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Cultural Universals and Cultural Differences in Meta-Norms about Peer Punishment


Violators of cooperation norms may be informally punished by their peers. How such norm enforcement is judged by others can be regarded as a meta-norm (i.e., a second-order norm). We examined whether meta-norms about peer punishment vary across cultures by having students in eight countries judge animations in which an agent who over-harvested a common resource was punished either by a single peer or by the entire peer group. Whether the punishment was retributive or restorative varied between two studies, and findings were largely consistent across these two types of punishment. Across all countries, punishment was judged as more appropriate when implemented by the entire peer group than by an individual. Differences between countries were revealed in judgments of punishers vs. non-punishers. Specifically, appraisals of punishers were relatively negative in three Western countries and Japan, and more neutral in Pakistan, UAE, Russia, and China, consistent with the influence of individualism, power distance, and/or indulgence. Our studies constitute a first step in mapping how meta-norms vary around the globe, demonstrating both cultural universals and cultural differences.

Social learning may lead to population level conformity without individual level frequency bias


A requirement of culture, whether animal or human, is some degree of conformity of behavior within populations. Researchers of gene-culture coevolution have suggested that population level conformity may result from frequency-biased social learning: individuals sampling multiple role models and preferentially adopting the majority behavior in the sample. When learning from a single role model, frequency-bias is not possible. We show why a population-level trend, either conformist or anticonformist, may nonetheless be almost inevitable in a population of individuals that learn through social enhancement, that is, using observations of others' behavior to update their own probability of using a behavior in the future. The exact specification of individuals' updating rule determines the direction of the trend. These results offer a new interpretation of previous findings from simulations of social enhancement in combination with reinforcement learning, and demonstrate how results of dynamical models may strongly depend on seemingly innocuous choices of model specifications, and how important it is to obtain empirical data on which to base such choices.

Can squirrel monkeys learn an AB(n)A grammar? A re-evaluation of Ravignani et al. (2013)


Ravignani et al (2013) abituated squirrel monkeys to sound sequences conforming to an ABnA grammar (n = 1, 2, 3), then tested them for their reactions to novel grammatical and non -grammatical sequences. Although they conclude that the monkeys consistently recognized and generalized the sequence AB(n)A, I remark that this conclusion is not robust. The statistical significance of results depends on specific choices of data analysis, namely dichotomization of the response variable and omission of specific data points. Additionally, there is little evidence of generalization to novel patterns (n = 4, 5), which is important to conclude that the monkeys recognized the AB(n)A grammar beyond the habituation patterns. Lastly, many test sequences were perceptually similar to habituation sequences, raising the possibility that the monkeys may have generalized based on perceptual similarity rather than based on grammaticality.

For Whose Benefit? The Biological and Cultural Evolution of Human Cooperation


This book takes the reader on a journey, navigating the enigmatic aspects of cooperation; a journey that starts inside the body and continues via our thoughts to the human super-organism.

Cooperation is one of life’s fundamental principles. We are all made of parts – genes, cells, organs, neurons, but also of ideas, or ‘memes’. Our societies too are made of parts – us humans. Is all this cooperation fundamentally the same process?

From the smallest component parts of our bodies and minds to our complicated societies, everywhere cooperation is the organizing principle. Often this cooperation has emerged because the constituting parts have benefited from the interactions, but not seldom the cooperating units appear to lose on the interaction. How then to explain cooperation? How can we understand our intricate societies where we regularly provide small and large favors for people we are unrelated to, know, or even never expect to meet again? Where does the idea come from that it is right to risk one’s life for country, religion or freedom? The answers seem to reside in the two processes that have shaped humanity: biological and cultural evolution.

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