Peter J Richerson

Peter J Richerson
University of California, Davis | UCD · Department of Environmental Science and Policy

PhD

About

303
Publications
119,997
Reads
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28,660
Citations
Additional affiliations
January 2010 - May 2014
University College London
Position
  • Professor
September 1991 - May 1992
Bielefeld University
Position
  • Researcher
Description
  • Worked on a project aimed at bridging between biology and the social sciences.
December 1983 - May 1984

Publications

Publications (303)
Article
We present evidence that people in small‐scale mobile hunter‐gatherer societies cooperated in large numbers to produce collective goods. Foragers engaged in large‐scale communal hunts and constructed shared capital facilities; they made shared investments in improving the local environment; and they participated in warfare, formed enduring alliance...
Article
Charles Darwin's The Descent of Man, published 150 years ago, laid the grounds for scientific studies into human origins and evolution. Three of his insights have been reinforced by modern science. The first is that we share many characteristics (genetic, developmental, physiological, morphological, cognitive, and psychological) with our closest re...
Preprint
Full-text available
We present evidence that people in small-scale, mobile hunter-gatherer societies cooperated in large numbers to produce collective goods. Foragers engaged in large-scale communal hunts, constructed shared capital facilities; they made shared investments in improving the local environment; and they participated in warfare, alliance, and trade. Large...
Chapter
Your ancestors who lived three million years ago were still good at climbing trees, but they no longer spent most of their time in the forest. Their bodies were adapted to walking around on the ground and eating tougher food. They foraged in drier environments where food and sources of water were further apart, and they were more exposed to predato...
Chapter
By a million and a half years ago, there were humans with skeletons that were very similar to our human skeleton. They moved around as we do, and their diet was more like our diet. Some of them had skulls that held a brain quite a bit bigger than the brains of our earlier ancestors, but even the largest was considerably smaller than our brain. Huma...
Chapter
Starting about 35,000 years ago, humans seem to have made a great leap forward culturally. The authors argue that this wasn’t because of genetic changes that caused the human brain to have increased capacity. It was because some groups culturally evolved the “social tools” that allowed them to maintain connections and share information over long di...
Chapter
By 100,000 years ago, humans walked the Earth who were very similar to us physically and genetically, but they lived in small family bands and their culture was much simpler than the culture of any humans living today. The authors argue that these humans had the capacity to participate in more complex cultures and suggest that this capacity evolved...
Chapter
If you had been born as one of your ancestors who lived seven million years ago, you would have been an ape living in an African forest. This ancestor would also be the ancestor of the chimpanzees and bonobos that still live in African forests. You would have already possessed some of the characteristics that make humans an unusual animal. You woul...
Chapter
Once they were equipped with the social tools that allowed them to maintain greater connectedness, there was no looking back for our ancestors. They evolved much more complex cultures. Once the planet started to warm up and ice started to melt, humans could start to inhabit more of the land surface. As climate variability diminished and stable vege...
Chapter
This introductory chapter explains why a new story of human evolution is needed, and also lays the foundations of the story told in this book. One of the reasons we need a new story is that previous stories have concentrated on what our male ancestors were doing. Since survival is most at risk in the first years of life, it makes much more sense to...
Book
It’s time for a new story of our origins. One reason is that there a great deal of new evidence about what humans are like and the conditions that shaped human evolution. Another is that the thinking on human evolution has shifted. Evolutionists recognize that humans are very different from other animals, and they have been working to explain the d...
Chapter
During the last few centuries, the invention of new social tools made it possible for humans to interact and connect. The structure of society changed, and the role of the family was much diminished. This triggered a cultural transformation we are still in the middle of. “Modernity” is a good word for this transformation, because what we think of a...
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What promised to be a refreshing addition to cumulative cultural evolution, by moving the focus from cultural transmission to technological innovation, falls flat through a lack of thoroughness, explanatory power, and data. A comprehensive theory of cumulative cultural change must carefully integrate all existing evidence in a cohesive multi-level...
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Humans evolved from an ape ancestor that was highly intelligent, moderately social and moderately dependent on cultural adaptations for subsistence technology (tools). By the late Pleistocene, humans had become highly dependent on culture for subsistence and for rules to organize a complex social life. Adaptation by cultural traditions transformed...
Preprint
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We argue that research on human origins and our subsequent cultural and social evolution is vital not only for foundational scientific discovery but also for understanding, mitigating, and solving the most pressing challenges faced by our society. Advancing research on human origins and social complexity is also very timely given recent advances an...
Article
Dual inheritance theory is a set of ideas, first proposed in the 1960s, based on the observation that once humans evolved the capacity for complex culture, the environments in which human genes evolved were partly the product of their culture. If both genes and culture evolve, human evolution should be seen as the result of the interaction of cultu...
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Phenotypic flexibility includes systems such as individual learning, social learning, and the adaptive immune system. Since the evolution of genes by natural selection is a relatively slow process, mechanisms of phenotypic flexibility are evolved to adapt to contingencies on the time scales ranging from a few hundred milliseconds (e.g. avoidance of...
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A Review of Ages of Discord: A Structural Demographic Analysis of American History by Peter Turchin (Beresta Books, 2016)
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Human behavior is strongly affected by culturally transmitted norms and values. Certain norms are internalized (i.e., acting according to a norm becomes an end in itself rather than merely a tool in achieving certain goals or avoiding social sanctions). Humans' capacity to internalize norms likely evolved in our ancestors to simplify solving certai...
Article
The dual inheritance or gene–culture coevolution theory of human evolution was developed in the 1970s and 80s. Early work built mathematical theories derived from then-current work in human development, sociolinguistics, and the diffusion of innovations. More recently it has included a considerable amount of new empirical work. The theory has alway...
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The founding members of the Cultural Evolution Society were surveyed to identify the major scientific questions and 'grand challenges' currently facing the study of cultural evolution. We present the results and discuss the implications for an emergent synthesis in the study of culture based on Darwinian principles.
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Cultural adaptation has become central in the context of accelerated global change with authors increasingly acknowledging the importance of understanding multilevel processes that operate as adaptation takes place. We explore the importance of multilevel processes in explaining cultural adaptation by describing how processes leading to cultural (m...
Chapter
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Some economists argue that institutions are the most important factor affecting variation in economic growth. We need, however, to better understand how and why institutions emerge and change. This chapter develops a conceptual framework, informed by evolutionary theory and complexity science, that follows models of cultural evolution in viewing in...
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Boivin et al.’s (1) article profoundly deepens scientific understanding of anthropogenic global ecological change from Pleistocene to present by offering robust new evidence of early human transformation of the biosphere that should influence discussions on Anthropocene formalization (2, 3). As ecologists and evolutionary theorists, we applaud this...
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The main objective of our target article was to sketch the empirical case for the importance of selection at the level of groups on cultural variation. Such variation is massive in humans but modest or absent in other species. Group selection processes acting on this variation is a framework for developing explanations of the unusual level of coope...
Article
Human cooperation is highly unusual. We live in large groups composed mostly of non-relatives. Evolutionists have proposed a number of explanations for this pattern, including cultural group selection and extensions of more general processes such as reciprocity, kin selection, and multi-level selection acting on genes. Evolutionary processes are co...
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Modern humans are probably a product of social and anatomical preadaptations on the part of our Miocene australopithecine ancestors combined with the increasingly high amplitude, high frequency climate variation of the Pleistocene. The genus Homo first appeared in the early Pleistocene as ice age climates began to grip the earth. We hypothesize tha...
Article
In this review, we discuss the dynamic linkages between culture and the genetic evolution of the human species. We begin by briefly describing the framework of gene-culture coevolutionary (or dual-inheritance) models for human evolutionary change. Until recently, the literature on gene-culture coevolution was composed primarily of mathematical mode...
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The aim of this paper is to provide non-specialist readers with an introduction to some current controversies surrounding the application of evolutionary theory to human behaviour at the intersection of biology, psychology and anthropology. We review the three major contemporary sub-fields; namely Human Behavioural Ecology, Evolutionary Psychology...
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Smaldino makes a solid contribution to the literature on the evolution of human social organization by pointing out that group-level-traits (GLTs) often emerge from the interactions of group members in such a way that their effects are not easily partitioned into individual selection. However, we argue that he too readily dismisses institutional an...
Article
In their comment “Modeling the evolution of preferences: an answer to Schubert and Cordes” (2013, this journal), Kapeller and Steinerberger claim to have identified some flaws in the formal argument developed in our paper “Role models that make you unhappy: light paternalism, social learning, and welfare” (2013, this journal). Specifically, they ma...
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It is difficult to overstate the cultural and biological impacts that the domestication of plants and animals has had on our species. Fundamental questions regarding where, when, and how many times domestication took place have been of primary interest within a wide range of academic disciplines. Within the last two decades, the advent of new archa...
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The domestication of plants and animals marks one of the most significant transitions in human, and indeed global, history. Traditionally, study of the domestication process was the exclusive domain of archaeologists and agricultural scientists; today it is an increasingly multidisciplinary enterprise that has come to involve the skills of evolutio...
Chapter
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A chapter in: (2014) Evolution, Religion and Cognition: Critical and constructive essays (editors: F. Watts & L. Turner) Oxford University Press. The goal of science is to achieve a level of understanding which not only explains current observations but also allows us to make predictions. Can science provide this kind of understanding of religion?...
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Copying others appears to be a cost-effective way of obtaining adaptive information, particularly when flexibly employed. However, adult humans differ considerably in their propensity to use information from others, even when this 'social information' is beneficial, raising the possibility that stable individual differences constrain flexibility in...
Chapter
Humans learn and share information on a massive scale through the use of culture. In this paper, we will outline the mechanisms of cultural evolutionary change, evaluate their role in ecologically destructive feedback loops, and conclude by describing how we might harness the mechanisms of cultural evolution to favor ecologically and socially benef...
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Small-scale human societies are a leap in size and complexity from those of our primate ancestors. We propose that the behavioral predispositions which allowed the evolution of small-scale societies were also those that allowed the cultural evolution of large-scale sociality, in the form of multiple transitions to large-scale societies. Although su...
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Religion may be one factor that enabled large-scale complex human societies to evolve. Utilizing a cultural evolutionary approach, this chapter seeks explanations for patterns of complexity and variation in religion within and across groups, over time. Properties of religious systems (e.g., rituals, ritualized behaviors, overimitation, synchrony, s...
Chapter
The gradual cumulative cultural evolution of locally adaptive technologies has played a crucial role in our species’ rapid expansion across the globe. Until recently, human artifacts were not obviously more complex than those made by organisms that lack cultural learning and have limited cognitive capacities. However, cultural evolution creates ada...
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Verbal and mathematical models that consider the costs and benefits of behavioral strategies have been useful in explaining animal behavior and are often used as the basis of evolutionary explanations of human behavior. In most cases, however, these models do not account for the effects that group structure and cultural traditions within a human po...
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Many animals use culture, the ability to learn from others, but only humans create complex culture. A laboratory experiment tests which characteristics of our social networks give us this capacity. See Letter p.389
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Cumulative culture is the engine that drives the remarkable power of the global human computer. It enables societies to act as extremely powerful computers by ratcheting up technological and other cultural innovations. Once culture can accumulate, the ability of a society to maintain and spread complex technologies is directly related to the size o...
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In infant industries, a great share of new market opportunities is depleted by firms that spinoff from incumbents. A model emphasizing the relation between incumbents' evolving corporate cultures and the generation of spinoffs explains this regularity in industry evolution. Organizations reach a critical size that entails the collapse of a cooperat...
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We agree with the comments by van Hoorn (1) on our critique (2): testing causal hypotheses about human behavior is a challenge (1, 3). Making progress requires specifying alternative hypotheses and then testing these hypotheses using diverse and converging lines of evidence. We have defended the hypothesis that social norms, which culturally coevol...
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Increased cooperation in groups that are allowed to communicate (engage in "cheap talk") has been attributed to reputation-building and to cultural norms or culturally normal behavior. We tested these two theories by exposing groups of undergraduates to a public-goods social dilemma. Five groups were permitted to communicate via anonymous written m...
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Most research on decision making has focused on how human or animal decision makers choose between two or more options, posed in advance by the researchers. The mechanisms by which options are generated for most decisions, however, are not well understood. Models of sequential search have examined the trade-off between continued exploration and cho...
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The anthropological record indicates that approximately 85 per cent of human societies have permitted men to have more than one wife (polygynous marriage), and both empirical and evolutionary considerations suggest that large absolute differences in wealth should favour more polygynous marriages. Yet, monogamous marriage has spread across Europe, a...
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Culture is both a product and a driver of human evolution, finds Peter Richerson.
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Experiments are not models of cooperation; instead, they demonstrate the presence of the ethical and other-regarding predispositions that often motivate cooperation and the punishment of free-riders. Experimental behavior predicts subjects' cooperation in the field. Ethnographic studies in small-scale societies without formal coercive institutions...
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Lamba and Mace's critique (1) of our research (2–4) is based on incorrect claims about our experiments and several misunderstandings of the theory underpinning our efforts. Their findings are consistent with our previous work and lead to no unique conclusions. Lambda and Mace (1) incorrectly claimed that we “mostly” sampled from single communitie...
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We investigated the effect of religion on generosity, interpersonal trust, and cooperation by using games developed by experimental economists (Dictator, Trust, and Public Goods). In these experiments, individuals were paired or grouped with unknown strangers to test the degree to which religion promotes prosocial behavior. We evaluated group- and...
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The major environmental problems of the twenty-first century, including climate change, water scarcity, pollution and resource exhaustion, represent a new category of crisis and highlight the desperate need for an integrated science of socio-ecological phenomena. To help establish the foundations of such a science, we explore three traditions of ma...
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In the last 60,000 y humans have expanded across the globe and now occupy a wider range than any other terrestrial species. Our ability to successfully adapt to such a diverse range of habitats is often explained in terms of our cognitive ability. Humans have relatively bigger brains and more computing power than other animals, and this allows us t...
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Many scholars attribute human innovativeness mainly to human cognition or intelligence. This argument is advanced, for example, by the evolutionary psychologists Tooby, Cosmides, and Pinker under the term "the cognitive niche." However, most significant human innovations are far more complex than even the smartest individual person could invent on...
Article
Cultural evolution has historically concentrated on questions of the long term evolution of human culture and on questions of gene-culture co-evolution. However, cultural evolution is a dynamic process that very much operates in recent and ongoing change in human societies. Over the last two centuries, most of the world has been in the midst of an...
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Over the past several decades, we have argued that cultural evolution can facilitate the evolution of large-scale cooperation because it often leads to more rapid adaptation than genetic evolution, and, when multiple stable equilibria exist, rapid adaptation leads to variation among groups. Recently, Lehmann, Feldman, and colleagues have published...
Article
This paper shows how cognitive human dispositions that take effect at the level of an individual firm's corporate culture have repercussions on an industry's evolution. In our theory, the latter is attributable to evolving corporate cultures coupled with changes in a firm's business environment. With the help of a formal model of evolving corporate...
Article
The application of phylogenetic methods to cultural variation raises questions about how cultural adaption works and how it is coupled to cultural transmission. Cultural group selection is of particular interest in this context because it depends on the same kinds of mechanisms that lead to tree-like patterns of cultural variation. Here, we review...
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Human language has no close parallels in other systems of animal communication. Yet it is an important part of the cultural adaptation that serves to make humans an exceedingly successful species. In the past 20 years, a diverse set of evolutionary scholars have tried to answer the question of how language evolved in our species and why it is uniqu...
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Darwin realized that his theory could have no principled exception for humans. He put the famous teaser, “Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history,” near the end of The Origin of Species. If his evolutionary account made an exception for the human species, the whole edifice might be questioned. As the Quarterly Review’s reviewer of...
Article
Humans have operated two basic kinds of economies over our history. In hunting and gathering economies, humans exploit populations of wild plants and animals. In a simple system of coupled equations representing the human population, the exploited ecosystem, and the innovation of new technology, these economies tends to create human super-predators...
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Evolutionary Anthropologists and Psychologists often say that humans evolved our characteristic adaptations in the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness, those past environments that furnished the selection pressures that shaped our brains and bodies. This is true by definition, but when and where were these environments and what were they like a...
Article
The use of socially learned information (culture) is central to human adaptations. We investigate the hypothesis that the process of cultural evolution has played an active, leading role in the evolution of genes. Culture normally evolves more rapidly than genes, creating novel environments that expose genes to new selective pressures. Many human g...
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This paper relates firm size and opportunism by showing that, given certain behavioural dispositions of humans, the size of a profit-maximizing firm can be determined by cognitive aspects underlying firm-internal cultural transmission processes. We argue that what firms do better than markets - besides economizing on transaction costs - is to estab...
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Wild et al. argue that the evolution of reduced virulence can be understood from the perspective of inclusive fitness, obviating the need to evoke group selection as a contributing causal factor. Although they acknowledge the mathematical equivalence of the inclusive fitness and multilevel selection approaches, they conclude that reduced virulence...
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Full-text available
The use of socially learned information (culture) is central to human adaptations. We investigate the hypothesis that the process of cultural evolution has played an active, leading role in the evolution of genes. Culture normally evolves more rapidly than genes, creating novel environments that expose genes to new selective pressures. Many human g...
Article
The scale of human cooperation is an evolutionary puzzle. All of the available evidence suggests that the societies of our Pliocene ancestors were like those of other social primates, and this means that human psychology has changed in ways that support larger, more cooperative societies that characterize modern humans. In this paper, we argue that...