Category Archives: Conferences

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.

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.

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

06_michael_ltr

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“.

12622384_10153314723986570_4145041329231477361_o (1)

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.