Postdoctoral Fellow

Building a framework for the study of cultural evolution

PI(s): Lauren W. McCall
Start Date: 1-Jan-2007
End Date: 31-Dec-2009
Keywords: comparative methods, database, phenotypic plasticity, cultural evolution

I am a comparative anthropologist. I let models of evolution, ecology and development generate hypotheses about historical processes, which I test with comparative analyses of indigenous human cultures. Cultural traits are behaviors that vary among social groups or populations. They are found in many social animals, from the leaf-tool-making New Caledonian crows and the sponge-tool-making Bottlenose dolphins, to the termite-fishing chimpanzees and the large-scale manufacturing hominins. Humans are unique among social animals in their large developmental allocation to brain growth, in having particularly large social groups, and in maintaining interconnected links among groups. Ironically, the behavioral plasticity responsible for human cultural diversity is also responsible for globalization and cultural extinctions. My current research focuses on the unique features of human habitats that led to the diversity of cultural practices seen before the globalization of culture, and the genetic, cultural, historical and environmental reasons for the halting of cultural group-level selection.

Related products

  • Invited seminar: Duke University, Behavioral, Community and Population Ecology Seminar, 2008. "The diversification of vertebrate locomotor strategies and the hominin brain."
  • Consortium for the History and Philosophy of Biology, University of Toronto, 2008. "Teasing apart developmental and evolutionary contributions to adaptation: Cultural group selection and the place of development in multi-level evolution."
  • Invited seminar: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Servedio lab, 2009. "Explanations of adaptiveness in cultural evolution and behavioral ecology"
  • Evolution: Intersecting Natural and Social Sciences, Darwin Bicentenary, Siena, Italy, 2009. "Group Selection or Group Physiology? Filling in the Gaps of Multi-level Selection Theory to Explain Cultural Variation"
  • Duke Society for the Philosophy of Biology Conference: Cooperative Alliances in the History of Life: Aggregation, Individuation, and the Major Evolutionary Transitions, 2008. "Are Human Cultural Institutions Group-Level Adaptations?"
  • International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology, 2007 (Exeter, U.K.) “Isolation vs. Diffustion: A cross-cultural test.”