The evolution of complex, ubiquitous behavioral traditions

Le 23 Juin 2023
11h30 Hybrid - online and Salle Louis Thaler, bat 22 UM


Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse (IAST), France

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Human societies develop a suite of behavioral traditions that are both culturally influenced and near-universal. These sociocultural traditions, which include music, story, religion, and social institutions like justice and marriage, are unique to humans, central to people’s social and emotional lives, and, in many cases, costly with regards to the time and energy expended. In this talk, I present an evolutionarily-grounded research program that seeks to identify patterns in these traditions, understand their emergence, and, in so doing, contribute to developing higher-level cultural evolutionary theory. Through a combination of theory-building, ethnographic fieldwork among the Mentawai (Indonesia), and the construction and analysis of large-scale cross-cultural databases, I find evidence that music, story, religion, and social institutions reliably develop as people selectively retain traditions that appear to satisfy evolved psychological goals. The universality of particular sociocultural behaviors reflects both regularities in human psychology shaped by natural selection as well as the capacity of cultural evolution to produce traditions that appear to best satisfy regular human goals.


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Alexandra Alvergne (UMR ISEM)