Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

7: Human Variation

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    The previous paleontology and paleoanthropology sections tried to answer the question: How are humans different from other life? This section on human variation asks the question: How are humans different from each other?

    • 7.1: Introduction to Human Variation
      Anthropologists have a kind of dissociative identity disorder when it comes to race. When you ask people about human variation, the first thing that usually comes to mind is race ­– they acknowledge the concept. So race exists, and cultural anthropologists study it as a learned behavior. Physical anthropologists split between denying the existence of race, and seeing it empirically in bones. Since the early 1900s, most anthropologists in all subfields have actively opposed racism.
    • 7.2: Age
      Humans have the longest life span of any primate. Orangutans live to be about 60 but we average another third of a life on top of that. We are the longest living out of any mammal and most life on the planet. It makes us ask why natural selection selected so many old people.
    • 7.3: Disease
      A disease is just what it says: a “dis” - “ease”; meaning something is keeping you from being at ease, or your normal state. From a system theory approach, disease is a stressor that moves the body out of homeostasis. There are many kinds of diseases that are important to human evolutions. We've already discussed genetic diseases, but here we are going to look at human variation as a response to infectious disease.
    • 7.4: Sex
      The difference between sex and gender is a great example of biocultural synthesis, but the terms can get confusing, so I've included a glossary below. Although language changes and there are gray areas, it's better to get the commonly used definition down first, and then go into to the controversies.
    • 7.5: Race
      All the categories of human variation in this section (age, sex, disease, race) have some basis in biology, but this last one is the most arbitrary out of all of them. The decision to group people based on superficial visual characteristics is not founded in absolute biological difference, but in a long history of cultural difference. Race is culture, not biology. We have a cultural tendency to cram human variation into racial categories.
    • 7.6: Culture
      Everything you've learned up to now about the biological origins of humanity is mostly insignificant. Most research into human behavior finds biology as a almost insignificant causal factor compared to culture. We didn't evolve to be who we are, as much as we learned to be who we are. Most of who we are is determined by how we grow up: what language we speak, our religion, our favorite flavor of ice cream, our views on existentialism, what we laugh about, what we cry about.


    This page titled 7: Human Variation is shared under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Arnie Daniel Schoenberg via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.