Call for posters: Reciprocity and Social Cognition

The Berlin School of Mind and Brain organizes a symposium on "Reciprocity and Social Cognition", from the 23rd to the 25th of March, 2015. Keynote speakers will be Richard Moran, Julia Fischer and Natalie Sebanz (Cognitive Science, CEU Budapest). The deadline to submit a poster is the first of October. Complete call below the fold.

Read more: Call for posters: Reciprocity and Social Cognition

Has a decimal point error misled millions into believing that spinach is a good source of iron?

A great cultural epidemiology story by Ole Bjørn Rekdal, "Academic urban legends,"  in  Social Studies of Science (2014, 44(4)) freely available here

popeyeAbstract: Many of the messages presented in respectable scientific publications are, in fact, based on various forms of rumors. Some of these rumors appear so frequently, and in such complex, colorful, and entertaining ways that we can think of them as academic urban legends. The explanation for this phenomenon is usually that authors have lazily, sloppily, or fraudulently employed sources, and peer reviewers and editors have not discovered these weaknesses in the manuscripts during evaluation. To illustrate this phenomenon, I draw upon a remarkable case in which a decimal point error appears to have misled millions into believing that spinach is a good nutritional source of iron. Through this example, I demonstrate how an academic urban legend can be conceived and born, and can continue to grow and reproduce within academia and beyond."

Random choice among the Kantu, swidden agriculturalists of Kalimantan

An excellent post by  at Aeon magazine entitled "How to choose? When your reasons are worse than useless, sometimes the most rational choice is a random stab in the dark," showing, among other things, how rationality and expectations of rationality can clash.

"In the 1970s, a young American anthropologist named Michael Dove set out for Indonesia, intending to solve an ethnographic mystery. Then a graduate student at Stanford, Dove had been reading about the Kantu’, a group of subsistence farmers who live in the tropical forests of Borneo. The Kantu’ practise the kind of shifting agriculture known to anthropologists as swidden farming, and to everyone else as slash-and-burn. Swidden farmers usually grow crops in nutrient-poor soil. They use fire to clear their fields, which they abandon at the end of each growing season.Like other swidden farmers, the Kantu’ would establish new farming sites ever year in which to grow rice and other crops. Unlike most other swidden farmers, the Kantu’ choose where to place these fields through a ritualised form of birdwatching. They believe that certain species of bird – the Scarlet-rumped Trogon, the Rufous Piculet, and five others – are the sons-in-law of God. The appearances of these birds guide the affairs of human beings. So, in order to select a site for cultivation, a Kantu’ farmer would walk through the forest until he spotted the right combination of omen birds. And there he would clear a field and plant his crops. Dove figured that the birds must be serving as some kind of ecological indicator...
More here

Babies' and birds' causal understanding

A very interesting comparison between crows and humans in a new (free access) paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B entitled "Of babies and birds: complex tool behaviours are not sufficient for the evolution of the ability to create a novel causal ntervention" by Alex H. Taylor, Lucy G. Cheke, Anna Waismeyer, Andrew N. Meltzoff, Rachael Miller, Alison Gopnik, Nicola S. Clayton, and Russell D. Gray.

Abstract: Humans are capable of simply observing a correlation between cause and effect, and then producing a novel behavioural pattern in order to recreate the same outcome. However, it is unclear how the ability to create such causal interventions evolved. Here, we show that while 24-month-old children can produce an effective, novel action after observing a correlation, tool-making New Caledonian crows cannot. These results suggest that complex tool behaviours are not sufficient for the evolution of this ability, and that causal interventions can be cognitively and evolutionarily disassociated from other types of causal understanding.
See also a video and Ed Yong's post

Deparmental Lectureship in Cognitive Anthropology, Oxford

Applications are invited for a Departmental Lectureship in Cognitive Anthropology, effective from 1 September 2014, tenable until 30 September 2015. The post is based at the School of Anthropology, Banbury Road, Oxford, UK. The primary function of this post is to engage in lecturing, tutoring and the supervision of graduates and undergraduate students in cognitive and evolutionary anthropology. 

Read more: Deparmental Lectureship in Cognitive Anthropology, Oxford

Combinatorial Communication in Bacteria?

Here is a challenge to standard views about the evolution of linguistic generativity: ""Combinatorial Communication in Bacteria: Implications for the Origins of Linguistic Generativity" by Thomas C. Scott-PhillipsJames Gurney, Alasdair Ivens, Stephen P. Diggle, and Roman Popat, in PLoS One (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0095929)

AbstractCombinatorial communication, in which two signals are used together to achieve an effect that is different to the sum of the effects of the component parts, is apparently rare in nature: it is ubiquitous in human language, appears to exist in a simple form in some non-human primates, but has not been demonstrated in other species. This observed distribution has led to the pair of related suggestions, that (i) these differences in the complexity of observed communication systems reflect cognitive differences between species; and (ii) that the combinations we see in non-human primates may be evolutionary pre-cursors of human language. Here we replicate the landmark experiments on combinatorial communication in non-human primates, but in an entirely different species, unrelated to humans, and with no higher cognition: the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Using the same general methods as the primate studies, we find the same general pattern of results: the effect of the combined signal differs from the composite effect of the two individual signals. This suggests that advanced cognitive abilities and large brains do not necessarily explain why some species have combinatorial communication systems and others do not. We thus argue that it is premature to conclude that the systems observed in non-human primates are evolutionarily related to language. Our results illustrate the value of an extremely broad approach to comparative research.

Negatively-Biased Credulity and the Cultural Evolution of Beliefs

A new article by Dan Fessler, Anne Pisor,& David Navarrete, highly relevant to cultural epidemiology in PLoS ONE 9(4): e95167. doi:10.1371

Abstract: The functions of cultural beliefs are often opaque to those who hold them. Accordingly, to benefit from cultural evolution’s ability to solve complex adaptive problems, learners must be credulous. However, credulity entails costs, including susceptibility to exploitation, and effort wasted due to false beliefs. One determinant of the optimal level of credulity is the ratio between the costs of two types of errors: erroneous incredulity (failing to believe information that is true) and erroneous credulity (believing information that is false). This ratio can be expected to be asymmetric when information concerns hazards, as the costs of erroneous incredulity will, on average, exceed the costs of erroneous credulity; no equivalent asymmetry characterizes information concerning benefits. Natural selection can therefore be expected to have crafted learners’ minds so as to be more credulous toward information concerning hazards. This negatively-biased credulity extends general negativity bias, the adaptive tendency for negative events to be more salient than positive events. Together, these biases constitute attractors that should shape cultural evolution via the aggregated effects of learners’ differential retention and transmission of information. In two studies in the U.S., we demonstrate the existence of negatively-biased credulity, and show that it is most pronounced in those who believe the world to be dangerous, individuals who may constitute important nodes in cultural transmission networks. We then document the predicted imbalance in cultural content using a sample of urban legends collected from the Internet and a sample of supernatural beliefs obtained from ethnographies of a representative collection of the world’s cultures, showing that beliefs about hazards predominate in both.

The Moral Domain: Conceptual Issues in Moral Psychology. Vilnius . 9-11 October 2014

The Vilnius Experimental Philosophy Lab,  the Departments of General Psychology and of Logic and History of Philosophy organize a conference on: The Moral Domain: Conceptual Issues in Moral Psychology, the 9-11 October 2014 at Vilnius University. Confirmed keynote speakers: Edouard Machery (Pittsburgh), Katinka Quintelier (Amsterdam), Paulo Sousa (Queen’s), Dan Sperber (CEU / Institut Nicod),  Stephen Stich (Rutgers).

What kind of norms and judgments count as moral? In other words, what constitutes the moral domain? This broad question is the main focus of the conference. We invite anthropologists, cognitive scientists, philosophers, psychologists, and other scholars to address these and related questions during the conference. Deadline for abstract: May 1, 2014.

Read more: The Moral Domain: Conceptual Issues in Moral Psychology. Vilnius . 9-11 October 2014

The Content of Our Cooperation, Not the Color of Our Skin

A new, important article by David Pietraszewski, Leda Cosmides, and John ToobyThe Content of Our Cooperation, Not the Color of Our Skin: An Alliance Detection System Regulates Categorization by Coalition and Race, but Not Sex. (PLoS ONE, 2012, 9(2): e88534. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0088534)

AbstractHumans in all societies form and participate in cooperative alliances. To successfully navigate an alliance-laced world, the human mind needs to detect new coalitions and alliances as they emerge, and predict which of many potential alliance categories are currently organizing an interaction. We propose that evolution has equipped the mind with cognitive machinery that is specialized for performing these functions: an alliance detection system. In this view, racial categories do not exist because skin color is perceptually salient; they are constructed and regulated by the alliance system in environments where race predicts social alliances and divisions. Early tests using adversarial alliances showed that the mind spontaneously detects which individuals are cooperating against a common enemy, implicitly assigning people to rival alliance categories based on patterns of cooperation and competition. But is social antagonism necessary to trigger the categorization of people by alliance—that is, do we cognitively link A and B into an alliance category only because they are jointly in conflict with C and D? We report new studies demonstrating that peaceful cooperation can trigger the detection of new coalitional alliances and make race fade in relevance. Alliances did not need to be marked by team colors or other perceptually salient cues. When race did not predict the ongoing alliance structure, behavioral cues about cooperative activities up-regulated categorization by coalition and down-regulated categorization by race, sometimes eliminating it. Alliance cues that sensitively regulated categorization by coalition and race had no effect on categorization by sex, eliminating many alternative explanations for the results. The results support the hypothesis that categorizing people by their race is a reversible product of a cognitive system specialized for detecting alliance categories and regulating their use. Common enemies are not necessary to erase important social boundaries; peaceful cooperation can have the same effect.

Joint PhD degree in the cognitive science of religion

A new Doctoral programme in the cognitive the science of religion has been established by Aarhus University (Graduate School of Arts/Religion, Cognition and Culture Research Unit--see and Queen’s University, Belfast (School of History and Anthropology/Institute of Cognition and Culture—see

Students should apply for admission via one of the two Universities, and will be considered in line with their normal Postgraduate Admission Procedures, which require, among other things, a research proposal on a topic relevant to the cognitive science of religion. The normal duration of the Doctoral programme is full time for three years. In general, admitted students will spend the first six months and the last six months of their doctoral studies at the University where they are admitted. The intervening 24 months are spent according to a PhD plan established for each individual student. In completion, the student receives a single degree certificate issued by Aarhus University and Queen’s University.

Each University agreed to provide two fellowships to support the programme. One fellowship shall be available each year—Queen’s University will allocate funding in the academic years 2014-15 and 2016-17, while Aarhus University will allocate funding in academic years 2015-16 and 2017-18. Students who wish to compete for a fellowship will be required to apply to the University responsible for offering the support in the related year. For more information about the programme, please contact Armin W. Geertz ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) or Paulo Sousa ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

Summer course on Morality: Evolutionary Origins and Cognitive Mechanisms, Budapest, June 2014.

The CEU Summer University announces the course: “Morality: Evolutionary Origins and Cognitive Mechanisms”, June 23-30, 2014, Budapest, Hungary . Application deadline: February 14, 2014.

What makes humans moral beings? This question can be understood either as a proximate “how” question or as an ultimate “why” question. The “how” question, which is about the mental and social mechanisms that produce moral judgments has been investigated by psychologists and social scientists. The “why” question, which is about the fitness consequences that explain why humans have morality, has been discussed by evolutionary biologists in the context of the evolution of cooperation. The goal of this summer school is to contribute to a fruitful articulation of such proximate and ultimate explanations of human morality.

 The school will be taught by internationally renowned experts interested in both ultimate and proximate questions, from evolutionary biology (Jean-Baptiste  André, Redouan Bshary), comparative psychology (Keith Jensen),  evolutionary psychology (Nicolas Baumard, Leda  Cosmides) to cognitive neuroscience (Molly Crockett), developmental psychology (Paul  Bloom, Gergely Csibra, Karen Wynn) and cognitive psychology (Fiery Cushman).  Alongside the regular program of the course there will be talks and discussions aimed at the general public held by invited speakers, including the cognitive anthropologist, Pascal Boyer.

The design of the course stresses highly interactive forms of teaching. The course will begin with introductory lectures to build common ground between the researchers from different disciplines. After the introductions, all segments will be held in a seminar format, with faculty members leading the seminar, and responses/commentaries delivered by teams of students. There will be specific time devoted to smaller group discussions, also led by a member of the faculty, and also opportunities for selected students to give talks and poster presentations. The summer course is aimed at providing a state-of-the-art cutting-edge scientific and research-oriented training for post-doctoral young researchers and highly promising pre-doctoral students from European and overseas universities and research institutes on the evolutionary and psychological bases of morality.

Read more: Summer course on Morality: Evolutionary Origins and Cognitive Mechanisms, Budapest, June 2014.

Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Moral Psychology, Seoul, March 2014

A conference on "Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Moral Psychology" sponsored by Korea University and the Rutgers University Research Group on Evolution & Cognition will take place at the Korea University, Seoul, South Korea / 20th-22nd March 2014.

Posters are invited from researchers around the world. Posters (or poster abstracts of approximately 250 words) should be submitted by e-mail to Prof. Stephen Stich, Department of Philosophy & Center for Cognitive Science, Rutgers University, USA: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or Mr. Min Woo Lee, Deptartment of Psychology, Korea University: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . not later than Feb. 1, 2014.

For a list of speakers and practical details, go here.

A Cultural Epidemiology of Monsters?

A new book by the archeologist David WengrowThe Origins of Monsters: Image and Cognition in the First Age of Mechanical Reproduction (Princeton U.P.)origin of monsters

The blurb
: It has often been claimed that "monsters"--supernatural creatures with bodies composed from multiple species--play a significant part in the thought and imagery of all people from all times.The Origins of Monsters advances an alternative view. Composite figurations are intriguingly rare and isolated in the art of the prehistoric era. Instead it was with the rise of cities, elites, and cosmopolitan trade networks that "monsters" became widespread features of visual production in the ancient world. Showing how these fantastic images originated and how they were transmitted, David Wengrow identifies patterns in the records of human image-making and embarks on a search for connections between mind and culture.

Wengrow asks: Can cognitive science explain the potency of such images? Does evolutionary psychology hold a key to understanding the transmission of symbols? How is our making and perception of images influenced by institutions and technologies? Wengrow considers the work of art in the first age of mechanical reproduction, which he locates in the Middle East, where urban life began. Comparing the development and spread of fantastic imagery across a range of prehistoric and ancient societies, including Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and China, he explores how the visual imagination has been shaped by a complex mixture of historical and universal factors. Examining the reasons behind the dissemination of monstrous imagery in ancient states and empires,The Origins of Monsters sheds light on the relationship between culture and cognition.

Read more: A Cultural Epidemiology of Monsters?

The Phylogeny of ATU 333 (a.k.a. Little Red Riding Hood)

An interesting, methodologically innovative paper by Jamie Terhani in PLoS One on the phylogeny of "Little Red Riding Hood."
RedRidingHoodAbstract: Researchers have long been fascinated by the strong continuities evident in the oral traditions associated with different cultures. According to the ‘historic-geographic’ school, it is possible to classify similar tales into “international types” and trace them back to their original archetypes. However, critics argue that folktale traditions are fundamentally fluid, and that most international types are artificial constructs. Here, these issues are addressed using phylogenetic methods that were originally developed to reconstruct evolutionary relationships among biological species, and which have been recently applied to a range of cultural phenomena. The study focuses on one of the most debated international types in the literature: ATU 333, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’. A number of variants of ATU 333 have been recorded in European oral traditions, and it has been suggested that the group may include tales from other regions, including Africa and East Asia. However, in many of these cases, it is difficult to differentiate ATU 333 from another widespread international folktale, ATU 123, ‘The Wolf and the Kids’. To shed more light on these relationships, data on 58 folktales were analysed using cladistic, Bayesian and phylogenetic network-based methods. The results demonstrate that, contrary to the claims made by critics of the historic-geographic approach, it is possible to identify ATU 333 and ATU 123 as distinct international types. They further suggest that most of the African tales can be classified as variants of ATU 123, while the East Asian tales probably evolved by blending together elements of both ATU 333 and ATU 123. These findings demonstrate that phylogenetic methods provide a powerful set of tools for testing hypotheses about cross-cultural relationships among folktales, and point towards exciting new directions for research into the transmission and evolution of oral narratives.

PhD studentships in Cognitive Science at CEU

The Department of Cognitive Science at Central European University (CEU) invites applications for doctoral student positions starting in September 2014. This is a research-based training program in human cognition with social cognition and learning as core themes. Research topics include cooperation, communication, social learning, cultural transmission, embodied cognition, joint action, cognitive development, strategic decision-making, problem solving, visual cognition, sensory and statistical learning, visual psychophysics, computational neuroscience, and social cognitive neuroscience. Students will follow courses in cognitive psychology, philosophy of mind, cognitive anthropology, computational cognition and linguistics, and will receive practical research training in the laboratories of the members of this new department. Faculty includes... (continued below the fold)

Read more: PhD studentships in Cognitive Science at CEU

Call for Registration: iCog inaugural conference "Interdisciplinarity in Cognitive Science", University of Sheffield, 29 November - 1 December

REGISTRATION OPEN – “iCog: Interdisciplinarity in Cognitive Science.”

Registration for the iCog Inaurural Conference is now open and can be found here. Registration closes on the 22nd of November.

iCog is an interdisciplinary network for postgraduate and early-career researchers in cognitive science. The iCog Inaugural Conference is being held at the University of Sheffield from 29th November - 1st December 2013. More information about the conference and the iCog network can be found here: (Continued below the fold.)

Read more: Call for Registration: iCog inaugural conference "Interdisciplinarity in Cognitive Science",...

Society for Anthropological Sciences Annual Meeting, March 18–22, 2014. Albuquerque

The Society for Anthropological Sciences (SAS / SASci) will be holding its 10th annual meeting from March 18 – 22, 2014, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We invite scholars from any subdiscipline of anthropology, or from allied social sciences, to submit abstracts for papers, posters, or full sessions on any topic in anthropological science, broadly conceived. Deadline: October 15.

The Society for Anthropological Sciences, as both an independent organization (SaSci) and a section of the American Anthropological Association (SAS), promotes the scientific understanding of humanity through comparative, cognitive, quantitative, and evolutionary approaches. The Society seeks to fulfill the historic mission of anthropology to describe and explain the range of variation in human biology, society, and culture across time and space.

Read more: Society for Anthropological Sciences Annual Meeting, March 18–22, 2014. Albuquerque

Does "science" make you moral?

Whatever one thinks of priming studies, it is nice to have, after many studies where priming religion reinforces moral attitudes (for instance Shariff & Norenzayan 2007), an article in PLOS One, "Does “Science” Make You Moral? The Effects of Priming Science on Moral Judgments and Behavior" by Christine Ma-Kellams and Jim Blascovich, where where priming science has a comparable effect.

From the Abstract: Previous work has noted that science stands as an ideological force insofar as the answers it offers to a variety of fundamental questions and concerns; as such, those who pursue scientific inquiry have been shown to be concerned with the moral and social ramifications of their scientific endeavors. No studies to date have directly investigated the links between exposure to science and moral or prosocial behaviors. Across four studies, both naturalistic measures of science exposure and experimental primes of science led to increased adherence to moral norms and more morally normative behaviors across domains....These studies demonstrated the morally normative effects of lay notions of science. Thinking about science leads individuals to endorse more stringent moral norms and exhibit more morally normative behavior. These studies are the first of their kind to systematically and empirically test the relationship between science and morality. The present findings speak to this question and elucidate the value-laden outcomes of the notion of science.

The findings are summarized in a Scientific American presentation: "Just Thinking about Science Triggers Moral Behavior: Just Thinking about Science Triggers Moral Behavior: Psychologists find deep connection between scientific method and morality" by Piercarlo Valdesolo.

iCog Cognitive Science Conference, Sheffield, 29 Nov - 1 Dec

iCog, An interdisciplinary conference for postgraduate and early-career researchers in cognitive science to take place 29 November - 1 December 2013, University of Sheffield. Deadline for submission of abstracts:20 September 2013

Guest speakers will be:
Margaret A Boden (Cognitive Science, Sussex)
Rita Astuti (Anthropology, LSE)
Andy Clark (Philosophy, Edinburgh)
Vyv Evans (Linguistics, Bangor)
Danielle Matthews (Psychology, Sheffield)
Edmund T. Rolls (Oxford Centre for Comutational Neuroscience; Warwick)

Read more: iCog Cognitive Science Conference, Sheffield, 29 Nov - 1 Dec

Did the Neandertals speak?

In an open access article, "On the antiquity of language: the reinterpretation of Neandertal linguistic capacities and its consequences" published in Frontiers in Language Sciences, that challenges received views on the evolution of language and its time depth, Dan Dediu and Stephen Levinson, both from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen argue that the Neandertals had linguistics capacities similar to those of modern humans.
The abstract: "It is usually assumed that modern language is a recent phenomenon, coinciding with the emergence of modern humans themselves. Many assume as well that this is the result of a single, sudden mutation giving rise to the full “modern package.” However, we argue here that recognizably modern language is likely an ancient feature of our genus pre-dating at least the common ancestor of modern humans and Neandertals about half a million years ago. To this end, we adduce a broad range of evidence from linguistics, genetics, paleontology, and archaeology clearly suggesting that Neandertals shared with us something like modern speech and language. This reassessment of the antiquity of modern language, from the usually quoted 50,000–100,000 years to half a million years, has profound consequences for our understanding of our own evolution in general and especially for the sciences of speech and language. As such, it argues against a saltationist scenario for the evolution of language, and toward a gradual process of culture-gene co-evolution extending to the present day. Another consequence is that the present-day linguistic diversity might better reflect the properties of the design space for language and not just the vagaries of history, and could also contain traces of the languages spoken by other human forms such as the Neandertals." (see also the press release at the MPI)

Morality in cognition and culture: A Cerisy colloquium (4th-11th of September, 2013)

Registration is still open for the conference organized by the Cerisy cultural centre and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. The complete program can be found here. For more information, write to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The conference will be in English.

Participants: Jean-Baptiste André, Nicolas Baumard, Maurice Bloch, Fabrice Clément, Emma Cohen, Florian Cova, Francesca Giardini, Monica Heintz, Laurence Kaufmann, Pierre Jacob, Arne Jarrick, Pierre Liénard, Olivier Morin, Ruwen Ogien, Isabelle Rivoal, Paulo Sousa, Victor Stoichita, Denis Vidal
Thomas Widlock...

Cerisy website.

Special issue of Mind and Society on “Cultural and Cognitive Dimensions of Innovation"

MSIn the Volume 12, Issue 1, June 2013 of Mind and Society: Special issue on “Cultural and Cognitive Dimensions of Innovation" edited and introduced by Petra Ahrweiler and Riccardo Viale. From the introduction:

“…The best historical example of the two stages of the identification of the problem/opportunity and the generation of a solution is that of Joseph Biro, the inventor of the ballpoint pen. As a journalist, he considered the fountain pens of the early twentieth century inadequate for his work. As he watched some children in Buenos Aires playing with marbles on the wet tarmac, he noticed that these left a trail on the ground as they rolled. Reasoning by analogy, he had the idea of a sphere that could guide the ink inside a pen. He patented the idea, which was developed and led to the creation of the ballpoint pen. Individual and social cognitive psychology is able to study the various stages of an innovative process. Creativity and problem solving are not the only possible subjects of cognitive analysis, so is the more socio-economic dimension, like the reasons that make a new product an innovation, because they manage to satisfy latent needs; the cognitive mechanisms of comprehension, acceptance and choice of a new product; the propensity to innovate, seen in the light of the representation of the risk and the decision-making activity of the innovating agent, etc.”

Read more: Special issue of Mind and Society on “Cultural and Cognitive Dimensions of Innovation"

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Cognition and Culture

The Laboratory for the Experimental Research of Religion at Masaryk University is looking to recruit a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Cognition and Culture. The successful candidate will be employed to work under the supervision of Dr. Dimitris Xygalatas (Director) on experimental studies of religion. The post involves carrying out behavioural experimental research in the LEVYNA lab facilities and in naturalistic settings.

Responsibilities include contributing to the training and mentoring of graduate researchers from the humanities who work in experimental methods, providing help with research design and data analysis, and publishing peer-reviewed articles. (continued blow the fold)

Read more: Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Cognition and Culture

Two doctoral fellowships in cognition and culture

These are offered to work with  Pascal Boyer as part of a new interdisciplinary project at the University of Lyons, France, starting September 2013. Our new team of one PI and two postdocs will do research on [a] threat-detection: influence of evolved cognitive processes on the perception of risk in modern societies, particularly in terms of inter-group relations; [b] evolution and modern societies: influence of evolved cognition on political and economic attitudes in modern large-scale societies. Knowledge of French is not (initially) required.

deadline: May the 26th., 2013.

Candidates should have pursued (or be finishing) Master’s level studies in relevant fields in anthropology, psychology, economics or other social sciences. For more information, please write to pboyer [at], providing details of your studies so far and of your goals.

Post-doctoral position in: human evolution, economics and politics

This two-year post-doctoral position is to work with Pascal Boyer as part of a new interdisciplinary project at the University of Lyons, France, starting September 2013.

deadline: May the 26th., 2013.

The goal of this project is to investigate the influence of evolved human psychology on social processes typical of modern, large-scale societies. This work will focus on such topics as the design of institutions and their reliance on evolved preferences for cooperation; perceptions of markets and our social exchange psychology; how our “intuitive sociology” is based on evolved small-group interaction; how an evolved psychology of dominance and power is relevant to understanding modern politics; how political programs recruit intuitive moral understandings; etc. Some possible directions of research are described in a summary of the grant proposal. Knowledge of French is not required.

Candidates should have pursued doctoral research in a relevant field in psychology, anthropology, economics or political science. If you are interested, please send Pascal Boyer a CV and relevant publications (or links) as well as a short letter of motivation describing how you would envisage your contribution to this programme. Email: pboyer [at]


Quantitative history of emotional words in the English language

An interesting new study in PLoS:

We report here trends in the usage of “mood” words, that is, words carrying emotional content, in 20th century English language books, using the data set provided by Google that includes word frequencies in roughly 4% of all books published up to the year 2008. We find evidence for distinct historical periods of positive and negative moods, underlain by a general decrease in the use of emotion-related words through time. Finally, we show that, in books, American English has become decidedly more “emotional” than British English in the last half-century, as a part of a more general increase of the stylistic divergence between the two variants of English language.

Postdoctoral position in Moral Psychology in Paris

Postdoctoral position in Moral Psychology in Paris

The Institute of Cognitive Sciences (Ecole Normale Supérieure) is searching for a postdoc to begin working in September 2013, on a newly awarded grant, “The Evolution of Fairness: An Interdisciplinary Approach” (see summary description below). The successful candidate will be part of a newly created team of evolutionary biologists and experimental psychologists, and will conduct experiments on moral judgments (moral dilemmas, distributive justice, punishment, etc.) in the framework of the theory of fairness and partner choice.

Candidates should have substantive expertise in experimental psychology, and a strong interest in evolutionary psychology and moral philosophy. French is not required (the working language at the Institute is English).

Read more: Postdoctoral position in Moral Psychology in Paris

A Brief History of Applause

In The Atlantic, a wonderful article on the history of applause, from Roman politicians, who used it to gauge their subjects' support, to Facebook Likes.

Experimental studies of applause would make for a wonderful case study in social influence and information cascades.

International Society for Philosophy, History and Soicial Sciences of Biology

The International Society for Philosophy, History and Social Sciences of Biology holds its 2013 conference in Montpellier, July 7-12. Proposals for sessions and contributions from biologists, ecologists, philosophers and historians of biology are welcome until March the 1st. (extended deadline), as well as interdisciplinary sessions. Website:

Did human language first emerge as songs?

A thought-provoking new paper on the evolutionary emergence of language by Shigeru Miyagawa, Robert C. Berwick, and Kazuo Okanoya: "The emergence of hierarchical structure in human language." Freely available in Frontiers in Language Sciences 20 Feb 2013.
Abstract: We propose a novel account for the emergence of human language syntax. Like many evolutionary innovations, language arose from the adventitious combination of two pre-existing, simpler systems that had been evolved for other functional tasks. The first system, Type E(xpression), is found in birdsong, where the same song marks territory, mating availability, and similar “expressive” functions. The second system, Type L(exical), has been suggestively found in non-human primate calls and in honeybee waggle dances, where it demarcates predicates with one or more “arguments,” such as combinations of calls in monkeys or compass headings set to sun position in honeybees. We show that human language syntax is composed of two layers that parallel these two independently evolved systems: an “E” layer resembling the Type E system of birdsong and an “L” layer providing words. The existence of the “E” and “L” layers can be confirmed using standard linguistic methodology. Each layer, E and L, when considered separately, is characterizable as a finite state system, as observed in several non-human species. When the two systems are put together they interact, yielding the unbounded, non-finite state, hierarchical structure that serves as the hallmark of full-fledged human language syntax. In this way, we account for the appearance of a novel function, language, within a conventional Darwinian framework, along with its apparently unique emergence in a single species.

PhD at St. Andrews: Exploring the evolutionary roots of cultural complexity, creativity and trust.

Applications are invited to join an interdisciplinary research programme directed by Professors Kevin Laland (School of Biology) and Andrew Whiten (School of Psychology) at the University of St Andrews’ renowned Centre for Social Learning and Cognitive Evolution. “Exploring the Evolutionary Origins of Culture Complexity, Creativity and Trust” is funded through a major grant from the John Templeton Foundation. Successful candidates at PhD student level will join a team of over 20 researchers working on the project, studying aspects of social learning, innovation and cultural evolution in monkeys, apes and human participants, or through mathematical and statistical analysis. Funding is available for three years, commencing either September 2013 or September 2014. Closing date: Feb 28 2013. Stipend: £13,390 per annum. Fees and research expenses covered in full. Further Particulars for PhD applicants here.

Additional information