What is a Social Species?



A coupla months ago I had completed several drafts of The Favelas of Sao Paulo, Act Two, and I was writing my first notes for an essay on communication.  I got to thinking about communication in a social species – that’s us, folks.  So, I asked myself, “what is a social species?”

If an individual leaves the group to go walkabout, or to gather or hunt, and returns to the same group, that is a social species.  Or if those activities are performed with the group or sub-group, that is a social species.  Or, if an individual leaves or is forced out of the group and then seeks to transfer into another group, that is a social species.  If there are no or few free-living isolated individuals, that is a social species.

A social group consists of individuals providing the basic structure of the group.  The next question was “what is significant about the individuals comprising the group?  I wrote “age, sex, ability, dominance …” and that is as far as I got on that list.  I had no sooner written ‘dominance’ when I conceived and wrote ‘carinance.’1  It just popped into my head.  Writing ‘dominance’ was a trigger event that coalesced multiple strands of thought into this one word and then into this essay.  One strand was this story:

It’s Story Time!

Two male chimpanzees got into a fight.  Nothing unusual – chimp politics tends to be rather physical, particularly in captivity.  One of them was clearly losing and ran to Momma chimp, the oldest and most dominant of the females, for protection [note]She was really the dominant chimpanzee, no one messed with Momma, particularly as she had the support of the other females if even the dominant male chimpanzee thought to pick a fight with her.[/note] and was enveloped in her arms.  As she began grooming him, the other male considered his options and then ran to her also.  She groomed both of them for a while and the tension evaporated.  She gradually backed away leaving the males with each other and, after a bit of staring at each other to check out if there was any residual conflict, they began grooming each other.  And then they stared into each other’s eyes for 15 minutes.2

Chimpanzee politics3 tends to be vigorous, raucous, even violent – hits and bites are inflicted amidst a great noise.  There are winners and losers.  But there is reconciliation.   The reconciliation of the chimps in the story was intense.  They were flooded with brain reward, the basis of care.

The second strand in this story is my thought that dominance and competition would be dissociative, that these social group functions would tend to make it difficult to hold a group together.

Our chimpanzee group is once again resting in the African forest.  One of the younger males is eyeing a female in estrus and he begins to move toward her.  Gonna put the make on her, he is.  The alpha male sees the move and immediately intercepts the beta and heads him off with a vicious punch and a scream.  They have a screaming match and finally the beta runs away.

But only so far.  What holds him in the group?  Why doesn’t he think “I’m tired of being beaten up, I want a female, I’m outa here” and leave to find another group?  The chimpanzee stories are about dominance and competition which are characteristics of various animal groups.4  The losers in these dominance contests accept their status and remain in the group.  There can be no dominance unless there are individuals bound to the alpha by forces stronger than that of the frustration, disappointment and resentment of being the beta or lower.

The third strand:  Chimpanzee’s diet consists mostly of fruits, seeds, nuts, leaves and flowers.  Their food, except for meat, is widely distributed in their ecology and may be found by an individual by foraging: going looking.  While individuals may forage or hunt on their own, the most common pattern is male or female sub-groups foraging for food and then returning to the main social group.  They rest, play, groom, locate food, have sex, and raise the young within the context of a social group.

There is, then, within each individual a social force that draws them together after a dominance dispute and draws them together into a group when they could forage for food alone.  The glue must be stronger than competition and dominance.  It must be stronger than the advantages of foraging by oneself.

The last strand is that I had used the word ‘care’ in my previous essay.  So, care was still residual in my mind.  If I had not had care on the brain, I probably would not have combined care with dominance to form carinance when the unconscious web of thought, the first three strands, were delivered to my word transliteration module.  The conceptualization of carinance – the melding of the various strands of thought – is another example of path dependency and this subsequent essay is an example of linearization of those strands.

Carinance: the glue, the brain reward, that binds individuals into a social group within which various personal survival needs are met.


Carinance is care in all of its forms: love, affection, devotion, friendship, trust, empathy, and respect.  Carinance is living, gathering and hunting together; resting, sleeping, and playing together; having sex and caring of children.  Carinance and cooperation provide the group cohesion, and dominance and competition provides the group structure.

Carinance is more in the brain reward than in the overt behavior.  It may be something as simple as a glance and a memory, or a story in the quiet of the mind.  Care may be simple quick touch or a long conversation.  A touch or a talk may be an expression of care, or an invitation to care, a suggestion to reduce social distance, and to strengthen the social glue.

Carinance is a difficult attribute to study by simple observation.  Some interactive behaviors such as grooming, infant care, and food sharing may be clearly classified as ‘care’ but care may exist in the spaces between overt behaviors making it difficult to delineate.  For example, I may be at dinner with my extended family and appear to be doing nothing at all other than conveying food from the plate to my mouth.  ‘Eating’ is what an observer would note on my activity list.  But a fMRI would show that I am delighted to be within my family and listening to my grandkids – grown up now, but I’m remembering those days when I pushed them on the tire swing in the front tree, and played horsey and wrestled with them on the floor.  We ran and chased, and had water balloon fights.   It was wonderful, it was care, it was overt behavior, but how to make observations and measurements of my brain reward as I sit quietly with them at dinner?


In my first essay of this series5 I wrote “In this sense survival is essentially individual: this specific individual organism either controls its variables successfully or does not.”  I have made a significant modification of that statement: an individual in a social species “meets (its) individual survival and reproductive needs such as air, water, food, sleep, shelter, sex, and raising young within the context of a group.”  While life and death are individual, survival of the individual occurs within a social group.

Social connectedness is a predictor of the health, particularly mental health, and the lifespan of a member of a social species.  Un-connectedness is signaled by loneliness, a brain punishment and a motivation to seek connection.  We do not survive well on our own.  We are an obligate social species with a need for carinance, for care in all of its forms.  The need to be enfolded in the belonging and care of a social group is a survival need.6

My thesis is: An individual member of a social species has, in addition to its basic survival and reproductive needs, a set of social survival needs.  Social animals live within a complex nexus of self and social needs.  Our survival is in the survival of our group within which we compete for dominance, resources and reproduction.  There will be behaviors that favor the self and those that favor the group, and a complex set of motivations that release those behaviors.  Care of the group is care of the individual.

A social group is not a Pollyanic nirvana of happiness; it is riven with the multiple dynamics of the entire corpus of social interactions from care to sociopathy, from heroic sacrifice to selfishness, and faithfulness to deception.

Care is widespread in the animal kingdom, particularly for offspring.7  Care is ancient in the lineage and relatives of H. sapiens and I offer this account of a Neanderthal burial as evidence:

He had had a rough life.  Multiple broken bones, degenerative joint disease, a withered arm, and an eye that was probably blinded all attest to that…(he) had clearly been cared for by his fellow tribesmen.8

BUT: there was another burial in that cave that evidences a healed stab wound probably inflicted by another individual and recent research has concluded that the wound is consistent with being inflicted by a spear.  An economical hypothesis is that this may be indicative of inter-tribal conflict.  Out of this and other bits of evidence I will build my sociology of carinance and tribalism – essential attributes of a social species.  Then I can begin to think about a verbal social species and the functions performed by communication.

1-13 -21  I am ambivalent about the neologism, carinance.  I have used it sparingly in 5 more essays.  I am currently writing Evolutionary Morality: Social Behavior Control in the Garden of Eden and I could have used it extensively.  Instead I have so far used ‘bonds: group, pair, and child’ and have not yet used carinance.  That being said, rereading this essay and in particular my detailed definition, and I like it again.  It is a portmanteau concept into which I have packed a summary of behaviors performed within and characteristic of social groups.  Maybe I will use it despite my ambivalence.

11-19-21  Today I am, perhaps, a little less conflicted about carinance, for I have read an essay9 about the placebo effect: a sugar pill, under some circumstances, can be as or more curative than a pharmaceutical.  Greenberg reports the studies and experiments of Ted Kaptchuk and Kathryn Hall who demonstrate that for some stress and inflammation illnesses, healing in a specific subset of patients is directly correlated to their level of an enzyme which is controlled by their gene set.  For them, care cures.

It is not too much of a reach for me to suggest that the lack of care, carinance, the lack of intense bonding and social group membership, may act as a multiplier and perhaps as an initiator of some stress and inflammatory illnesses.  Unfortunately, the individual’s gene set controls the susceptibility of illness and cure.  That care cures some of these patients is a pointer to the loss entailed by becoming civilized.  Indeed, there is substantial literature based upon ethnographic comparisons that these are diseases of civilization.

MRI imaging and analysis of the gene variant controlling the COMT enzyme levels reinforce at an analytical level the observations of patient and healer: care cures.  To this I add, civilization sickens.  There does not appear to be a way to increase carinance in civilization and I would not be surprised to see a significant effort to develop a pill that enhances the placebo effect by altering the level of the COMT enzyme: the care pill, a poor substitute for what is naturally and evolutionarily ours by birthright.

Upon further thought, I will suggest that depression, in inception and or in exacerbation, is a carinance deficit, a lack of sufficient care within the social group.  We, living out lives in care deprivation do not and cannot envision or experience what we have lost and are missing.

  1. Carinance is a neologism that attracts attention and would be retained in a reader’s memory.  It is intended to have a connotative weight to match that of dominance.  It will be a portmanteau concept that I can open and fill to my requirements. 

  2. I lost the source of this story.  Sure do wish I could find it. 

  3. Waal, Franz de, Chimpanzee Politics 

  4. Plants compete also. 

  5. http://jackofafewtrades.com/2018/01/solved-epistemological-problem/ 

  6. For loneliness in chimpanzees, do a search on ‘chimpanzee loneliness.’  For human see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loneliness 

  7. Cross-species maternal care is also common. 

  8. Walter, Chip, Last Chimp Standing: The Seven Million Year of How and Why We Survived.  The burial was in Shanidar Cave in Iraq.  More information here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanidar_Cave 

  9. Gary Greenberg, “What If the Placebo Effect Is Not a Trick?,” The Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2019