13.12.2017 - 19:56
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Department of Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture

Deutscher Platz 6
04103 Leipzig

phone: +49 (341) 3550 - 315
fax: +49 (341) 3550 - 333

e-mail: cissewski@eva.mpg.de

Department of Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture

The Department of Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture investigates the role of culture in human evolution and adaptation. The primary goal is to theorize, design, and conduct longitudinal studies of human adaptation and cultural dynamics in ecological context. By integrating cross-cultural fieldwork with mathematical models and advanced quantitative methods, we hope to contribute to the interdisciplinary study of human evolution and human social dynamics.

The department was founded in August 2015. Senior researchers and postdoctoral fellows began arriving in 2016.

Positions available


19 October 2017

Despite the global headlines emphasizing division and conflict, humans actually have a long history of forming friendships across group boundaries. But which criteria do they use for picking friends from a different group? In collaboration with three populations of horticulturalists in Bolivia, researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the University of California Santa Barbara found that we use very similar criteria when choosing friends from among in-group and out-group strangers – individual cooperative qualities are most important in both cases. Only when it comes to dividing limited resources, qualities associated with a group can affect partner preference. Full press release. Access the paper.

06 September 2017

Dr Anne Kandler has published a new analysis of the potential for inferring learning mechanisms from population-level data. Patterns of cultural change depend upon individual-level strategies. Inferring these strategies from data is complicated by the paucity of individual-level data. Researchers commonly attempt to infer strategies instead of available population-level data. Kandler and her co-authors show that such data are useful in limited, but valuable, ways. These results represent a substantial advance and refine thinking about both the limits and potential of using aggregate data to infer individual processes.

26 August 2017

Jeremy Koster and Richard McElreath have published a new statistical framework for analyzing behavioral data, applying the technique to human data from Koster's field site. The method accepts the multinomial nature of behavior data and also accounts for repeated observations. It is also capable of revealing individual-level trade-offs across behaviors, allowing for models that reveal the extent to which individuals who regularly engage in one behavior also exhibit relatively more or less of another behavior. These models can potentially be applied to a broad class of statistical analyses by behavioral ecologists, focusing on other polytomous response variables, such as behavior, habitat choice, or emotional states.

21 August 2017

New publication by Dr John Bunce, Interethnic Interaction, Strategic Bargaining Power, and the Dynamics of Cultural Norms. Dr Bunce addresses processes of ethnic boundary maintenance and change, using ethnographic data from his fieldwork in lowland Amazonia, in combination with Bayesian models of normative behavior. Code and data.

24 July 2017

New analysis published on a collaboration between HBEC and the Edward Grey Institute at Oxford: Conformity does not perpetuate suboptimal traditions in a wild population of songbirds. Conformist learning can be adaptive, but it may be maladaptive when environments change. Using a field experiment, the researchers document the social learning strategies that allow a wild population to adapt to environmental change. A mix of conformity and innovation is found in the analysis and demonstrated in theory to be broadly adaptive. Code and data.

7 June 2017

New analysis of social learning in a wild primate, by Brendan Barrett, Richard McElreath, and Susan Perry. Using field experiments, they document the spread of behavioral traditions and analyze the learning strategies that may account for the spread. The analysis suggests that payoff-biased social learning strongly influences behavior. Data and code

31 May 2017

Seminar: A Life History of Human Foraging in 39 Societies (YouTube), presented by Richard McElreath at Aarhus University. This seminar presents progress on a large meta-analysis of foraging records from 39 human samples.