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January 23, 2020: Talk on “How culture evolves” at Faculty.ai in London, UK

March 5-7, 2020: Keynote at Symposion Dürnstein on Heritages: Culture Nature Identity at the Dürnstein Abbey (Stift Dürnstein), Dürnstein, Austria

April 20-21, 2020: Attending the Global Solutions Summit 2020 in Berlin, Germany

April 22, 2020: Talk at Centre for Culture and Evolution at Brunel University, UK.

July 2-3, 2020: Keynote at the Culture Conference in Stirling, UK

Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance

Summary from Twitter thread:

🚨Now out in Psychological Science! Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0956797620916782

1/ The world is not WEIRD vs non-WEIRD.

How psychologically and culturally distant is the US from Canada? China from Japan?

2/ CFst is a lens for looking at differences between and within populations. It’s flexible, robust, and theoretically-meaningful.

Issue with existing approaches:
1. Societies are distributions of traits. Mean estimates are misleading. Brazil looks like Turkey on Hofstede:

2. Variance captures some of this (Turkey is culturally tighter than Brazil), but how do you capture nominal traits like political priorities: “give people more to say”, “maintain order in the nation”, “fight rising prices”, or “protect freedom of speech”?3. Genetic distance is a proxy, but can be misleading: Hong Kong is more than an order of magnitude more genetically similar to China than to Britain, but is culturally similar to both due to Britain’s century-long history in Hong Kong.4. Linguistic distance is better, but the resolution is low. Difficult to distinguish the cultures of Australia, Canada, the UK and the US, all of whom speak English.3/ Fst is theoretically meaningful within evolution: measures how genotype frequencies forsubpop differ from expectations if there were random mating over the entire population. i.e. it measures the degree to which the populations can be considered structured and separate.4/ For cultural inheritance, this is directly analogous to between-group differentiation caused by selection, migration, and social learning mechanisms.5/ Cultural FST (CFst) is calculated in the same manner as Genetic FST, but instead of a genome, we use World Values Survey as a “culturome”.
Questions as loci.
Answers as alleles.

CFst can handle continuous, binary, or nominal traits.6/ Because traits tend to cluster within a society, it’s also robust to missing questions or data. You can drop even 50% of data or questions and get very little deviation.

Even if we don’t ask every conceivable question, if you ask a broad range, you’ll get a similar answer.

Note: Traits cluster within, but not necessarily between societies. 7/ We create an American scale (useful as a proxy WEIRD scale) and a Chinese scale as an example.

8/ American scale correlates with cultural dimensions, tightness, values, extraversion and personality variance, and many behavioral measures: blood donations, diplomat parking tickets, corruption perceptions, honesty in the wallet drop study:

Civic honesty around the globeRationalist approaches to economics assume that people value their own interests over the interests of strangers. Cohn et al. wanted to examine the trade-off between material self-interest and more a…https://science.sciencemag.org/content/365/6448/70

Distance…

9/ The Chinese scale is less predictive – why? Two possibilities:

1. WEIRD nations are truly psychological outliers in some objective sense. Plug for @JoHenrich ‘s brilliant new book: amazon.com/WEIRDest-Peopl…

2. Psychological measures have been studied because they are remarkable to WEIRD researchers.

If psychology was dominated by Chinese psychologists, we would see a different set of psychological outcomes covered in textbooks. 10/ Resolving which of these explanations is correct will require greater diversity in both researchers and samples.11/ Final caveats:
1. Similar distance from US / China does not mean cultural similarity. Japan & Norway are similarly distant from US, but are not necessarily similar to each other.

Like Colombia and the UK are similarly geo distant from US but nowhere near each other.

Culture is a large n-dimensional space. 2. The US is relatively homogeneous (note, it’s a loose country, but similarly loose in all regions relative to other large populations). Societies are not homogeneous. They have multivariate distributions of many traits along many dimensions with structure within structure.

There are likely to be cultural differences between not only regions within a country but also ethnicities, religions, socioeconomic class, and other groupings. These are all avenues for future research. 3. We need more data from the Middle East and Africa! We have every reason to suspect the American scale will continue to stretch as we map out these psychological terrae incognitae.These regions (and others like South Pacific) are a treasure trove for the next generation of cultural psychologists. Not just about psychological outcomes, but also questions we ask, and way we organize psychology. What we know is the tip of the iceberg of the human psyche. END I lied. There’s also a website: culturaldistance.com

Special guest at the Metascience 2019 Symposium at Stanford University, CA

On the back of the Nature Human Behaviour article on psychology’s Problem in Theory, I was invited as a Special Guest to the Metascience 2019 Symposium at Stanford University, CA. The meeting was designed as formative meeting for metascience as a discipline. One of the most interesting and thought-provoking conferences to which I’ve been. I tweeted some highlights and a few of my thoughts in relation to the problem in theory:

See more by searching Twitter for #metascience2019

More details from the conference website:

INVITED SPEAKERS

Carl Bergstrom (University of Washington, Seattle, USA), Dorothy Bishop (University of Oxford, UK), Annette N. Brown (Family Health International 360, Durham, USA), Tim Errington (Center for Open Science, Charlottesville, USA), James Evans (University of Chicago, USA), Daniele Fanelli (London School of Economics and Political Science, UK), Fiona Fidler (University of Melbourne, AU), Jacob Foster (University of California, Los Angeles, USA), Andrew Gelman (Columbia University, New York, USA), Steven Goodman (Stanford University, USA), Daniel Kahneman (Princeton University, USA), Zoltán Kekecs (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, HU), Carole Lee (University of Washington, Seattle, USA), Edward Miguel (University of California, Berkeley, USA), Staša Milojević (Indiana University, Bloomington, USA), Michèle Nuijten (Tilburg University, NL), Cailin O’Connor (University of California, Irvine, USA), Adam Russell (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Arlington, USA), Marta Sales-Pardo (Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona, ES), Melissa Schilling (New York University, USA), Jonathan Schooler (University of California, Santa Barbara, USA), Dean Keith Simonton (University of California, Davis, USA), Roberta Sinatra (IT University of Copenhagen, DK), Paula Stephan (Georgia State University, Atlanta, USA), Simine Vazire (University of California, Davis, USA), Bernhard Voekl (University of Bern, CH), Jan Walleczek (Phenoscience Laboratories, Berlin, DE), Shirley Wang (Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA), Jevin West (University of Washington, USA), Yang Yang (Northwestern University, Evanston, USA)

PANEL DISCUSSANTS

Christie Aschwanden (Emergent Form, USA), Lisa Feldman Barrett (Northeastern University, Boston, USA), Richard Harris (National Public Radio, Washington, USA), Chonnettia Jones (Wellcome Trust, London, UK), Stephanie Lee (BuzzFeed News, New York, USA), Arthur Lupia (National Science Foundation, Alexandria, USA), Ivan Oransky (Retraction Watch, New York, USA), Dawid Potgieter (Templeton World Charity Foundation. Nassau, BS), Norbert Schwarz (University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA), Kathleen Vohs (University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, USA), Jonathan Yewdell (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Bethesda, USA)

SYMPOSIUM ORGANIZERS

Brian Nosek (Center for Open Science, USA), Jonathan Schooler (UC Santa Barbara, USA), Jon Krosnick (Stanford Univ., USA), Leif Nelson (UC Berkeley, USA), Jan Walleczek (Phenoscience Laboratories, DE)

SCIENTIFIC ADVISORY BOARD

Deborah Mayo (Virginia Tech, USA), Helen Longino (Stanford Univ., USA), Donald Hoffman (UC Irvine, USA), Rebecca Saxe (MIT, USA), Colin Camerer (Caltech, USA), Steven Goodman (Stanford Univ., USA), Stephen Fiore (Univ. Central Florida, USA), Richard Harris (NPR, USA), John Protzko (UC Santa Barbara, USA)

OBJECTIVES

During this decade, we have witnessed the emergence of a new discipline called metascience, metaresearch, or the science of science. Most exciting was the fact that this is emerging as a truly interdisciplinary enterprise with contributors from every domain of research. This symposium served as a formative meeting for metascience as a discipline. The meeting have brought together leading scholars that are investigating questions related to themes such as:

  • How do scientists generate ideas?
  • How are our statistics, methods, and measurement practices affecting our capacity to identify robust findings?
  • Does the distinction between exploratory and confirmatory research matter?
  • What is replication and its impact and its value?
  • How do scientists interpret and treat evidence?
  • What are the cultures and norms of science?

Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF) Grantee Meeting at the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute at the University of St Andrews, Scotland

I spent the last few days at the Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF) Grantee Meeting at the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. This was my second time attending the meeting and I enjoyed once again discussing the challenges of understanding intelligence (and its implications) with an amazingly diverse and interdisciplinary group of brilliant scholars.

Are Collectivistic Cultures More Prone to Rapid Transformation? Computational Models of Cross-Cultural Differences, Social Network Structure, Dynamic Social Influence, and Cultural Change

Summary from Twitter thread:

New paper in Personality and Social Psychology Review (PSPR): Societies more susceptible to social learning (e.g. China) more culturally stable, but also more susceptible to rapid transformation. Punctuated cultural equilibrium. Models differences in cross-cultural social networks and influence. Why? 1/3

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1088868319855783?journalCode=psra

Consider Majority illusion (Blue Fashionable will be perceived as majority view due to social network structure).

Some societies more likely to conform. Under most conditions, conforming to the majority leads to stability, but… 2/3

A well connected ideologue taking advantage of that conformity leads to rapid social change.

In a less well connected society with fewer conformists, too many leaders, not enough followers making it harder for one to dominate and kickstart a country-wide revolution. 3/3

“Culture Evolving and Scales of Cooperation Competing” at the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) conference at the University of Warwick, UK

I was invited to present my work on cultural evolution and how scales of cooperation compete at the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) conference at the University of Warwick, UK. You can read more about cultural evolution in this chapter , more about scales of cooperating competing in this Evonomics / Promarket piece and some experimental evidence in this Nature Human Behavior paper.

Theory and WEIRD scale at LEVYNA, Brno, Czechia

I gave a public lecture on “A theory of human behavior? What would it look like and what would it offer?” and a workshop talk on “Beyond WEIRD Psychology and toward an understanding of evil eye and differences in economic productivity” at the LEVYNA Laboratory for the Experimental Research of Religion at the Masaryk University, Brno, Czechia

The public lecture was largely based on a recent Nature Human Behaviour piece “A Problem in Theory” on the role of theory in the psychological and behavioural sciences.

The workshop talk was a more indepth discussion of a recent working paper on measuring cultural distance “Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance” (pre-print) and some in-progress follow up work somewhat based on another recent paper published in Nature Human Behaviour, with some context published in Evonomics and ProMarket (pre-print).

Global Solutions Summit: The World Policy Forum in Berlin, Germany

I was invited by Dennis Snower to the Global Solutions Summit 2019 in Berlin. The summit proposes policy responses for the upcoming G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan by bringing together researchers, policymakers, business leaders and civil society representatives to discuss major global challenges.

It was great to hear Dennis’ opening address advocating a cultural evolutionary framework, particularly cultural-group selection and multilevel selection, as an approach to tackling major global challenges:

Other highlights included the various discussions on the future of the European Union, including Frans Timmermans vision for the future of the EU (Frans is one of the lead candidates for the upcoming election for the President of the European Commission):

Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance at University of Economics, Prague, Czechia

I presented some work on measuring cultural distance “Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance” (pre-print) and some in-progress follow ups using the technique at the University of Economics, Prague, Czechia.

I also presented some in progress theoretical and empirical work on “Hunter-gatherer egalitarianism and the evolution of evil eye beliefs”. Part of this work was based on a recent paper published in Nature Human Behaviour, with some context published in Evonomics and ProMarket (pre-print).

Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance at City University, London

I presented some work on measuring cultural distance “Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance” (pre-print) and some in-progress follow ups using the technique at City University in London, UK.

I also presented some in progress theoretical and empirical work on “Hunter-gatherer egalitarianism and the evolution of evil eye beliefs”. Part of this work was based on a recent paper published in Nature Human Behaviour, with some context published in Evonomics and ProMarket (pre-print).

UK Home Office Flag It Up Campaign

I recently helped the UK Home Office with their anti-corruption, #FlagItUp campaign to  encourage accounting and legal professionals to report more suspicious through a suspicious activity report.

Videos below. Read more here: https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/community/blogs/michael-muthukrishna/why-dont-we-report-our-suspicions

For Social Media


Longer videos


A Problem in Theory

Summary from Twitter thread:

New paper in Nature Human Behaviour: we argue that the replication crisis is rooted in more than methodological malpractice and statistical shenanigans. It’s also a result of a lack of a cumulative theoretical framework:

A_Problem_in_Theory.pdf

The present methodological and statistical solutions to the replication crisis will only help ensure solid stones; they don’t help us build the house. Preregistration and multiple replications(this time with larger samples!)are great, but a solution to decades of distrusted data?

Science is an abductive process with incomplete data and large to infinite space of hypotheses. Better theory can far reduce the possible or likely hypotheses and offer explanations we might not consider based on the data alone.We can’t build a cumulative science by narrowing it down with guesswork, folk intuitions, verbal logic, or our own limited (and largely WEIRD) life experience. Testing these WEIRD intuitions on WEIRD participants can be circular and misleading. Leads to general understanding?We present Dual Inheritance Theory as an example of a more systematic theoretical approach with more constrained predictions. Theory is another way to constrain researcher degrees of freedom.We deal with some common critiques and concerns at the end. Other sciences, the solid findings, applied sciences, and we’re not trained to think this way.

Here’s more critiques and concerns. Can we solve this with neuroscience, Bayesian stats, and Big Data?

Hunter-gatherer egalitarianism and the evolution of evil eye beliefs at University College London (UCL), London, UK

I presented some in progress theoretical and empirical work on “Hunter-gatherer egalitarianism and the evolution of evil eye beliefs” at the Biological Anthropology seminar series at University College London (UCL) in London, UK.

Part of this work was based on a recent paper published in Nature Human Behaviour, with some context published in Evonomics and ProMarket (pre-print) as well as some work on measuring cultural distance (pre-print).

War at The Forum for Philosophy, London

I joined a panel for a discussion on War hosted by The Forum for Philosophy in association with the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, LSE and the Royal Institute of Philosophy. I was joined by:

Susanne Burri, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, LSE
Michael Robillard, Research Fellow, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics
Joseph Maiolo, Professor of International History, Department of War Studies, KCL

The event was chaired by Jonathan Birch, Fellow, Forum for Philosophy; Associate Professor of Philosophy, LSE.

You can listen to the recording here or on YouTube

A theory of human behaviour at The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

I gave a general talk on “A theory of human behavior? What would it look like and what would it offer?” at he University of Queensland, Brisbane. I discussed various bits of research including:

Muthukrishna, M. & Henrich, J. (2019). A Problem in Theory. Nature Human Behaviour. [Download]
Muthukrishna, M., Bell, A. V., Henrich, J., Curtin, C., Gedranovich, A., McInerney, J., & Thue, B. (under review). Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance. [Download]
Chudek, M., Muthukrishna, M. & Henrich, J. (2015) Cultural Evolution. In Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, 2nd Edition. Edited by D. M. Buss. [Download]
Muthukrishna, M., Doebeli, M., Chudek, M., & Henrich, J. (2018). The Cultural Brain Hypothesis: How culture drives brain expansion, sociality, and life history. PLOS Computational Biology, 14(11): e1006504. [Download] [Supplementary]
Stimmler, D. & Muthukrishna, M. (In prep). When Cooperation Promotes Corruption and Undermines Democracy.

As well as the Database of Religious History.

Cultural Evolution and the Measurement of Culture at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

I gave a general talk on “Cultural Evolution and the Measurement of Culture” at Monash University, Melbourne. I discussed various bits of research including:

Muthukrishna, M. & Henrich, J. (2019). A Problem in Theory. Nature Human Behaviour. [Download]
Muthukrishna, M., Bell, A. V., Henrich, J., Curtin, C., Gedranovich, A., McInerney, J., & Thue, B. (under review). Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance. [Download]
Chudek, M., Muthukrishna, M. & Henrich, J. (2015) Cultural Evolution. In Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, 2nd Edition. Edited by D. M. Buss. [Download]
Muthukrishna, M., Doebeli, M., Chudek, M., & Henrich, J. (2018). The Cultural Brain Hypothesis: How culture drives brain expansion, sociality, and life history. PLOS Computational Biology, 14(11): e1006504. [Download] [Supplementary]
Stimmler, D. & Muthukrishna, M. (In prep). When Cooperation Promotes Corruption and Undermines Democracy.

As well as the Database of Religious History. Many thanks to Nao Tsuchiya for inviting me.

The Cultural Brain Hypothesis: How culture drives brain expansion, sociality, and life history

Today, my paper on the Cultural Brain Hypothesis (CBH) and Cumulative Cultural Brain Hypothesis (CCBH) with Michael Doebeli, Maciej Chudek, and Joe Henrich was published in PLOS Computational Biology.

The Cultural Brain Hypothesis is a more general theory for brain evolution across species that unifies more specific explanations around environmental hypotheses and social brain hypotheses. The theory is formalized using an analytical and a computational model.

Figure 1 from paper

The CBH shows how the environment constrains evolution and how social factors are necessary infrastructure for more social learning species. It predicts different relationships between brain size, sociality, mating structure, the length of the juvenile period, innovation and knowledge, and social learning strategies.

Table 1 from paper.

According to the CBH, the environment constrains brain evolution rather than driving it – brain size is affected by the environment, because you need to have enough calories to feed your brain. But your ability to derive calories from what’s available (or potentially available) is driven by how smart you are – how much information you have. All else being equal, a lush rainforest will have larger brains than an arid desert.

The model specifies two pathways for acquiring this information, both of which can lead to bigger brains – asocial learning and social learning (or some combination of these). If you take the asocial path, you’re reliant on your own intelligence and you don’t have to worry about the social infrastructure. Asocial brains can be larger depending on how easy it is to learn things asocially, but they’ll tend to be smaller than social brains on average.

If you take the social path, it requires all kinds of social infrastructure – more tight-knit and perhaps larger group to learn from, a longer juvenile period, more care during that longer juvenile period, tolerance for other members of the group, an ability and proclivity to learn from other members of the group, and so on. Culture is socially transmitted information, which is a cheaper and more efficient way to get information than asocial learning, but does require all these social factors.

The theory links together ecology and social factors and shows how constraints for learning culture and information in general are what drive the expansion in brain evolution (rather than adaptations to the environment or social factors directly). The model allows us to make sense of a lot of puzzling relationships between brain size, sociality, mating structures, juvenile period, innovation, knowledge, and social learning strategies, and other social and environmental features. We’ve tested some of these relationships among cetaceans and in this paper, we compare it to tests in primates. Unfortunately, most of the focus has been on the more interesting more social learning species (you publish papers by showing how animals and babies are smart and human adults are dumb, not vice versa). The next step is to try to test the predictions for more asocial taxa.

The Cumulative Cultural Brain Hypothesis (CCBH)

The CCBH is a narrow set of parameters that can lead to a take off where information and technology start accumulating faster and faster forcing brains and social factors to evolve to keep up. In our species, our brains continue to grow to the point where we end having trouble giving birth to our babies (larger heads are more difficult to birth), we give birth to our babies prematurely relative to other animals (compare a human infant to a gazelle ready to run). This leads to strategies to take care of our now helpless infants, like forcing fathers to pay for childcare or stick around, and normatively controlling female sexuality so dad knows it’s his. We do other things to keep up. We divide up the information, leading to a division of information and a division of labor (specialization), which can lead to a collective brain. We expand our juvenile period, so we spend longer in childhood, and have an extraordinarily long period of adolescence (the time between when you can reproduce and when you actually do), just to keep learning the ever growing body of information needed to outcompete other members f our group. This last strategy is now at the point we’re hitting a new biological limit – not in the size of the brains we can birth, but in our ability to reproduce at a later age. (I wrote a bit about this for MoneySupermarket in reference to why it takes longer to buy a house).

According to the CCBH, this take off requires:

  1. High transmission fidelity. This could include more cognitive abilities like gaze tracking, shared intentionality, theory of mind, the ability to recognize, distinguish, and imitate potential models, but also more social factors like social tolerance, and ever more sophisticated methods of teaching (consider how long you’ve probably spent in formal education plus internships or low paid entry-level jobs).
  2. Low reproductive skew. Consistent with a “monogamish” or cooperative breeding structure that suppresses reproductive skew. A cooperative breeding environment would have also been ideal to allow for an easy transition to oblique learning. Chimps learn from their mom, but having multiple moms and dads means you can focus on who’s better rather than who you have access to.
  3. Smart ancestors. There is an interaction between transmission fidelity and efficient individual learning. Social learners benefit from smart asocial learners who’s knowledge they can exploit.
  4. Rich ecology. There have to be potential returns in the environment. That is, there are large game or good sources of calories, only requiring the knowledge to acquire them.

There’s more in the paper, which I encourage you to read.

Life History and Learning Workshop at UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA

I spent the weekend at a workshop on Life History and Learning at UC Berkeley, organized by Alison Gopnik. I presented the “Cultural Brain Hypothesis and Cumulative Cultural Brain Hypothesis”, which was recently published in PLOS Computational Biology (see here for discussion).

It was a small workshop, which made for some wonderful discussions with:
Sarah Blaffer Hrdy (UC Davis)
Willem Frankenhuis (Radboud University)
Michael Gurven (UC Santa Barbara)
Kristen Hawkes (University of Utah)
Celeste Kidd (UC Berkeley)
Julie Morand-Ferron (University of Ottawa)
Thomas Morgan (Arizona State University)
Susan Perry (UCLA)
Pete Richerson (UC Davis)
Mike Tomasello (Duke)
Natalie Uomini (Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History)

 

 

The Evolution of Evil Eye Beliefs and Related Behaviors at CES 2018 in Tempe, AZ

I presented some in progress theoretical and empirical work on “The Evolution of Evil Eye Beliefs and Related Behaviors” at the 2nd Cultural Evolution Society (CES) conference.

Part of this work was based on a recent paper published in Nature Human Behaviour, with some context published in Evonomics and ProMarket (pre-print). But the main part was work in progress on understanding the evolution of evil eye beliefs and hunter-gatherer egalitarianism.