Killing the behavioral zombie: Genes, evolution, and why behavior isn't special

Marlene Zuk, Hamish G. Spencer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The nature-nurture controversy seems to be a scientific zombie, an idea that will not die despite ample evidence that it is inaccurate and even damaging to our ideas about how characteristics evolve. The dilemma is particularly clear with regard to behavioral traits, such as intelligence or sexual orientation, where thinking that genes or the environment predominate can lead to flawed conclusions. We argue that, first, behavior is not special in its evolution but evolves in the same manner as other traits. Second, no trait, whether behavioral or otherwise, is caused by either genes or the environment or even by an additive combination of the two; the interaction is the important feature. Third, genes do not and cannot code for behavior or any other characteristic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)515-520
Number of pages6
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to the William Evans Fellowship at the University of Otago for support. Dan Blumstein and Gil Rosenthal made useful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.


  • Animal behavior
  • Genetics
  • Philosophy


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