When evolutionary psychologists and the like try to explain human social behavior, the type of animals that people are most often compared to are higher primates, and sometimes wild canines. People, it is theorized, have similiar hierarchies as wolves or chimpanzees when it comes to such things as hunting and mating.
This is, of course, an obvious comparison to make. Most people admit that genetically apes are the closest cousins that humans have. And in many ways it's easy to see human behavior as an outgrowth of socialization patterns in mammals, including such pop culture tidbits as the "alpha male", and the like.
However, there is some things that can not be accounted for by mammalian social patterns. There is three main points of mamallian behavior that people do not neccesarily adhere to:
- Hierarchy. While people obviously do have hierarchies, and even have them outlined in various rigorous ways, human hierarchies tend to be more spoke shaped, with one leader in the center and people offering allegiance to them. On the other hand,a canine hierarchy is usually straightly linear, with each dog being above or below the others, and no two dogs sharing the same place.
- Exclusivity. A dog can only belong to one pack. Within a troop of apes, there may be sub-cliques, but in the end, an animal only belongs to one group at a time. On the other hand, people can belong to many overlapping groups.
- Language based on emotional relationships. Animals do have a language, and can complicate emotions with it, but beyond the simplest of emotions, animals seem to base their communication based on a personal knowledge of who they are communicating with. On the other hand, two people, assuming they know the same language, can communicate with each other, even if they come from thousands of miles away.
Interestingly enough, in some ways human society seems to resemble that of corvids, the most intelligent family of temperate birds, more than it resembles our mamallian cousins. Since corvids include crows, magpies, jays, and other common urbanized birds, it is fairly easy to observe their behavior.
- Hierarchy. Corvids do not have much noticable hierarchy, which could perhaps be given as a sympton of less brain development than mammals. However, since hierarchy is often linked to hunting, it doesn't make sense for a bird that is a scavenger to maintain a operating pack system. The birds operate independently of each other, allowing them to get food from the widest area possible.
- Exclusivity. This is the one that most resembles human socialization. While most corvids do roost together in murders, and they have a nuclear, and often monogamous family system, their social groups seem very amorphous. They seem to come together to communicate about food, and sometimes to mob predators, and often just to play; but a casual glance at a group of corvids will show them moving from one group to another, breaking off and rejoining in pairs and threesomes. In other words, a corvid social group resembles a Venn Diagram more than it resembles a pyramid. Again, this is a reasonable strategy for animals whose dietary needs require them to seperate into small groups to find small pieces of food.
- Language. Corvids have a sophisticated language, and may even be able to understand some aspects of human language. They use their language to communicate about predators, food sources, and perhaps just for amusement. Since corvids may fly far away from their homes in search of food, and will likely need to communicate with birds that they are not personally familiar with, they need a language that is not tied to personal knowledge of the animal they are talking to.
All of my points are open to debate, as well as more studied observations from people who have more formal education in animal behavior that I do. However, even if this is not so much literarly true, it does reveal a certain truth about people. While people do have dominating hierarchies, and do have some ideas of mutual membership in a hereditary group, they also are able, like corvids, to obtain food relatively independently from a wide variety of sources, and involve themselves in many overlapping social groups. In addition, although people prefer to interact with those they are familiar with, they can also engage in communication based on language, and not interpersonal relationships.