Dr Sarah Matthew

Is the cultural boundary also the moral boundary? An empirical test of cultural group selection

5:00pm - 6:00pm / Thursday 25th February 2021
Type: Webinar / Category: Department / Series: Evolutionary Archaeology Seminar Series
  • Admission: Event attendance is free, however registration is required. To register please contact: lucy.timbrell@liverpool.ac.uk
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Speaker: Dr Sarah Mathew
Affiliation: Arizona State University

A fundamental puzzle of human evolution is how we evolved to cooperate with genetically unrelated strangers in transient interactions. Group-level selection on culturally differentiated populations is an emerging theory, but a central prediction of the theory that the scale of cooperation will correspond to the scale of cultural variation is yet to be confirmed. To evaluate this prediction, my lab is examining the population structure of cultural variation and the patterns of cooperation among subsistence pastoralists in Kenya. We have documented the normative beliefs and cooperative dispositions of 759 individuals spanning nine clans nested within four ethnic groups—the Turkana, Samburu, Rendille and Borana. I will present our first set of results which show that the scale of cultural differentiation corresponds to the scale of cooperation, suggesting that norms governing cooperation in these societies have evolved under the influence of group-level selection on cultural variation. Such selection acting over human evolutionary history can explain why we cooperate readily with unrelated and unfamiliar individuals, and why humans’ unprecedented cooperative flexibility is nevertheless culturally parochial.

To register please contact: lucy.timbrell@liverpool.ac.uk