contemplate/meditate, when we are not under pressure 24/7. And yet the human tendency to exalt ourselves works against that basic need.

    (I’m 72, retired and have never owned a cell phone, although I do keep a used one charged up and in the car for emergency 911 calls. Perhaps if I still worked I would own one, but I doubt I would even then. I’ve lived many years and am not aware that I’ve ever missed anything of real importance because I don’t always have access to a telephone. In fact I look at them as a kind of leash; I like the idea that when I’m gone, I’m gone, and if someone doesn’t like that, that’s tough.)

  • Paul Ranucci

    You make a good case for humans using cooperation, language, and abstraction to solve complex problems and build civilizations far beyond the capabilities of other primates, however i couldn’t help but think of another species arguably even more successfully adapted to their environments across the globe and that is ants. Ants cooperate on a far larger scale than even humans (millions of members cooperating towards common goals in a single colony) to solve complex tasks – construction, food gathering, defense, attacks against other colonies, they have a pheromone based language, division of labor, castes and arguably ‘civilization’. They work towards common goals which enable the colony to survive and are incredibly adaptable to new situations. They are far removed from us on the evolutionary ladder and still have natural predators however I think that cooperation towards a common goal and possibly even civilization is arguably not uniquely human.

  • Derick Gross

    do we have to do comparative studies with chimps, what about the social networks of ants, bees and those of other animals for example the closely knit relationships amongst elephants. i think by using primates as comparison we are starting to see what we want to see, when in fact it is universal concepts at work and not evolution (consider the Bowerbirds of the Australasia’s)

  • Nancy

    Having only seen this excerpt, sorry if it’s explained further in the full episode. My initial reaction is: are the puppet roles reversed in subsequent puppet shows with the same child; i.e., Green cooperates, Red does not? Is the child truly choosing the puppet’s behavior, or simply reacting to an attractive red color?

Produced by THIRTEEN    ©2015 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.