I am a behavioural scientist studying the evolutionary and cognitive determinants of social cognition. I have mainly focused on the way motivational factors affect people’s social cognition. More recently I have worked on the way stress, environmental harshness, and uncertainty impact a range of social and non-social decisions:
- prosociality and social trust
- political attitudes and religion
- health attitudes, fertility and parenting
The central hypothesis behind my work is that environmental and motivational factors alter individuals’ minds in significant ways and should be targeted upstream to improve people’s lives.
Hugo Mercier (Group Leader)
I am an evolutionary and cognitive psychologist working on the function and workings of reasoning. With Dan Sperber, we have developed the argumentative theory of reasoning, which offers a new function for human reasoning: to find and evaluate arguments so as to convince others and only be convinced when it is appropriate. I also study the cognitive mechanisms with which people evaluate communicated information.
I was trained as a theoretician in evolutionary biology, and I’m interested in understanding behavior, in particular human behavior, based on an evolutionary perspective. My work focuses on two major questions:
(1) Why is human cooperation universally constrained by the logic of fairness? To answer this question, I develop models in collaboration with Nicolas Baumard and Stéphane Debove. We show that, whereas pairwise reciprocity per se is undertermined (what economists call the folk theorem), the evolution of reciprocal cooperation becomes constrained by fairness principles when individuals can freely engage in a diverse range of social interactions, and choose among them.
(2) Why is reciprocal cooperation so rare among non humans but so frequent in humans? To answer this question, with the help of models, I show that reciprocal cooperation is not a regular form of adaptation that can evolve by natural selection. Rather its evolution, like the evolution of communication, requires the recycling of functions evolved intially for a different purpose. I’m interested in showing how this constraint explains both the rarity of reciprocal cooperation among non-humans, and the form that it takes in humans.
I am interested in using evolutionary and psychological approaches in the social sciences, in particular in economics.
More specifically, I use:
- Biological market theory to explain why moral judgments and cooperative behaviors are based on considerations of fairness;
- Life-history theory to explain behavioral variability across culture, history, social classes and developmental stages;
- Dual process theory to explain the content of human reflections and religious thinking (in particular on morality and gods);
- all of the above to explain why some public policies naturally work better
I am currently working on human social cognition, more precisely on the developmental puzzle about false-belief attribution in human childhood. Most preschoolers have been reliably shown to fail verbal false-belief tasks, but growing evidence based on non-verbal tests has also shown that preverbal infants expect an agent to act in accordance with the content of her (true or false) belief. I take the infant data at face value as evidence of false-belief attribution in human infancy and I propose a pragmatic explanation of the failure of most preschoolers on verbal false-belief tasks.
I joined the Institut Nicod in November 2019, as CNRS "chargé de recherche". Before that I lead the "Mint" (Minds & Traditions Research Group) at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena. (The group continues its activities.) I study cultural transmission from a perspective that combines quantitative cultural history with cognitive science and cultural evolution. In How Traditions Live and Die (2016), I described how cultural transmission can come about through the action of psychological mechanisms that are indifferent to fidelity but sensitive to content. That same book sketched a research program calling for cognitive science hypotheses to be tested with data coming from quantitative cultural history. I have carried out this research program in several fields, publishing papers on historical changes in the legibility of written letters, on the dissemination of heraldic designs, or the long-term transmission of children's games, among other topics. The common thread running through all these studies is the question: How can human traditions be appealing enough to be passed through successive generations, without losing their distinctive features? One major force for cultural preservation is the development of graphic records: visual symbols that record information, allowing transmission to carry on even when it skips several generations. My latest work, done in large part in collaboration with the Mint research group, thus focuses on graphic communication. We study the evolution of visual symbols, from writing and pictographs to online multi-player games. In the future, I hope to answer some fundamental questions about the nature of writing and the reasons why it appeared only when and where it did.
I am a behavioural scientist with training in both psychology and anthropology. My work spans the biological, cognitive and social sciences. My current research projects are in one or more of the following areas:
I am also interested more broadly in explanations in the behavioural sciences; in interdisciplinary synthesis; and in open science. Where possible I argue for the application of what we can learn from research to public policy.
My personal web site is www.danielnettle.org.uk
Dan Sperber is a French social and cognitive scientist, formerly at the CNRS, currently at the Central European University. He has developed a naturalistic approach to culture, “cultural attraction theory.” With Deirdre Wilson, he has developed a cognitive approach to communication, "relevance theory". With Hugo Mercier, he has developed an evolutionary “interactionist” approach to human reason. He has also worked on social ontology, cognitive modularity, morality, epistemic vigilance, and cultural symbolism.
I am interested in the cognitive mechanisms underlying social and political behaviour, notably leader choice and cooperation. In particular, I adopt an ecological and evolutionary approach to better understand the inter-individual differences in these domains, across both space and time. To do so, I rely on behavioral data, social surveys, computational modeling and, more recently, cultural artifacts such as paintings and books.
POST DOCS AND ATER
I've so far focused on exploring reputation management mechanisms in the domain of cooperation (prosocial choice and rule abidance) and their adaptedness to a partner choice ecology. I am interested in the myriad ways in which biological markets have shaped how we want to be seen, how we evaluate others, the beliefs we hold, and who we trust and why. In the current project, I will be working on the topic of intellectual humility.
Fiona Tho Pesch
In my current research, I investigate the effects of poverty and
inequality on cognition, emotion, and decision-making, with a particular
focus on concepts like volatility and instability. During my PhD, I
conducted research on the situational conditionalities of prosocial
behavior, delving into the various motivations behind people's choices
to engage in prosocial actions and the circumstances under which they do
so. Personally, I'm interested in exploring the practical relevance of
our research findings in the context of current political debates and
public policy considerations.
Mélusine Boon Falleur
I study how the nature of human cooperation can prevent us from adopting efficient solutions to climate change. I hope that by understanding the different cognitive mechanisms involved in cooperation, such as reputation management or fairness computation, we can design better environmental policies. I am also interested in studying how the availability of resources, either in the environment or through parental transfers, shape people's behavior and preferences.
I study the socioeconomic, cognitive and evolutionary determinants of interest for environmental issues and motivation to engage in pro-environmental behaviour. I'm interested in the application of behavioural sciences to public policies, especially in the domain of sustainability.
I take an interdisciplinary evolutionary approach to the psychological foundations of fictions. I am interested in the ecological, cognitive, and behavioral drivers of the cultural evolution of fictions, focusing on how cognitive adaptations and adaptive plasticity impact both the universality and the variability of cultural preferences. More particularly, my research investigates the links between the biological evolution of exploratory preferences and the cultural evolution of innovative cultural productions, such as imaginary worlds.
I am interested in understanding citizens’ preferences towards environmental public policies. In particular, I study cognitive and evolutionary mechanisms underlying social acceptability of green policies such as carbon taxation, cap-and-trade systems and regulation standards.
Charles de Dampierre
I am a Phd student interested in using LLMs (Large Language Models) to summarise & visualise large datasets. I developed the Bunka project, an exploration Engine using AI & Cognitive Science. I am also interested in estimating human development by quantifying cultural & scientific production for the last 5000 years using Online Catalogs & Wikidata. I graduated from HEC Paris and have a master in Cognitive Science from ENS/EHESS.
I study the cognitive underpinnings of large-scale cooperation - that is, the distinctly human capacity to engage in prosocial behavior with strangers. I use this to explain nationalism: why are individuals willing to take costly actions for an entity as abstract as "the nation" - a group whose members never meet? Understanding the psychological mechanisms at work in nationalism can help us explain the popularity of seemingly irrational social phenomena. For example, in many countries, nationalism is accompanied by a recurrent set of public manifestations: the promotion of grand national narratives, the celebration of homeland heroes, and the commemoration of sacrifices made in the name of the nation. In my dissertation, I show that what looks like an irrational waste of time and effort must actually be understood as the approach of strategic agents who attempt to manipulate the social cognition of their target by activating specific cognitive mechanisms. This perspective sheds light on the cognitive dimension that underlies a number of recent concerns, such as nationalist propaganda, narrative wars, and the role of historical narratives in disinformation campaigns. Finally, the results of my thesis can also provide clues for the elaboration of public policies that aim to encourage international cooperation, fight nationalist intolerance, and prevent violent conflicts.
After a transdisciplinary bachelor degree, I’m now interested both in developmental enigmas, as how do concepts emerge as well as in the application of cognitive sciences to public policies issues, especially when it comes to health and early childhood. This is why, after having worked on language acquisition and arithmetic acquisition, I am now working with Coralie Chevallier and Carlo Barone (Sciences Po) on reducing the impacts of inequalities through access to childcare during the early years of life. My work focus on understanding the cognitive barriers to childcare use within underprivileged communities.
Zoé Zhong Ying
I studied communication and media, working with qualitative and quantitative methods on cultural phenomenons. My primary fields of interests now lie in cultural evolution and cognitive science. In particular, my research topic is cognitive and computational approaches to the cultural evolution of ancient and modern Chinese functions. I am also interested in Fiction,Pop culture and related stuff.
Together with, and under the supervision of, Hugo Mercier, I try to understand why people trust in science. Trust in science can be a question of life and death, for example when it comes to vaccines during pandemics. We also try to understand why people are interested in science and, more broadly, what drives people to develop and propagate explanations about the world, including conspiracy theories, religions, and political ideologies.
PhD candidate at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center and the Freie Universität in Berlin, I try to understand the growing social gradient in health behaviours from an evolutionary behavioural perspective. I seek to identify the environmental cues that drive individuals’ perceived control over their mortality risk, and how they adapt their health investment accordingly. Moreover, I’m interested in the public policy applications of behavioural science research, especially in the domain of health.
My research combines evolutionary psychology, philosophy (epistemology and ethics), and learning sciences (design of educational interventions) to study non-experts' beliefs and theories about the brain and neuroscience in the domains of healthcare, policymaking, education, and research. I seek to understand why people resist neuroscience explanations in some domains while preferring them in others and what interventions can help change people's attitudes toward the brain. Ultimately, my project seeks to reduce misconceptions about the brain (such as the belief that there are "male" and "female" brains, that the brain does not change over time, and that brain-based disorders cannot be cured) among educators, healthcare professionals and the general public.
I possess training in both psychology and sociology, and I employ quantitative and computational methods in the field of social and cultural psychology. My primary focus centers on understanding cultural variations and their impact on society and behavior. I investigate a range of topics, including the global and regional variations in individualism and collectivism, cultural variation in different social strata, and the behavioral outcomes arising from these cultural disparities. To scrutinize the causal relationship between culture and behavior, I leverage quantitative and computational techniques, guided by theoretical perspectives rooted in evolutionary psychology.
Pat Barclay is a Professor at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, and is cross-appointed in Psychology and the Bachelor of Arts & Sciences program (BAS). He applies evolutionary theory to understand why people help others. He blends social psychology, evolutionary biology, experimental economics, anthropology, and mathematical game theory to make new predictions about when, where, and how much helping will occur, by whom and to whom. In particular, he studies how & when helpful acts can transmit information about someone's cooperative intent, how reputations sustain cooperation (and sometimes nasty behaviour), and how organisms come to have a stake in the welfare of others. In addition, he has research interests in signaling, partner choice, punishment, risk-taking & deprivation, misinformation, and the interaction of all of these.
Simon is a developmental psychologist, who lately trys to understand the cognitive adaptations and origins of the heuristics that people in poverty use to interact with uncertainty. Prior to joining the lab, he combined methods from computational cogntive neuroscience
and machine learning to tackle questions about adolescent risk-taking and social susceptibility. His framework is rooted in evolution and adaptation, as he seeks to understand the processes by which individuals integrate cues from the environment and integrate experiences into their decisions about future prospects
I aim to understand the impact of environmental factors on personality and well-being, informed by evolutionary hypotheses. Beyond the effects of economic development on psychology, I am interested in exploring how factors such as inequalities, access to information, parental care, or population density specifically influence people's preferences. So far, my research has primarily focused on two subjects:
- Evolutionary personality psychology.
- Well-being economics and psychology.
This year, I will investigate the effects of early-life deprivation, threat, and unpredictability on people's attitudes towards risk and ambiguity.
I am interested in the evolutionary and cognitive underpinnings of revenge and retribution, which has led me to investigate related topics such as third-party punishment, collective liability, and honor-based violence. This year, my aim is to assess how contractualist moral intuitions regulate revenge and the redress of offenses, in order to shed light on recurrent cross-cultural features of crime justice and their variations. To accomplish this, I will conduct an in-depth review of the ethnographic record and rely on existing cross-cultural databases.
Léo Fitouchi - PhD Student 2020-2023
Julien Lie - PhD Student 2020-2023
Léonard Guillou - PhD Student 2019-2022
Rita Abdel Sater - PhD Student 2019-2022
Mauricio Martins - Post-doc 2019-2021
Paul Ecoffet - PhD Student 2018-2021
Sacha Altay - PhD Student 2018-2021
Niels Lettinga - PhD student 2018-2021
Pierre Jacquet - Post-doc 2017-2021
Félix Geoffroy - PhD Student, 2015-2018
Hugo Mell - PhD Student, 2015-2018
Christina Ioannou - PhD Student, 2014-2017
Stéphane Lambert - PhD Student 2013-2016
Mark Sheskin - Post-doc 2013-2015, now post doc at Yale University
Stéphane Debove - PhD Student 2012-2015