We are happy to announce the 2016 EHBEA New Investigator’s Award: Olivier Morin from the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research. He receives an expenses paid plenary slot at the EHBEA 2016 annual conference in London, UK (5th – 8th April 2016).
2016 AWARD WINNER: Olivier Morin
Plenary Title: Culture is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans
On the face of it, the stunning continuity and abundance of traditions in our species suggests that humans possess an evolved drive to imitate others—an adaptation enabling each of us to acquire our culture. Yet, human traditions could also have arisen as a by-product of communicative capacities that are neither adapted to cultural transmission per se, nor geared towards the reproduction of behaviours (or thoughts). In this view, the very same cognitive mechanisms that preserve some traditions also distort others. These transformations need not impede cultural stability: reinvention can lead to repair, or to the birth of more appealing traditions: humans transmit their culture because they fail to imitate it.
This hypothesis has been most clearly defended by a research trend known as “cultural attraction theory.” The talk will explore two of its consequences, which will be explored with data drawn from quantitative cultural history and ranging from childhood folklore to art history, from the study of writing systems to big-data analyses of literary trends.
First, cultural survival is not necessarily dependent on the number of relays that a tradition has to go through. High-fidelity replication preserves all of a model’s features, including mistakes from previous replications. If it drove cultural transmission, multiple transmission episodes should bring information loss. By contrast, if transmission is a reinvention, not a replication, then traditions may thrive on being handed down many times. Children’s games and rhymes are a case in point. Second, cultural attraction theory predicts that, because people transform what they transmit in predictable ways, we should observe protracted directional changes in cultural history—changes so regular and lasting that they cannot be explained by the influence of the leaders or majorities that dominate a given society at a given time: the steady rise of direct gaze poses in two portrait traditions (Europe and Korea) will serve as an example.
Olivier Morin is a researcher in theoretical cognitive anthropology, in charge of the Independent Max Planck Research Group “Minds and Traditions” at the MPI for the Science of Human History in Jena (Germany). After a PhD at the Paris École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, supervised by Dan Sperber and devoted to the study of cultural transmission, he has held research positions in Central Europe, at the Central European University in Budapest and the KLI Institute (Klosterneuburg, Austria). His book, How Traditions Live and Die was published in December 2015 by Oxford University Press.
2015 AWARD WINNER: Gert Stulp
Plenary Title: Evolutionary adaptations and unexplored assumptions: questioning the
mismatched stone-age mind
Abstract: What sets Evolutionary Psychology apart from other (evolutionary) approaches to human behaviour is the idea that our brain consists of a large number of domain-specific adaptations or ‘functional specializations’. These adaptations are identified using a method of reverse engineering, which characterises recurring adaptive problems in our evolutionary past and then specifies the design features needed to solve such problems. One implication
of this approach is that the adaptations so identified need not serve an adaptive function in the present day, and hence there is often a mismatch between our evolved psychology and modern human lifestyles. Here, I question these premises, suggesting that a mismatch must be established empirically, rather than assumed, and that the process of reverse engineering is anything but straightforward. In addition, I suggest that a strongly adaptationist perspective has some undesirable consequences, including devaluing studies of present-day behaviour and those demonstrating current adaptiveness, and not appreciating fully the influence of (social) learning and how culture fundamentally shapes the brain. I conclude that the functional perspective used by Evolutionary Psychology is preferable over psychological
theories that lack such a perspective, but that ideas of domain-specific adaptations and mismatches should be given much less weight. In so doing, EP would complement, rather than oppose, other (evolutionary) theories of human behaviour.
- Stulp, G., Buunk, A. P., Kurzban, R., & Verhulst, S. (2013). The height of choosiness: mutual mate choice for stature results in suboptimal pair formation for both sexes. Animal Behaviour, 86(1), 37-46.
- Stulp, G., & Barrett, L. (in press). Evolutionary perspectives on human height variation. Biological Reviews.
2014 AWARD WINNER: Willem Frankenhuis
Plenary Title: How does natural selection shape development?
Abstract: Fused together, evolutionary and developmental science can generate predictions about: (1) what traits to expect at different life stages; (2) what phenotypic variation to expect depending on ecology; (3) what patterns of ontogenetic change to expect depending on ecology. In this talk, I will discuss theory and data bearing on these topics. I will focus on recent models showing that natural selection can result in mechanisms that produce sensitive periods in development. Such models may illuminate the roles of chronological age and previous life experiences in shaping the extent of plasticity (its retention and decline) across the human life span.
- Frankenhuis, W.E., & de Weerth, C. (2013). Does early-life exposure to stress shape or impair cognition? Current Directions in Psychological Science 22(5), 407-412.
- Frankenhuis, W.E., & Panchanathan, K. (2011). Balancing sampling and specialization: an adaptationist model of incremental development. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 278, 3558-3565.
2013 AWARD WINNER: David Lawson
Plenary Title: Natural Selection on Wealth and Fertility in Humans
Abstract: Life history theory argues that all organisms have two main goals – 1) competitively extract resources from the ecological and social environment and then 2) selectively allocate these resources to reproduction in a way that maximizes inclusive fitness. In this talk, building on the work of a number of evolutionary anthropologists and demographers, I argue that natural selection has shaped humans to rely on largely distinct proximate pathways to address these two goals. Resource accumulation is a cognitively taxing and complex social process, requiring considerable context-dependent plasticity and conscious goal-directed strategizing. A review of studies of fertility and offspring success however suggests that automatic physiological mechanisms, which suppress reproduction only when maternal or child survival is at immediate risk, have been sufficient to ensure optimal reproductive behaviour throughout most of human history. Recognizing this distinction exposes our inherent vulnerability to maladaptive decision-making in novel environments where wealth accumulation is now in conflict with reproductive opportunities for both men and women – improving our understanding of why fertility rates plummet when populations undergo socioeconomic development (i.e. the demographic transition). I review empirical evidence that supports the hypothesis that modern low fertility rates can be understood as a response to increased status competition and returns to high parental investment, and that fertility limitation is ultimately maladaptive in terms of both short and long-term fitness. Finally, I critique recent studies concluding that natural selection continues to act positively on wealth even in contemporary low fertility populations, and argue that natural selection is now acting negatively on strategies of wealth accumulation and is for the first time strongly favouring individuals that desire early childbearing and large families regardless of the socioeconomic consequences.
- Lawson, D.W., Alvergne, A. & Gibson, M.A. (2012). The life-history trade-off between fertility and child survival. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 279: 4755-4764.
- Goodman, A., Koupil, I. & Lawson D.W. (2012). Low fertility increases descendant socioeconomic position but reduces long-term fitness in a modern post-industrial society. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 279: 4342-4351.
- Lawson, D.W. & Mace R. (2011). Parental investment and the optimization of human family size. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 366, 333-343.
2012 AWARD WINNER: Pontus Striming
Plenary Title: Sadly, general models can’t predict the outcome of cultural evolution
Abstract: One goal of the study of cultural evolution is to predict
how the outcome of cultural change is structured and what cultural
traits are likely to be in it. Very much like population genetics is
interested in the structure of the equlibria and what genes are likely
to be in it. In fact researchers modeling cultural evolution have been
hopeful that models from population genetics, with small alterations,
would be sufficient to generate such predictions in cultural
evolution. However, after extensive research this turned out not to be
the case. In this talk, I bring more bad news to the table. Not only
can we not adapt population genetics models; we will probably never
create general models for cultural evolution that predict as well as
general models do in population genetics. There, details that at first
seemed essential, such as whether the species was haploid or diploid,
turned out not to matter in many cases. This resulted in simple models
with high predictive value. In cultural evolution, we are not so lucky.
In this talk I go through several specific factors, such as the number
of cultural parents or the size of the initial population, each of
which radically changes the predictions of the models. Creating a
general model that accounts for all these factors is probably
impossible. So in the case of cultural evolution, general models will
either be too complex to study or run the risk of giving faulty
predictions. I conclude by outlining strategies for escaping this
dilemma by using specific models that rely heavily on empirical data.
- Strimling, P., Enquist, M. & Eriksson, K. (2009). Repeated learning makes cultural evolution unique. PNAS,
- Strimling, P., Sjöstrand, J., Enquist, M. & Eriksson, K. (2009). Accumulation of independent cultural traits. Theoretical Population Biology, 76(2): 77-83.
- Enquist, M., Strimling, P., Eriksson, K., Laland, K. & Sjöstrand, J. (2010). One cultural parent makes no
culture. Animal Behaviour, 79: 1353-1362.
2011 AWARD WINNER: Thom Scott-Phillips
Plenary Title: Communication, cognition, and the evolution of language
Abstract: Speaking very broadly, we can identify two different approaches to communication: the code model, in which meaning is fully encoded in the signal, and inferential communication, in which speakers provide evidence for their intended meaning, and listeners use that evidence to infer the speaker’s meaning. Probably most animal communication is of the former type, but human linguistic communication is of the latter type. There are several evolutionary questions we can ask about inferential communication. What are the cognitive foundations of inferential communication, and how did they evolve? How does inference affect the cultural evolution of communication systems? Do only humans have inferential communication? In my talk, I will describe the research I have conducted that begins to shed light on these questions.
- Scott-Phillips, T. C. (2010). Evolutionary psychology and the origins of language, Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 8(4), 289-307.
- Scott-Phillips, T. C. & Kirby, S. (2010). Language evolution in the laboratory, Trends in Cognitive Sciences 14(9), 411-417.
- Scott-Phillips, T. C., Kirby, S. & Ritchie, G. R. S. (2009). Signalling signalhood and the emergence of communication, Cognition 113(2), 226-233.
- Scott-Phillips, T. C. (2008). Defining biological communication, Journal of Evolutionary Biology 21(2), 387-395.
2010 AWARD WINNER: Dr Alex Alvergne
Plenary Title: Variation in human paternal care – ultimate and proximate factors
Abstract: During recent decades, an increase in paternal involvement in childcare in occidental societies has led many to question the role of fathers beyond traditionally prescribed functions of breadwinner, moral authority and masculine role model. Anthropological studies have also highlighted the considerable diversity in fatherhoods between and within human cultural groups. Taking an integrative evolutionary perspective, I address both ultimate and proximate factors underlying the expression of paternal care, and consider the impact of such variation on child development and later reproductive success. According to evolutionary theories of parental investment and kin selection, father investment is expected to vary depending on socio-ecological factors such as paternity uncertainty and mating opportunities. Drawing on data collected from France and Senegal, I argue that paternity uncertainty has constituted an important selective pressure on the use of paternity cues by men (i.e. odour and facial similarity), as well as a manipulation by women of men’s perception. Furthermore, I show that the expression of paternal investment is traded-off with mating investment, and mediated through hormonal mechanisms. Finally, I found that the link between paternal investment and fitness-related traits in children depends on the studied population. Overall, this research increases our understanding of the socio-ecological and hormonal factors associated with paternal investment, and highlights the relevance of an evolutionary approach to the study of human behaviour. It also provides a general model to address currently challenging questions such as why father investment has recently experienced a dramatic increase in western societies.
- Alvergne, A., Faurie, C., Raymond, M. (2009). Father-offspring resemblance predicts paternal investment in humans. Animal Behaviour, 78: 61-69.
- Alvergne, A., Faurie, C. and Raymond, M. (2010). Are parents’ perceptions of offspring facial resemblance consistent with actual resemblance? Effects on parental investment. Evolution and Human Behaviour, 31:7-15.
- Alvergne, A. & E. Huchard, et al. (2010). More than friends? Behavioural and genetic aspects of heterosexual associations in wild chacma baboons. Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology, 64(5):769-781.
- Alvergne, A., Jokela, M., & Lummaa, V. (2010). Personality and reproductive success in a high fertility human population. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 107(26):11745-11750.