Humans as superorganisms

Humans as superorganisms: how microbes, viruses, imprinted genes, and other selfish entities shape our behavior

Peter Kramer, Paola Bressan


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.

Kramer, P., & Bressan, P. (2015). Humans as superorganisms: how microbes, viruses, imprinted genes and other selfish entities shape our behavior. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10, 464-481. doi: 10.1177/1745691615583131


Modes of invasion of humans by selfish entities.

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• read coverage in BBC Future (“Is another human living inside you?”, 18 September 2015). This story is part of BBC Future’s “Best of 2015” list, their greatest hits of the year.

• read coverage in New York Magazine (“Adventures in the Science of the Superorganism”, 5 October 2015)

• read coverage in Psychology Today (“How Microbes, Viruses, Imprinted Genes, etc. Shape Behaviour”, 9 January 2016)




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