This week I visited Stanford University, California. Jamie Holland Jones invited me to present my research on human evolution, cultural evolution, and social networks at the Stanford Anthropology Colloquium Series. I presented three related projects:
The Cultural Brain Hypothesis (in prep; co-authored with Maciek Chudek and Joe Henrich), describes the evolution of large brains and parsimoniously explains several empirical relationships between brain size, group size, social learning, mating structures, culture, and the juvenile period. The model also describes the selection pressures that may have led humans into the realm of cumulative cultural evolution, further driving up the human brain size.
Sociality Influences Cultural Complexity (2014; co-authored with Ben Shulman, Vlad Vasilescu, and Joe Henrich) on the relationship between sociality and cultural complexity.
Cultural Dispositions, Social Networks, and the Dynamics of Social Influence: Implications for Public Opinion and Cultural Change (under review; co-authored with Mark Schaller) describes a mechanism through which realistic human social network structures can emerge and the implications of these mechanisms for cross-cultural differences in cultural transmission and innovation.
I attended the 15th Annual Meeting of The Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) in Austin, Texas. I presented a model at the Dynamical Systems and Computational Modeling in Social Psychology preconference. The model uses two principles of human decision making to produce the three key properties of human social networks – high clustering (a friend of a friend is likely your friend), low characteristic path length (“6 degrees of separation”), and a positively skewed degree distribution (most people have a few friends, but a few people have many friends).
My collaborator and advisor, Mark Schaller, presented a related model at a symposium on “The Role of Interpersonal Processes in Group Phenomena and Cultural Development”. The model presented some preliminary research using the model I presented to better understand the dynamics of social influence within social networks.
I was invited to a workshop on Network Structure, Political Hierarchy and Economic Inequality at the Sante Fe Institute. The workshop, organized by Sam Bowles and Paul Hooper, brought together leading contributors to the theoretical literature on social networks, anthropologists and other field researchers using network techniques to study the social structure of small-scale societies. I had the opportunity to discuss social network analysis and its application to the study of social structures and culture with several lead social network researchers, including Matt Jackson and Rajiv Sethi.
The project is part of the Santa Fe Institute’s Dynamics of Wealth Inequality Project.