Collins Conference Room
  US Mountain Time

Our campus is closed to the public for this event.

Charles Perreault (SFI Omidyar Fellow) and Sarah Mathew (Center for the Study of Cultural Evolution at Stockholm University)

Abstract.  We examine empirically the relative importance of ecology and cultural history in explaining variation in human behavior. There are two prevailing views on how humans adapt. One view is that humans adapt to their current habitat through behavioral plasticity and the cognitive ability to solve complex problems. Another view is that humans adapt to diverse habitats through social learning and cumulative cultural evolution. According to the former view, cultural practices such as marriage, subsistence, and inheritance systems can be predicted by the environment that a society inhabits. In the latter view, such practices depend on the history of these societies. Although these facts have divided evolutionary social scientists, they have rarely been empirically tested cross-culturally.

We will address three questions: 1) Based on  ecological variables and a reconstructed linguistic phylogeny, we will estimate the relative contribution of ecology and cultural history in determining the distribution of behavioral traits pertaining to technology, subsistence systems, social norms and supernatural beliefs; 2) We will examine the scale at which social transmission occurs by identifying which traits get transmitted together as packages; 3) We will examine whether traits that are frequency dependent, such as social norms, are less responsive to ecology than traits that are not frequency dependent.

Research Collaboration
SFI Host: 
Sam Bowles