In The Naked Ape, Desmond Morris provides an alternative explanation of the causative factors underlying
various human behavior patterns and societal and cultural activities. He develops his theme around such
human activities as feeding, grooming, sleeping, fighting, mating and care of the young. He compares
human traits and behaviors with those exhibited by animals, mainly the primates, in like activities. His
point is that understanding the evolutionary source of many behaviors can throw new light on
understanding the complex nature of the human species.
Morris begins by examining the evolution of the mammals, from the earliest insectivores to the latest
carnivores, detailing the survival characteristics which led to the success of some species over others. He
provides great detail on the development of the nearly naked carnivorous ‘hunting ape’ from the fruit eating
He presents a thorough discussion of sexual behavior, stressing the similarities between human ‘rituals’ and
primate behaviors. Tracing the three characteristic sexual phases of pair formation, pre-copulatory activity,
and copulation, the evolutionary process which lies at the root of modern human sexual behavior is clearly
Similarly, he examines human child-rearing, and provides interesting insights into non-verbal
communication and body language between mother and child. The role of exploratory behavior in the
basic survival patterns of feeding, fighting, and mating, as well as its importance to an individual’s social
adjustment, is detailed.
Morris analyzes thoroughly our human aggressive urges, as always providing examples of animal
behaviors which serve as an objective base upon which to understand why we act as we do. In addition to
territorial and social dominance aggressive behaviors, he describes the actual mechanics of aggression, both
physiologically and behaviorally. Both displacement activity and appeasement activity are explored in
He concludes by examining human feeding and comfort behaviors and mankind’s relationships with
animals. Throughout the book he stresses that as a species, man is a simple biological phenomenon subject
to all the basic laws of animal behavior. He feels that it is important to the survival of the human species to
understand itself and the limitations implicit in being a ‘naked ape’.
Morris admits that he perhaps over-stresses the biological/zoological slant of his thesis, but even so his
concepts are capably and logically developed.
I found it easy and fascinating to recognize myself (and others) in almost every behavioral situation he
describes. One very important point to keep in mind about Morris’ book is that he is exploring ‘normal’
social behavior, not abnormal behavior. He has taken almost every aspect of man’s everyday life and
shown, acceptably and believably in my opinion, that in many cases human behavior can be understood in
terms of our evolutionary roots.