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Margo Wilson Memorial Lecture - Coren Apicella - From selfish beginnings: Tracing the evolutionary origins of cooperation using data from hunter-gatherers

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ON-LINE Talk Link

Coren Apicella, Associate Professor

University of Pennsylvania
Department of Psychology
Solomon Laboratories
3720 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6241


Title: From selfish beginnings: Tracing the evolutionary origins of cooperation using data from hunter-gatherers

The evolution of human cooperation is described as one of biology’s great mysteries. How can natural selection favor traits that are disadvantageous to an individual? Numerous theories and models have been developed to answer this question and they all share the same fundamental solution: positive phenotypic assortment. Cooperation can only evolve if the benefits of cooperation preferentially flow between those who cooperate. Now, a central challenge is determining which theories best explain assortment using ecologically relevant data for the setting of human evolution. Here, I provide insight into the evolutionary origins of cooperation using longitudinal data from one of the few remaining hunter-gatherer populations in existence – the Hadza of Northern Tanzania. The findings highlight the adaptive nature of human cooperative behavior—particularly its responsiveness to local social environments—as a feature important in generating the assortment necessary for cooperation to evolve.

Coren Apicella is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania where she directs the Human Behavior and Origins Laboratory (HBO) and co-directs Penn’s Social and Behavioral Science Initiative (SBSI). Coren serves as an Associate Editor for the journals, Evolution and Human Behavior and Adaptive Human Behavior & Physiology. She received her Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology from Harvard University and an M.Sc. in Evolutionary Psychology from the University of Liverpool. She studies both hunter-gatherers and Westerners to explore the cultural and biological origins of social behavior. Her work specializes in mate selection and attraction, behavioral endocrinology, behavior genetics, sex differences, and the evolution of cooperation. Her work has been published in academic journals including NatureCurrent Biology and the American Economic Review and has been featured in the NYT, BBC, CNN, and NPR. 

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