Etiquette - Evolution


The term “etiquette” might have been a recent development, however evolutionists like Charles Darwin had not only identified etiquette as a universal trait but had also found out the motive behind it. He had observed a universality in the way faces of people respond to sights or thoughts or shame, disgust, anger, sorrow, etc. These expressions were not picked up at adulthood or any particular stage of human growth.

In fact, he found that even babies universally responded to stress, pain, and joy in the same ways.

  • From all the newborn babies that he had observed, none used frowns to express happiness, or smiles to mark displeasure.

  • All of the infants used the same set of expressions, almost as if reading it from a template embedded in their DNA.

Using this observation, he concluded that such responses are not learnt from watching others but are innate. Furthermore, it was concluded that these responses were the consequences of development of the human behavior.

Helena Curtis, a noted evolutionist mentions that etiquette was not only a social mandate, but also a survival tactic. From observing birds, she could determine that those who maintained hygiene, and were polite, stood the highest chance of survival and reproduction.

Similarly, Steven Neuberg writes in his book, “Handbook of Social Psychology” that animals and birds taught etiquette to their young to hand over the experience they have gotten in their lives, so that the young can now preserve manners. Through etiquette, they were able to teach their offspring certain norms which help them survive in a group, where some of the members are physically stronger than them. This was the beginning of the evolution of etiquette where animals and birds started following the etiquette handed over to them by their parents and noticing similar manners in others to identify who they can trust and who they can’t.


The proverb “birds of the same feather flock together” doesn’t only include feathers but mannerisms as well. A group of pigeons will also have many small groups within them depending on the way they study the manners (read etiquette) of other birds. This helped them keep safe, as in the case of attacks, like-minded people would group together and fight as a unit.

Similar traits may be witnessed in people who are strict with home-rules where children are not allowed to stay out after dark. They might justify it under the pretext of “this is what children from respectable families don’t do”, thereby getting the advantage of not having to discuss the possible consequences of roaming around late at night (robbery, assault, etc.) by linking it with etiquette.

Thus, etiquette can be described as a set of norms and specific manners derived from observation and experience that were laid down from a desire to achieve convenience and better lifestyle.