Category Archives: Conferences

Inaugural Cultural Evolution Society Conference in Jena, Germany

I chaired a themed session on “Cultural Evolution and Economics” at the Inaugural Cultural Evolution Society Conference. Speakers including myself, my student collaborator Xueheng Li, and Heidi Colleran. My PhD student, Ryutaro Uchiyama presented some new analyses on the Cultural Brain Hypothesis in a parallel session.

I presented a the “Cultural Evolution of Economics” with some illustrations on how cultural evolution can help economists and how economists can help those interested in cultural evolution. To illustrate this, I presented some recent and upcoming work on cooperation, corruption, democracy and economic growth. Abstract below:

Homo Economicus are extinct or on the verge of extinction, or so it would appear from outside economics. But within economics, reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated. Economicus’ persist, in part because alternative theories of human behavior are not readily integrated into existing economic approaches. To paraphrase Buckminster Fuller, criticism is not sufficient—you need to build a better model. I’ll discuss collaborations at the London School of Economics that are attempting to build that better model by integrating cultural evolutionary theory into economics. A cultural evolutionary approach seats corruption as a special case of cooperation, offering new means to understand and combat it (Muthukrishna, et al., 2017, “Corrupting Cooperation and How Anti-Corruption Strategies May Backfire”, Nature Human Behavior). A cultural evolutionary approach helps identify the invisible cultural pillars that support successful economic and democratic institutions (Stimmler & Muthukrishna, 2017, “When Cooperation Promotes Corruption and Undermines Democracy”, Working Paper; Muthukrishna, et al., in prep, “A WEIRD scale of cultural distance”). A cultural evolutionary approach reveals the relationship between economic growth, inequality, tolerance for inequality, and widespread beliefs—like “evil eye” and witchcraft—that have economic implications (Li & Muthukrishna, 2017, “The coevolution of Economic Growth, Inequality, Tolerance for Inequality, and Belief in Evil Eye”, Working Paper). These related studies reveal how cultural evolution may offer new approaches to age old problems, but also how the economic toolkit may be deployed to understand culturally evolved beliefs and behaviors.

Li presented an economic model and corresponding experimental test on the co-evolution of economic growth, inequality, tolerance for inequality and the widespread belief in “evil eye“.

All together a lot of fun and excellent talks by lots of familiar names and even more familiar faces. Many thanks to the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human HistoryRussell Gray and the rest of the organizing committee: Andy WhitenFiona Jordan Joe BrewerMichele GelfandMichelle Kline, and Olivier Morin.

“Trusting and the Law” conference at the Lorentz Center, Leiden, Netherlands

I gave a keynote presentation at the Lorentz Center conference on “Trusting and the Law“. This was my first legal conference. The audience included judges, lawyers, and legal scholars. I presented a talk on “Economic Psychology and the Science of Cultural Evolution”, where I discussed some of the “invisible cultural pillars” that uphold legal institutions. It was fascinating to discuss differences in the approach to “evidence” in science and the law.

lorentz-trust-law

Cultural Transmission and Social Norms Workshop” at the School of Economics, The University of East Anglia, UK.

I was invited to present my work on innovation and cultural evolution at the “Cultural Transmission and Social Norms Workshop” hosted by the School of Economics at The University of East Anglia, UK. I presented “Innovation in the Collective Brain: The Transmission and Evolution of Norms and Culture”, beginning with an introduction to cultural evolution for the audience of primarily economists. I then discussed innovation as a product of our “collective brains“.

This research is summarized in this news post and in the original paper.

Muthukrishna, M. & Henrich, J. (2016). Innovation in the Collective Brain. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 371(1690).  [Telegraph] [Scientific American] [Video] [Evonomics] [LSE Business Review] [Summary Post] [Download] [Data]

“Evolution of cognition and longevity: Adaptation to a new technological environment” meeting at the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution, National Museum of Natural History, Paris, France.

I was invited to present my work on human evolution and the evolution of brains at the “Evolution of cognition and longevity: Adaptation to a new technological environment” meeting at the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution, National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France. I presented “The Cultural Brain Hypothesis & Information Grandmother Hypothesis: How culture drives brain expansion and alters life history”, where I discussed the Cultural Brain Hypothesis (my dissertation; paper currently under review). I also presented some work in progress on the Information Grandmother Hypothesis.

The Cultural Brain Hypothesis is a more parsimonious explanation for the relationships that have been shown between brain size, group size, adaptive knowledge, social learning, and aspects of life history. The Cumulative Cultural Brain Hypothesis is a set of predictions derived from the evolutionary processes that lead to these relationships for the conditions that lead to an autocatalytic take-off between brain size and adaptive knowledge – the uniquely human pathway. The Information Grandmother Hypothesis extends this theory to explain the evolution of menopause and lifespan.

Speakers were biologists of all kinds. Speakers included:

Herve Chneiweiss (UPMC)
Barbara Demeneix (MNHN)
Donata Luiselli (University of Bologna)
Jean-Marie Robine (GDR INSERM/EPHE)
Kaare Christensen (Danish Aging Research Center)
Eline Slagboom (Leiden University Medical Center)
Claudio Franceschi (University of Bologna)
David Hill (University of Edinburgh)
Paolo Garagnani (University of Bologna)
Eileen Crimmins (USC Davis School of Gerontology)
Dorly Deeg (VU University, Amsterdam)
Carol Brayne (CFAS)
Carole Dufouil (INSERM)
Dominique Grimaud-Herve (MNHN)
David Raichlen (University of Arizona)
Viviane Slon (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology)
James R Carey (UC Davis)

Project Zero – Learning Innovations Laboratory (LILA) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA

I spent the last week back at Harvard University discussing research on cultural evolution and innovation with the Learning Innovations Laboratory (LILA), part of Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The LILA group include people from industry and the military. Every year the group invites two academics to discuss their research and how it might be applied to problems faced by members of the group. This year, Mary Ann Glynn and I were invited. It was an intellectually enriching opportunity to apply my work to current challenges in corporations and other organizations.

The ideas presented in my two talks were beautifully captured in the graphics below:

The Science of Cultural Evolution: What Makes Humans So Different

02_michaelmuthukrishna_ltrSources of Innovation: The Secret of Human Success

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SPSSI-UK Symposium on “The Current Migration Crisis in Europe” in Cardiff, UK

SPSSI-UK organized a symposium on the Migration Crisis. The symposium was attended by an array of social scientists, but also policy makers, impact officers, and community organizers. I presented some work in progress on “The Paradox of Diversity, Migration, and Cultural Evolution in Europe”. My talk briefly introduced the science of cultural evolution (for a quick intro, see Cultural Evolution), the implications of cultural evolutionary theory for managing the migration crisis, and some results from a new tool I’ve been building to better quantify the size and dimensions of cultural differences.

More on this “Cultural Distance” tool soon.

The outcome of the discussions will also be released by SPSSI-UK as a white paper (in prep).

Culture Conference in Birmingham, UK

I spent the last couple of days at a small conference on cumulative culture organized by Claudio Tennie and his two PhD students Elisa Bandini and Eva Reindl. The theme was “When and How does Cumulative Culture Emerge”. It was an excellent meeting – large enough to have a diversity of views, small enough to have interesting conversations with almost all participants.

I presented my recent paper with Joe Henrich on “Innovation in the Collective Brain“.

Other speakers and attendees included:

Carel van Schaik (University of Zurich)
Christine Caldwell (University of Stirling)
Pete Richerson (UC Davis)
Helena Miton (Central European University)
Rachel Kendal (Durham University)
Olivier Morin (Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History)
Mathieu Charbonneau (Central European University)
Andrew Buskell (London School of Economics)
Alex Mesoudi (University of Exeter)
Rachel Harrison (University of St Andrews)
Takao Sasaki (Oxford)
Celia Heyes (Oxford)
Elena Miu (University of St Andrews)
Julie Coultas (University of Sussex)
Keith Jensen (University of Manchester)
Thibaud Gruber (University of Geneva)

 

Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, CA

I spent the weekend at a productive interdisciplinary workshop on “Religion, Ritual, Conflict, and Cooperation: Archaeological and Historical Approaches” at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford University. CASBS is located on the top of one of the beautiful hills around Stanford.

We discussed the challenges and successes in inferring religious belief and practice from the archeological and historical record  and new theoretical models and tools for exploring religious history, including the Database of Religious History (DRH).

Other attendees included:

David Carballo (Boston University)
Chris Carleton (Simon Fraser University)
Jesse Chapman (Stanford University)
Mark Csikszentmihalyi (UC Berkeley)
Megan Daniels (Stanford University)
Russell Gray (Director, Max Planck Institute for the History and the Sciences)
Conn Herriott (University of Jerusalem)
Ian Hodder (Stanford University)
Joseph Manning (Yale University)
Jessica McCutcheon (University of British Columbia)
Frances Morphy (Australian National University)
Howard Morphy (Australian National University)
Ian Morris (Stanford University)
Ara Norenzayan (University of British Columbia)
Beate Pongratz-Leisten (NYU)
Neil Price (Uppsala)
Benjamin Purzycki (University of British Columbia)
Ben Raffield (Simon Fraser University)
Katrinka Reinhart (Stanford University)
Celia Schultz (University of Michigan)
Edward Slingerland (University of British Columbia)
Charles Stanish (UCLA)
Brenton Sullivan (Colgate College)
Edward Swenson (University of Toronto)
Robban Toleno (University of British Columbia)
Robyn Walsh (University of Miami)
Joseph Watts (University of Auckland)

Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) Conference in San Diego, California (2016)

I chaired a symposium on  “Understanding Religions: Integrating experimental, ethnographic and historical approaches” at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) conference in San Diego, CA.

Joe Henrich began by introducing the broader research agenda, describing the two puzzles of (1) the rise of societal complexity and large-scale cooperation and (2) the emergence and spread of particular religious elements, such as big, powerful, moralizing gods and ritual behavior.

Coren Apicella presented recent evidence of high levels of rule bending in the Hadza, a a minimally religious foraging population.

I then introduced the Database of Religious History and presented some preliminary analyses, showing the relationship between ritual and cooperative behavior. I also updated the audience on data collection and some of the directions we’re going in (such as measuring cultural distance–more soon!).

Finally, Ted Slingerland gave an overview of what the humanities can offer the psychology of religion, with an entertaining presentation of how a lack of deep understanding of history and culture can lead to misinterpretations (such as claims that Chinese don’t have religious beliefs, nor mind-body dualism).

Other highlights of the conference included a debate between Leda Cosmides and Joe Henrich (moderated by Jon Haidt) on “Big Questions in Evolutionary Science and What They Mean for Social-Personality Psychology” and a debate between Jon Haidt and Kurt Gray on “Purity and Harm in the American Culture War: A Debate on the Structure of Morality“.

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Leda, Jon, and Joe answering questions after the debate. Photo credit: Cristine Legare

Database of Religious History at IAHR 2015 in Erfurt, Germany

This week the Database of Religious History (DRH) Team presented the DRH in a panel at the XXI World Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions in Erfurt, Germany. The panel, along with an exhibition booth continues our publicity and recruitment efforts. Our presentation was similar to our most recent efforts at Cultural Evolution of Religion Research Consortium Meeting in Montreal, Canada:

Edward Slingerland (Project Director) presented an overview of the strategy and future directions of the project.
Brenton Sullivan (Managing Editor) discussed how the project relates to other humanities databases and religious studies in general.
Frederick Tappenden (Regional Editor) discussed how our terminology, in particular, “religious group”, has evolved through feedback from historians and religious scholars.
Carson Logan (Technical Manager) updated the audience on changes in usability.

As Technical Director of the project, I discussed the technical design and updated the audience on the development of the project, including some exciting new features  (e.g. the ability to challenge answers).

Read more about our efforts to publicize the database here.

Database of Religious History at the Cultural Evolution of Religion Research Consortium Meeting in Montreal, Canada

This weekend the Database of Religious History (DRH) Team presented the DRH at the Cultural Evolution of Religion Research Consortium (CERC) Plenary Meeting at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Our goal was to update the broader CERC team on our achievements for the year and to attract more historians and religious studies scholars to the project.

Edward Slingerland (Project Director) presented an overview of the strategy and future directions of the project.
Brenton Sullivan (Managing Editor) discussed how the project relates to other humanities databases and religious studies in general.
Frederick Tappenden (Regional Editor) discussed how our terminology, in particular, “religious group”, has evolved through feedback from historians and religious scholars.
Jessica McCutcheon (Managing Editor) remotely updated the audience on recruitment and changes in usability.

As Technical Director of the project, I discussed the technical design and updated the audience on the development of the project, including some exciting new features  (e.g. the ability to challenge answers).

Carol Ember, President of the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) at Yale University then responded to our panel with useful comments and suggestions.

You can read more about our efforts to publicize the database here.

SSHRC Impact Awards Talk in Ottawa, Ontario

As a Top 5 winner of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s (SSHRC) Research for a Better Life: The Storytellers challenge, I was invited to present our research on the Database of Religious History at the SSHRC Impact Awards ceremony in Ottawa, Ontario.

It was an honor to meet the the Governor General of Canada, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Lloyd Johnston, SSHRC’s Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer, Ted Hewitt, SSHRC’s Associate Vice-President, Future Challenges, Ursula Gobel (who I previously met at SSHRC Congress), CBC host of Ideas, Paul Kennedy, and the winners of the SSHRC Impact AwardsBeverley DiamondThomas LemieuxNico TrocméWendy Craig, and Kirk Luther.

You can watch my talk below:

The Database of Religious History has been featured in several places, including canada.ca. See my previous News post for more details.

SSHRC Impact Awards

Top Row (Left to Right): Robin MacEwan, Michael Muthukrishna, James O’Callaghan, Ted Hewitt (Executive Vice President, SSHRC), Hon. David Johnston, Ursula Gobel (Associate Vice-President, Future Challenges, SSHRC), Vineeth Sekharan, Marylynn Steckley

Bottom Row (Left to Right): Thomas Lemiux (Insight Award), Nico Trocmé (Connection Award), Beverley Diamond (Gold Medal), Wendy Craig (Partnership Award), Kirk Luther (Talent Award)

Developing Best Practices for Teaching Evolution in the Social Sciences NESCent Meeting in Durham, North Carolina

I and twenty-nine other scholars from the social and biological sciences met to discuss Developing Best Practices for Teaching Evolution in the Social Sciences.

Cristine Legare, Andrew Shtulman, and John Opfer did a flawless job in organizing and leading the Catalysis Meeting at the NSF funded National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) in Durham, North Carolina.

We discussed the obstacles, pedagogical techniques, and methods of assessment in teaching evolution. The next step is find ways to convey these best practices to the broader research and teaching community. Possible products include a suggested curriculum and white paper outlining best practices.

Other attendees included:

Tanya Broesch (Simon Fraser University)
Justin Busch (University of Texas at Austin)
David Buss (University of Texas at Austin)
Maciek Chudek (Arizona State University)
Julia Clarke (University of Texas at Austin)
Dan Conroy-Beam (University of Texas at Austin)
Benjamin Cox (University of Texas at Austin)
Margaret Evans (University of Michigan)
Erin Furtak (University of Colorado Boulder)
Cari Goetz (University of Texas at Austin)
Katie Hinde (Harvard University)
Michelle Kline (University of California, Santa Barbara)
Rob Kurzban (University of Pennsylvania)
Rose McDermott (Brown University)
Marie Monfils (University of Texas at Austin)
Robin Nelson (Skidmore College)
Lars Penke (University of Goettingen)
David Rakison (Carnegie Mellon University)
Matt Rossano (Southeastern Louisiana University)
Joshua Rottman (Boston University)
Laurie Santos (Yale University)
Mark Schaller (University of British Columbia)
Gale Sinatra (University of Southern California)
Bill von Hippel (University of Queensland)
Rachel Watson-Jones (University of Texas at Austin)
Deena Weisberg (University of Pennsylvania)

NESCent2014

 

Human Behavior and Evolution Society Conference in Natal, Brazil

I attended the 26th Human Behavior and Evolution Society (HBES) Conference in Natal, Brazil. I gave a talk on the Cultural Brain Hypothesis and the Cumulative Cultural Brain Hypothesis.

The paper (in prep), co-authored with Maciek Chudek and Joe Henrich, describes an evolutionary model of the evolution of brains and parsimoniously explains several empirical relationships between brain size, group size, social learning, mating structures, culture, and the juvenile period. The model also describes the selection pressures that may have led humans into the realm of cumulative cultural evolution, further driving up the human brain size.

Digital Humanities Conference in Lausanne, Switzerland

I attended the Digital Humanities 2014 conference in Lausanne, Switzerland. Ted Slingerland, Brenton Sullivan, and I presented “A Large Database Approach to Cultural History”. We presented the goals, approach, design, challenges, and progress of the Database of Religious History.

As Technical Director of the project, I focused on the technical aspects. You can read more about our efforts to publicize the database here and here.

SSHRC Storytellers Competition Top 5 Winner, St Catharines, Ontario

As one of the 25 finalists, I spent the last few days at Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences 2014 at Brock University in St Catharines, Ontario. My talk on the Database of Religious History was selected as one of 5 winners of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s Research for a Better Life: The Storytellers challenge. The research was featured on the Federal Government’s official website, canada.ca (image below).

I was invited by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to elaborate on the vision and achievements of the Database of Religious History, complementing the winning video, which you can watch below:

The panel of 4 judges included Shari Graydon, author, journalist and founder of Informed Opinions; Antonia Maioni, president of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences; Pierre Normand, Vice-President, External Relations and Communications at the Canada Foundation for Innovation; and Bruce Wallace, editor of Policy Options magazine and former foreign editor for the Los Angeles Times.

I will be presenting the same talk to a VIP audience at SSHRC’s 2014 Impact Awards ceremony in early November.

canada.ca

Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) Conference in Austin, Texas

I attended the 15th Annual Meeting of The Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) in Austin, Texas. I presented a model at the Dynamical Systems and Computational Modeling in Social Psychology preconference. The model uses two principles of human decision making to produce the three key properties of human social networks – high clustering (a friend of a friend is likely your friend), low characteristic path length (“6 degrees of separation”), and a positively skewed degree distribution (most people have a few friends, but a few people have many friends).

My collaborator and advisor, Mark Schaller, presented a related model at a symposium on “The Role of Interpersonal Processes in Group Phenomena and Cultural Development”. The model presented some preliminary research using the model I presented to better understand the dynamics of social influence within social networks.

Human Behavior and Evolution Society Conference in Miami, Florida

I attended the 25th Annual Meeting of Human Behavior and Evolution Society (HBES) in Miami, Florida. I gave a talk on two laboratory experiments I ran on cultural transmission (in press). The experiments tested the predictions of several evolutionary models showing the relationship between sociality (population size, interconnectedness, etc) and cultural complexity.

My results show that when people can observe and learn from a wider range of teachers, groups can better maintain technical skills and even increase the group’s average skill over successive laboratory generations. These results suggest that the secret of our species’ success may lie in the combination of our imitative abilities and our sociality, not in our individual smarts.

Sante Fe Institute Workshop on Network Structure, Political Hierarchy and Economic Inequality

I was invited to a workshop on Network Structure, Political Hierarchy and Economic Inequality at the Sante Fe Institute. The workshop, organized by Sam Bowles and Paul Hooper, brought together leading contributors to the theoretical literature on social networks, anthropologists and other field researchers using network techniques to study the social structure of small-scale societies. I had the opportunity to discuss social network analysis and its application to the study of social structures and culture with several lead social network researchers, including Matt Jackson and Rajiv Sethi.

The project is part of the Santa Fe Institute’s Dynamics of Wealth Inequality Project.

Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana

I attended the 14th Annual Meeting of The Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) in New Orleans, Louisiana. I presented a poster with results from two laboratory experiments I ran on cultural transmission. The experiments tested the predictions of several evolutionary models showing the relationship between sociality (population size, interconnectedness, etc) and cultural complexity.

My results show that when people can observe and learn from a wider range of teachers, groups can better maintain technical skills and even increase the group’s average skill over successive laboratory generations. These results suggest that the secret of our species’ success may lie in the combination of our imitative abilities and our sociality, not in our individual smarts.