Human Social Evolution: Self-Domestication or Self-Control?

Dor Shilton*, Mati Breski, Daniel Dor, Eva Jablonka

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The self-domestication hypothesis suggests that, like mammalian domesticates, humans have gone through a process of selection against aggression – a process that in the case of humans was self-induced. Here, we extend previous proposals and suggest that what underlies human social evolution is selection for socially mediated emotional control and plasticity. In the first part of the paper we highlight general features of human social evolution, which, we argue, is more similar to that of other social mammals than to that of mammalian domesticates and is therefore incompatible with the notion of human self-domestication. In the second part, we discuss the unique aspects of human evolution and propose that emotional control and social motivation in humans evolved during two major, partially overlapping stages. The first stage, which followed the emergence of mimetic communication, the beginnings of musical engagement, and mimesis-related cognition, required socially mediated emotional plasticity and was accompanied by new social emotions. The second stage followed the emergence of language, when individuals began to instruct the imagination of their interlocutors, and to rely even more extensively on emotional plasticity and culturally learned emotional control. This account further illustrates the significant differences between humans and domesticates, thus challenging the notion of human self-domestication.

Original languageEnglish
Article number134
Pages (from-to)134
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
StatePublished - 14 Feb 2020


  • emotional control
  • human social evolution
  • language evolution
  • music evolution
  • self-domestication hypothesis


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