The superorganism account of human sociality: how and when human groups are like beehives

Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 2012 Aug;16(3):233-61. doi: 10.1177/1088868311430834. Epub 2011 Dec 27.


Biologists call highly cooperative and socially integrated animal groups like beehives and ant colonies "superorganisms." In such species, the colony acts like an organism despite each animal's physical individuality. This article frames human sociality through the superorganisms metaphor by systematically reviewing the superorganismic features of human psychology. These features include (1) mechanisms to integrate individual units, (2) mechanisms to achieve unity of action, (3) low levels of heritable within-group variation, (4) a common fate, and (5) mechanisms to resolve conflicts of interest in the collective's favor. It is concluded that human beings have a capacity to partly and flexibly display each of these superorganismic properties. Group identification is a key mechanism that activates human superorganismic properties, and threats to the group a key activating condition. This metaphor organizes diverse aspects of human psychology (e.g., normative conformity, social identity processes, religion, and the "rally around the flag" reflex) into a coherent framework.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Group Processes
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Mass Behavior
  • Social Behavior*
  • Socialization