Humans as Superorganisms: How Microbes, Viruses, Imprinted Genes, and Other Selfish Entities Shape Our Behavior

Perspect Psychol Sci. 2015 Jul;10(4):464-81. doi: 10.1177/1745691615583131.


Psychologists and psychiatrists tend to be little aware that (a) microbes in our brains and guts are capable of altering our behavior; (b) viral DNA that was incorporated into our DNA millions of years ago is implicated in mental disorders; (c) many of us carry the cells of another human in our brains; and (d) under the regulation of viruslike elements, the paternally inherited and maternally inherited copies of some genes compete for domination in the offspring, on whom they have opposite physical and behavioral effects. This article provides a broad overview, aimed at a wide readership, of the consequences of our coexistence with these selfish entities. The overarching message is that we are not unitary individuals but superorganisms, built out of both human and nonhuman elements; it is their interaction that determines who we are.

Keywords: brain parasites; chimerism; endogenous viruses; gut–brain axis; human holobiont; human superorganism; imprinted genes; microbiota.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Brain / microbiology*
  • Brain / parasitology
  • Brain / virology*
  • Genomic Imprinting*
  • Humans
  • Microbiota*
  • Viruses*