Author Archives: admin

Upcoming

March 17-19, 2019: I will attending the Global Solutions Summit in Berlin in preparation for the G20 meeting in Japan

April 4, 2019: I will presenting at Laboratory for the Experimental Research of Religion, Brno

May 23-24, 2019: I will presenting the Database of Religious History at the Digital Humanities and Classics workshop in Berlin.

Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance at University of Economics, Prague, Czechia

I presented some work on measuring cultural distance “Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance” (pre-print) and some in-progress follow ups using the technique at the University of Economics, Prague, Czechia.

I also presented some in progress theoretical and empirical work on “Hunter-gatherer egalitarianism and the evolution of evil eye beliefs”. Part of this work was based on a recent paper published in Nature Human Behaviour, with some context published in Evonomics and ProMarket (pre-print).

Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance at City University, London

I presented some work on measuring cultural distance “Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance” (pre-print) and some in-progress follow ups using the technique at City University in London, UK.

I also presented some in progress theoretical and empirical work on “Hunter-gatherer egalitarianism and the evolution of evil eye beliefs”. Part of this work was based on a recent paper published in Nature Human Behaviour, with some context published in Evonomics and ProMarket (pre-print).

UK Home Office Flag It Up Campaign

I recently helped the UK Home Office with their anti-corruption, #FlagItUp campaign to  encourage accounting and legal professionals to report more suspicious through a suspicious activity report.

Videos below. Read more here: https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/community/blogs/michael-muthukrishna/why-dont-we-report-our-suspicions

For Social Media


Longer videos


Hunter-gatherer egalitarianism and the evolution of evil eye beliefs at University College London (UCL), London, UK

I presented some in progress theoretical and empirical work on “Hunter-gatherer egalitarianism and the evolution of evil eye beliefs” at the Biological Anthropology seminar series at University College London (UCL) in London, UK.

Part of this work was based on a recent paper published in Nature Human Behaviour, with some context published in Evonomics and ProMarket (pre-print) as well as some work on measuring cultural distance (pre-print).

War at The Forum for Philosophy, London

I joined a panel for a discussion on War hosted by The Forum for Philosophy in association with the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, LSE and the Royal Institute of Philosophy. I was joined by:

Susanne Burri, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, LSE
Michael Robillard, Research Fellow, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics
Joseph Maiolo, Professor of International History, Department of War Studies, KCL

The event was chaired by Jonathan Birch, Fellow, Forum for Philosophy; Associate Professor of Philosophy, LSE.

You can listen to the recording here or on YouTube

A theory of human behaviour at The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

I gave a general talk on “A theory of human behavior? What would it look like and what would it offer?” at he University of Queensland, Brisbane. I discussed various bits of research including:

Muthukrishna, M. & Henrich, J. (2019). A Problem in Theory. Nature Human Behaviour. [Download]
Muthukrishna, M., Bell, A. V., Henrich, J., Curtin, C., Gedranovich, A., McInerney, J., & Thue, B. (under review). Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance. [Download]
Chudek, M., Muthukrishna, M. & Henrich, J. (2015) Cultural Evolution. In Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, 2nd Edition. Edited by D. M. Buss. [Download]
Muthukrishna, M., Doebeli, M., Chudek, M., & Henrich, J. (2018). The Cultural Brain Hypothesis: How culture drives brain expansion, sociality, and life history. PLOS Computational Biology, 14(11): e1006504. [Download] [Supplementary]
Stimmler, D. & Muthukrishna, M. (In prep). When Cooperation Promotes Corruption and Undermines Democracy.

As well as the Database of Religious History.

Cultural Evolution and the Measurement of Culture at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

I gave a general talk on “Cultural Evolution and the Measurement of Culture” at Monash University, Melbourne. I discussed various bits of research including:

Muthukrishna, M. & Henrich, J. (2019). A Problem in Theory. Nature Human Behaviour. [Download]
Muthukrishna, M., Bell, A. V., Henrich, J., Curtin, C., Gedranovich, A., McInerney, J., & Thue, B. (under review). Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance. [Download]
Chudek, M., Muthukrishna, M. & Henrich, J. (2015) Cultural Evolution. In Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, 2nd Edition. Edited by D. M. Buss. [Download]
Muthukrishna, M., Doebeli, M., Chudek, M., & Henrich, J. (2018). The Cultural Brain Hypothesis: How culture drives brain expansion, sociality, and life history. PLOS Computational Biology, 14(11): e1006504. [Download] [Supplementary]
Stimmler, D. & Muthukrishna, M. (In prep). When Cooperation Promotes Corruption and Undermines Democracy.

As well as the Database of Religious History. Many thanks to Nao Tsuchiya for inviting me.

The Cultural Brain Hypothesis: How culture drives brain expansion, sociality, and life history

Today, my paper on the Cultural Brain Hypothesis (CBH) and Cumulative Cultural Brain Hypothesis (CCBH) with Michael Doebeli, Maciej Chudek, and Joe Henrich was published in PLOS Computational Biology.

The Cultural Brain Hypothesis is a more general theory for brain evolution across species that unifies more specific explanations around environmental hypotheses and social brain hypotheses. The theory is formalized using an analytical and a computational model.

Figure 1 from paper

The CBH shows how the environment constrains evolution and how social factors are necessary infrastructure for more social learning species. It predicts different relationships between brain size, sociality, mating structure, the length of the juvenile period, innovation and knowledge, and social learning strategies.

Table 1 from paper.

According to the CBH, the environment constrains brain evolution rather than driving it – brain size is affected by the environment, because you need to have enough calories to feed your brain. But your ability to derive calories from what’s available (or potentially available) is driven by how smart you are – how much information you have. All else being equal, a lush rainforest will have larger brains than an arid desert.

The model specifies two pathways for acquiring this information, both of which can lead to bigger brains – asocial learning and social learning (or some combination of these). If you take the asocial path, you’re reliant on your own intelligence and you don’t have to worry about the social infrastructure. Asocial brains can be larger depending on how easy it is to learn things asocially, but they’ll tend to be smaller than social brains on average.

If you take the social path, it requires all kinds of social infrastructure – more tight-knit and perhaps larger group to learn from, a longer juvenile period, more care during that longer juvenile period, tolerance for other members of the group, an ability and proclivity to learn from other members of the group, and so on. Culture is socially transmitted information, which is a cheaper and more efficient way to get information than asocial learning, but does require all these social factors.

The theory links together ecology and social factors and shows how constraints for learning culture and information in general are what drive the expansion in brain evolution (rather than adaptations to the environment or social factors directly). The model allows us to make sense of a lot of puzzling relationships between brain size, sociality, mating structures, juvenile period, innovation, knowledge, and social learning strategies, and other social and environmental features. We’ve tested some of these relationships among cetaceans and in this paper, we compare it to tests in primates. Unfortunately, most of the focus has been on the more interesting more social learning species (you publish papers by showing how animals and babies are smart and human adults are dumb, not vice versa). The next step is to try to test the predictions for more asocial taxa.

The Cumulative Cultural Brain Hypothesis (CCBH)

The CCBH is a narrow set of parameters that can lead to a take off where information and technology start accumulating faster and faster forcing brains and social factors to evolve to keep up. In our species, our brains continue to grow to the point where we end having trouble giving birth to our babies (larger heads are more difficult to birth), we give birth to our babies prematurely relative to other animals (compare a human infant to a gazelle ready to run). This leads to strategies to take care of our now helpless infants, like forcing fathers to pay for childcare or stick around, and normatively controlling female sexuality so dad knows it’s his. We do other things to keep up. We divide up the information, leading to a division of information and a division of labor (specialization), which can lead to a collective brain. We expand our juvenile period, so we spend longer in childhood, and have an extraordinarily long period of adolescence (the time between when you can reproduce and when you actually do), just to keep learning the ever growing body of information needed to outcompete other members f our group. This last strategy is now at the point we’re hitting a new biological limit – not in the size of the brains we can birth, but in our ability to reproduce at a later age. (I wrote a bit about this for MoneySupermarket in reference to why it takes longer to buy a house).

According to the CCBH, this take off requires:

  1. High transmission fidelity. This could include more cognitive abilities like gaze tracking, shared intentionality, theory of mind, the ability to recognize, distinguish, and imitate potential models, but also more social factors like social tolerance, and ever more sophisticated methods of teaching (consider how long you’ve probably spent in formal education plus internships or low paid entry-level jobs).
  2. Low reproductive skew. Consistent with a “monogamish” or cooperative breeding structure that suppresses reproductive skew. A cooperative breeding environment would have also been ideal to allow for an easy transition to oblique learning. Chimps learn from their mom, but having multiple moms and dads means you can focus on who’s better rather than who you have access to.
  3. Smart ancestors. There is an interaction between transmission fidelity and efficient individual learning. Social learners benefit from smart asocial learners who’s knowledge they can exploit.
  4. Rich ecology. There have to be potential returns in the environment. That is, there are large game or good sources of calories, only requiring the knowledge to acquire them.

There’s more in the paper, which I encourage you to read.

Life History and Learning Workshop at UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA

I spent the weekend at a workshop on Life History and Learning at UC Berkeley, organized by Alison Gopnik. I presented the “Cultural Brain Hypothesis and Cumulative Cultural Brain Hypothesis”, which was recently published in PLOS Computational Biology (see here for discussion).

It was a small workshop, which made for some wonderful discussions with:
Sarah Blaffer Hrdy (UC Davis)
Willem Frankenhuis (Radboud University)
Michael Gurven (UC Santa Barbara)
Kristen Hawkes (University of Utah)
Celeste Kidd (UC Berkeley)
Julie Morand-Ferron (University of Ottawa)
Thomas Morgan (Arizona State University)
Susan Perry (UCLA)
Pete Richerson (UC Davis)
Mike Tomasello (Duke)
Natalie Uomini (Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History)

 

 

The Evolution of Evil Eye Beliefs and Related Behaviors at CES 2018 in Tempe, AZ

I presented some in progress theoretical and empirical work on “The Evolution of Evil Eye Beliefs and Related Behaviors” at the 2nd Cultural Evolution Society (CES) conference.

Part of this work was based on a recent paper published in Nature Human Behaviour, with some context published in Evonomics and ProMarket (pre-print). But the main part was work in progress on understanding the evolution of evil eye beliefs and hunter-gatherer egalitarianism.

Photo by Stephanie Salgado

Teaching at the 2018 RSA Europe’s Socio-Spatial Dynamics Summer College at CRENoS (Centre for North South Economic Research), Università di Cagliari, Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy.

I taught a class on “Evolutionary Approaches to Corruption and
Cooperation” and a class on “Quantitative Approaches to Cultural and
Historical Data: CFST and The Database of Religious History” at a Regional Studies Association (RSA) Europe summer college on Socio-Spatial Dynamics. The summer college was hosted at CRENoS (Centre for North South Economic Research), Università di Cagliari, in beautiful Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy.

It was a great group of students and a new audience for me.

MoneySupermarket: Why is it so hard to a buy a house?

MoneySupermarket approached me for their Hotel of Mum and Dad campaign about the question of why it’s so difficult for young people to buy a house today. There are many proximate-level economic and social factors to answer this question, but an ultimate-level explanation lies in an extension of our juvenile period – a process that’s been occurring since we became human. The research on this is summarized under the Cultural Brain Hypothesis and Collective Brain. A discussion on Sky News and a copy of the article below:

Sky News interview where I discuss the trend of adults moving back home with their parents and how this links to the Cultural Brain Hypothesis, collective brain, and ever extending juvenile periods.

As parents, we might summarise our role as the three Ps: To Protect, to Provide, and to Prepare. But when our children face an ever-changing, more complex and more challenging world than we faced, how do we prepare our children so that they can provide for and protect themselves? And what happens when life happens, and they need to return home?

There is a trend of adult children moving back in with their parents to save money, at the expense of their privacy and independence.

At an individual level, these decisions are often made with changing life circumstances – health, divorce, losing a job, increases in rent, conflict with flatmates and so on. But there are often broader societal trends underlying these decisions.

The first is a long term trend that has affected humans since the beginning of our species – what scientists call our ‘extended juvenile period’.

Every profession now has to deal with new technologies and more complex systems. This has resulted in us spending more time in education, particularly on-the-job education (e.g. internships, junior roles and lower paid apprenticeships), meaning it now takes more time before we’re earning enough to support a family, buy a house and become self-sufficient.

It used to be that a high school diploma was enough to make a good living. Then it took a university degree or a short apprenticeship. Now it requires post-graduate degrees, internships and volunteer work – which can be unpaid – as well as on-the-job training.

This has meant that the age of first birth, the age of owning a home and the age of financial independence have been steadily rising. As a result, when the last two generations did finally leave home, they often found themselves needing to return, especially if they were unable to share costs with a partner or group of friends.

The second trend is more recent. Economic growth has slowed, yet wealth and income inequality has risen. In combination, this means there’s less to go around per person and of what is there, a greater share has gone to the top end of society.

This means it’s becoming more difficult for people to purchase a home and become self-sufficient than it was for their parents, or even those born a couple of decades earlier.

These are real problems with not-so-simple solutions.

However, it can be hard to see an adult child return home in less than ideal circumstances, especially after two decades of interrupted sleep, changing nappies, helping with homework, giving them lifts from event to event, dealing with the ups and downs of friendships and first romantic relationships, and celebrating the joys, achievements, graduations and first jobs.

For children too, this is often not a preferred situation. They are trading their independence and privacy for financial savings and perhaps some home cooking and laundry.

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions on how to handle the new situation, but it may be worth noting a few things in moving toward a more open discussion:

  1. Emotions such as pride and sense of self-worth are affected on both sides – A child in their ability to handle the world as their parents did, and a parent in whether they properly prepared their children for the world. These may lead to important discussions, but it’s important to remember that the world is more competitive for young adults than ever before.

 

  1. Different societies and different cultures have different expectations for independence – In many so-called WEIRD (Western Educated Industrialised Rich Democratic) societies, young adults are expected to live alone or apart from their parents. However, in many other societies, unmarried children live with their respective parents until marriage and then married couples live with or near their husband (patrilocal) or wife’s (matrilocal) parents. It may be that our society is moving toward these other norms.

 

  1. There are pros and cons for both parents and children that vary from family to family, and circumstances outside of the family also affect emotions and mental health – In discussing how long the arrangement will last and how to keep both parties happy, it’s worth remembering the costs and benefits to both parties. On both sides, this can come in the form of increased support at home, the joy of being closer to loved ones and perhaps access to grandchildren, versus the loss of privacy, increased workload, reduced living space and financial costs. An honest conversation can help prevent problems from surfacing in less ideal ways.

Thankfully, many parents have been willing to help their children reduce their expenses by moving back home – even though research has shown the tensions over how much children should be contributing in rent and expenses, and the mismatch in expectations between parents and children.

Hopefully, even if the returns to parents aren’t immediately monetary, they find that their children do eventually become financially self-sufficient and perhaps return the favour as they grow older.

Corruption, Cooperation, & the Evolution of Evil Eye at HBES 2018 in Amsterdam, Netherlands

I presented work on “Corruption, Cooperation, & the Evolution of
Evil Eye” at the Human Behavior and Evolution Society (HBES) annual conference.

Part of this work was based on a recent paper published in Nature Human Behaviour, with some context published in Evonomics and ProMarket (pre-print). The other part was work in progress on understanding the evolution of evil eye.

 

Corruption, Cooperation, & the Evolution of Prosocial Institutions at Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), Institutions, Organizations and Growth Program Meeting in London, UK

I presented work on “Corruption, Cooperation, & the Evolution of Prosocial Institutions”, including some new work on the evolution of evil eye belief and related behaviors at the CIFAR Institutions, Organizations, and Growth program’s annual meeting.

Part of this work was based on a recent paper published in Nature Human Behaviour, with some context published in Evonomics and ProMarket (pre-print). The other part was work in progress on understanding the evolution of evil eye.

 

The Cultural Evolutionary Basis of Social Psychology at The Origins of Our Moral and Political Ideologies and Preferences at the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, France

I was invited to present work on “The Cultural Evolutionary Basis of Social Psychology” at The Origins of Our Moral and Political Ideologies and Preferences at the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse (IAST) in Toulouse, France. An excellent workshop organized by

Moshe Hoffman, Bethany Burum, Erez Yoeli. Other speakers included:

Alain Cohn (University of Michigan)
Alex Prescott-Couch (Oxford)
Aurelie Ouss (U Penn)
Bethany Burum (Harvard)
Bill Von Hippel (University of Queensland)
Cristina Moya (UC Davis)
Daniel Chen (Toulouse)
Deb Small (Wharton)
Elissa Philip (IAST)
Emir Kamenica (Chicago)
Fanny Camara (USC)
Helena Miton (Central European University)
Jason Abaluck (Yale)
Kofi Asante (IAST)
Nicolas Treich (TSE)
Peter Blake (Boston University)
Ricardo Perez-Truglia (UCLA Anderson)
Seth Stevens-Davidowitz

 

Corruption, Cooperation, & the Evolution of Prosocial Institutions at Cooperation for exploitation at WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business) in Vienna, Austria

I was invited to present my work on Corruption, Cooperation, & the Evolution of Prosocial Institutions at the Cooperation for Exploitation workshop at WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business) in Vienna, Austria.

Corruption, Cooperation, & the Evolution of Prosocial Institutions at LSE – Stanford – Universidad de los Andes Conference on Long-Run Development, London, UK

I was invited to present my work on Corruption, Cooperation, & the Evolution of Prosocial Institutions at LSE-Stanford Conference on Long-Run Development in Latin America. This year’s conference was hosted at the London School of Economics.

Durkheim with Data: The Database of Religious History at Future Directions on the Evolution of Rituals, Beliefs, and Religious Minds in Sicily, Italy

I spent the last week in Erice, Sicily, Italy at the Future Directions on the Evolution of Rituals, Beliefs, and Religious Minds workshop at The Ettore Majorana Foundation and Centre for Scientific Culture. Edward Slingerland and I presented “Durkheim with Data: The Database of Religious History”. I focused on some analyses using Database of Religious History data.

The conference included several excellent discussions at the cutting edge of the evolution and cognitive science of religion.

Other speakers and attendees included:
Scott Atran (Oxford University)
Jeanet Sinding Bentzen (University of Copenhagen)
Paul Bloom (Yale University)
Pascal Boyer (Washington University at St Louis)
Joseph Bulbulia (University of Auckland)
Russell Gray (Max Plank Institute for the Science of Human History
Joseph Henrich (Harvard University)
Cristine Legare (University of Texas at Austin)
Hillary Lenfesty (Arizona State University)
Robert McCauley (Emory University)
Ara Norenzayan (University of British Columbia)
Stefano Parmigiani (University of Parma)
Eleanor Power (London School of Economics and Political Science)
Colleen Shantz (University of Toronto)
Edward Slingerland (University of British Columbia
Jesper Sørensen (University of Aarhus)
Ann Taves (University of California, Santa Barbara)
Harvey Whitehouse (Oxford University)
Aiyana Willard(Oxford University)
David S. Wilson (Binghamton University)
Dimitris Xygalatas (University of Connecticut)

Ettore Majorana Foundation and Centre for Scientific Culture is famous for the 1982 Erice Statement.