Quentin D Atkinson

Quentin D Atkinson
University of Auckland · School of Psychology

PhD

About

181
Publications
104,114
Reads
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Citations
Introduction
Many of the things that make humans unique are not hard-wired in our genes, but are shaped by the behaviour and norms of those around us – these are inherently cultural phenomena that require a cultural explanation. Since Darwin, it has been recognised that human cultures and languages evolve in ways that parallel the evolution of species. My research uses methods and thinking from biology to understand how human culture evolves and the importance of culture for the evolution of our species.
Additional affiliations
April 2010 - December 2013
University of Auckland
Position
  • Professor (Associate)
August 2007 - December 2012
University of Oxford
Position
  • Research Associate
June 2006 - August 2007
University of Reading
Position
  • PostDoc Position

Publications

Publications (181)
Article
Full-text available
Reputation monitoring and the punishment of cheats are thought to be crucial to the viability and maintenance of human cooperation in large groups of non-kin. However, since the cost of policing moral norms must fall to those in the group, policing is itself a public good subject to exploitation by free riders. Recently, it has been suggested that...
Article
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There are two competing hypotheses for the origin of the Indo-European language family. The conventional view places the homeland in the Pontic steppes about 6000 years ago. An alternative hypothesis claims that the languages spread from Anatolia with the expansion of farming 8000 to 9500 years ago. We used Bayesian phylogeographic approaches, toge...
Article
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Although much attention has been focused on explaining and describing the diversity of social grouping patterns among primates, less effort has been devoted to understanding the evolutionary history of social living. This is partly because social behaviours do not fossilize, making it difficult to infer changes over evolutionary time. However, prim...
Article
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Understanding the psychological causes of variation in climate change belief and pro-environmental behaviour remains an urgent challenge for the social sciences. The “cooperative phenotype” is a stable psychological preference for cooperating in social dilemmas that involve a tension between individual and collective interest. Since climate change...
Article
Full-text available
When interacting with infants, humans often alter their speech and song in ways thought to support communication. Theories of human child-rearing, informed by data on vocal signalling across species, predict that such alterations should appear globally. Here, we show acoustic differences between infant-directed and adult-directed vocalizations acro...
Preprint
Cross-national analyses test hypotheses about the drivers of global variation in national outcomes. However, since nations are connected in various ways, such as via spatial proximity and shared cultural ancestry, cross-national analyses often violate assumptions of non-independence, inflating false positive rates. Here, we show that, despite being...
Preprint
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How do beliefs about gods vary across populations, and what accounts for this variation? We argue that appeals to gods generally reflect prominent features of local social ecologies. We first draw from a synthesis of theoretical, experimental, and ethnographic evidence to delineate a set of predictive criteria for the kinds of contexts with which r...
Preprint
Music and language are both universal but diverse cultural traits shaped by cultural and biological evolution. However, there is disagreement on the relationships between music, language, and human history. Some argue that musical and linguistic similarities trace ancient migrations of people and their cultures, while others argue that they primari...
Article
Culture evolves,1-5 but the existence of cross-culturally general regularities of cultural evolution is debated.6-8 As a diverse but universal cultural phenomenon, music provides a novel domain to test for the existence of such regularities.9-12 Folk song melodies can be thought of as culturally transmitted sequences of notes that change over time...
Preprint
Full-text available
Despite the variability of music worldwide, some types of human songs share basic acoustic characteristics. For example, dance songs tend to be loud and rhythmic, whereas lullabies tend to be quiet and melodious. Prior studies with western English-speaking participants have shown that this enables listeners to infer aspects of a singer’s behaviour,...
Article
In the face of a slow and inadequate global response to anthropogenic climate change, scholars and journalists frequently claim that human psychology is not designed or evolved to solve the problem, and they highlight a range of “psychological barriers” to climate action. Here, we critically examine this claim and the evidence on which it is based....
Preprint
A central goal of linguistics is to understand how words evolve over time, and how geographic, demographic, and cognitive variables have influenced this process of evolution. Whereas past research has focused on how macro-level factors like frequency of word usage and borrowing impact lexical evolution, we draw on insights from cognitive and affect...
Preprint
Understanding the psychological causes of variation in climate change belief and pro-environmental behaviour remains an urgent challenge for the social sciences. The “cooperative phenotype” is a stable psychological preference for cooperating in social dilemmas that involve a tension between individual and collective interest. Since climate change...
Preprint
Culture, like genes, evolves, but the existence of cross-culturally universal mechanisms of cultural evolution is debated. As a diverse but cross-culturally universal phenomenon, music may provide a novel domain to test for the existence of such mechanisms. Folk song melodies are culturally transmitted sequences of notes that change over time, and...
Preprint
A popular view, supported by several studies, is that liberals are more concerned than conservatives about COVID-19. This is puzzling given the strong pandemic responses from some conservative nations, and the well-established link between conservatism and threat-sensitivity. We argue a resolution is provided by the dual evolutionary foundations of...
Preprint
This chapter provides an overview of studies that use incentivised experiments to study political ideology. We look first at studies that conceptualise political ideology along a unidimensional liberal-conservative spectrum and explore whether there are behavioural differences between liberals and conservatives. While recent studies find that liber...
Preprint
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There are compelling reasons to expect that representing any active, powerful god or spirit may contribute to cooperation. One possible mechanism underlying this effect is a system that infers that spiritual agents are morally concerned. If individuals cognitive represent deities as agents, and if agents are generally conceptualized as having moral...
Preprint
Decades of research suggest that our political differences are best captured by two dimensions of political ideology: economic and social conservatism. The dual evolutionary framework of political ideology predicts that these dimensions should be related to variation in general preferences for cooperation and group conformity. Here, we show that, c...
Preprint
Music copyright lawsuits often result in multimillion dollar settlements, yet there are few objective guidelines for applying copyright law in infringement claims involving musical works. Recent research has attempted to develop objective methods based on automated similarity algorithms, but there remains almost no data on the role of perceived sim...
Article
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Considerable progress in explaining cultural evolutionary dynamics has been made by applying rigorous models from the natural sciences to historical and ethnographic information collected and accessed using novel digital platforms. Initial results have clarified several long-standing debates in cultural evolutionary studies, such as population orig...
Preprint
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Across taxa, the forms of vocal signals are shaped by their functions. In humans, a salient context of vocal signaling is infant care, as human infants are altricial. Humans often produce "parent-ese", speech and song for infants that differ acoustically from ordinary speech and song, in fashions that are thought to support parent-infant communicat...
Article
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National democracy is a rare thing in human history and its stability has long been tied to the cultural values of citizens. Yet it has not been established whether changing cultural values made modern democracy possible or whether those values were a response to democratic institutions. Here we combine longitudinal data and cohort information of n...
Article
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Research over the last fifty years has suggested that political attitudes and values around the globe are shaped by two ideological dimensions, often referred to as economic and social conservatism. However, it remains unclear why this ideological structure exists. Here we highlight the striking concordance between these dual dimensions of ideology...
Preprint
What determines our views on taxation and crime, healthcare and religion, welfare and gender roles? And why do opinions about these seemingly disparate aspects of our social lives coalesce the way they do? Research over the last 50 years has suggested that political attitudes and values around the globe are shaped by two ideological dimensions, oft...
Preprint
Full-text available
Whitehouse, et al.’s creation of the Seshat open archaeo-historical databank is laudable. However, the authors’ analysis methods, treatment of missing data, and source quality undermine the paper’s key conclusion that moralizing deities appear only after rapid increases in social complexity. First, their report fails to address the inherent ‘forwar...
Preprint
Full-text available
Whitehouse, et al.’s creation of the Seshat open archaeo-historical databank is laudable. However, the authors’ analysis methods, treatment of missing data, and source quality undermine the paper’s key conclusion that moralizing deities appear only after rapid increases in social complexity. First, their report fails to address the inherent ‘forwar...
Article
Full-text available
The emergence of large-scale cooperation during the Holocene remains a central problem in the evolutionary literature. One hypothesis points to culturally evolved beliefs in punishing, interventionist gods that facilitate the extension of cooperative behaviour toward geographically distant co-religionists. Furthermore, another hypothesis points to...
Article
Full-text available
The emergence of large-scale cooperation during the Holocene remains a central problem in the evolutionary literature. One hypothesis points to culturally evolved beliefs in punishing, interventionist gods that facilitate the extension of cooperative behaviour toward geographically distant co-religionists. Furthermore, another hypothesis points to...
Article
The emergence of large-scale cooperation during the Holocene remains a central problem in the evolutionary literature. One hypothesis points to culturally evolved beliefs in punishing, interventionist gods that facilitate the extension of cooperative behaviour toward geographically distant co-religionists. Furthermore, another hypothesis points to...
Article
The persistent threat of natural disasters and their attendant resource shocks has likely shaped our prosocial drives throughout human evolution. However, it remains unclear how specific experiences during these events might impact cooperative decision making. We conducted two waves of four modified dictator-game experiments with the same individua...
Article
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Background: The genetic origins of Uralic speakers from across a vast territory in the temperate zone of North Eurasia have remained elusive. Previous studies have shown contrasting proportions of Eastern and Western Eurasian ancestry in their mitochondrial and Y chromosomal gene pools. While the maternal lineages reflect by and large the geograph...
Article
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Human foragers are obligately group-living, and their high dependence on mutual aid is believed to have characterized our species' social evolution. It was therefore a central adaptive problem for our ancestors to avoid damaging the willingness of other group members to render them assistance. Cognitively, this requires a predictive map of the degr...
Article
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Over the past 2,000 years, Christianity has grown from a tiny Judaic sect to the world’s largest religious family¹. Historians and social scientists have long debated whether Christianity spread through a top-down process driven by political leaders or a bottom-up process that empowered social underclasses2–6. The Christianization of Austronesian p...
Conference Paper
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Unfounded music copyright lawsuits inhibit musical creativity and waste millions of taxpayer dollars annually. Our aim was to develop and test simple quantitative methods in order to supplement traditional qualitative musicological analyses and improve the efficiency and transparency of music copyright lawsuits. We adapted automatic sequence alignm...
Article
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Where a newly-married couple lives, termed post-marital residence, varies cross-culturally and changes over time. While many factors have been proposed as drivers of this change, among them general features of human societies like warfare, migration and gendered division of subsistence labour, little is known about whether changes in residence patt...
Article
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Does moral culture contribute to the evolution of cooperation? Here, we examine individuals' and communities' models of what it means to be good and bad and how they correspond to corollary behavior across a variety of socioecological contexts. Our sample includes over 600 people from eight different field sites that include foragers, horticultural...
Article
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How historical connections, events and cultural proximity can influence human development is being increasingly recognized. One aspect of history that has only recently begun to be examined is deep cultural ancestry, i.e. the vertical relationships of descent between cultures, which can be represented by a phylogenetic tree of descent. Here, we tes...
Article
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It remains a mystery how Pama-Nyungan, the world's largest hunter-gatherer language family, came to dominate the Australian continent. Some argue that social or technological advantages allowed rapid language replacement from the Gulf Plains region during the mid-Holocene. Others have proposed expansions from refugia linked to climatic changes afte...
Article
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One of the defining trends of the Holocene has been the emergence of complex societies. Two essential features of complex societies are intensive resource use and sociopolitical hierarchy. Although it is widely agreed that these two phenomena are associated cross-culturally and have both contributed to the rise of complex societies, the causality u...