Featured post

Upcoming

February 8, 2024: Keynote speaker at SPSP Computational Psychology Preconference in San Diego, CA.

February 9, 2024: Invited panelist at Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) conference on Building Bridges between Global North and Global South, Beyond WEIRD Psychology in San Diego, CA.

March 9-11, 2024: Meeting on Comity, London School of Economics

April 8, 2024: Invited speaker at Booth School of Business, The University of Chicago.

April 11-12, 2024: Invited speaker at workshop on “An Aspirational Approach to Planetary Futures”by the UNDP Human Development Report Office, Oxford

May 23-24, 2024: Human Flourishing Forum at Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Vatican

June 3-4, 2024: Cohesive Capitalism Summit, London School of Economics

July 25-28, 2024: Keynote at Association for Contextual Behavioral Science World Conference, Buenos Aires, Argentina

August 1, 2024: Invited talk at Department of Economics, Stellenbosch University, Western Cape, South Africa

August 5, 2024: Invited talk at Center for Humans and Machines, Max Planck Institute of Human Development, Berlin, Germany

October 3-8, 2024: Keynote speaker at Khazanah Megatrends Forum, Khazanah Nasional Berhad (Malaysian Sovereign Wealth Fund), Malaysia

Invited speaker at Creativity: Innovation, Transmission and Motivation in Animals, Humans and Societies Meeting, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome, Vatican

I was delighted to be an invited speaker at the meeting on “Creativity: innovation, transmission, and motivation in animals, humans, and societies,” which took place at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. The meeting is part of an effort to strengthen the relationship between the Vatican and science.

I presented my research on “Cultural Evolution and Creativity in the Collective Brain”, including new work, my book, A Theory of Everyone, and previous work in these papers:

This event brought together an interdisciplinary array of scholars, priests, and researchers, and I am looking forward to continuing this important dialogue.

Panelist and Invited Speaker on Bridging Disciplines to Advance Governance Research at the Governance Initiative, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, London

I recently participated as a panelist and invited speaker at the Governance Initiative organized by the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab in London, UK, at their conference on “Bridging Disciplines to Advance Governance Research: Collaborations on Gender, Social Networks, and Climate Change.”

I was a panelist on the “Perspectives on The Challenges and Importance of Multidisciplinary Collaboration in Governance Research,” alongside Nava Ashraf and Noam Yuchtman. This engagement provided a forum to discuss innovative strategies for governance and poverty alleviation, leveraging insights from cultural evolution and economic psychology to inform policy and action.

I tackle more of this in my book, “A Theory of Everyone,” and other relevant papers on the topic can be found here:

  • Schimmelpfennig, R. & Muthukrishna, M.  (2023). Cultural Evolutionary Behavioural Science in Public Policy. Behavioural Public Policy. [Awarded EUSPR Presidential Award 2023] [Publisher] [Download] [Twitter] [LinkedIn]
  • Muthukrishna, M., Bell, A. V., Henrich, J., Curtin, C., Gedranovich, A., McInerney, J. & Thue, B. (2020). Beyond Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance. Psychological Science, 31(6), 678-701. [Download] [Supplementary] [Code] [Summary Post] [Publisher] [Twitter]

My thanks to the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab for organizing the event, and my co-panelists, Nava Ashraf and Noam Yuchtman for an engaging session.

Keynote speaker at Risk Management Symposium 2023, Saïd Business School, Oxford

Last week, I was honored to serve as the keynote speaker at the Risk Management Symposium 2023, held at Saïd Business School, Oxford.

The event gathered experts to explore advancements in risk management, and my presentation delved into how cultural evolution and economic psychology inform risk management practices in today’s complex world. I focused on my research on overconfidence, diversity, and innovation.

I also tackle these concepts in my book, “A Theory of Everyone” which you can check out here.

Many thanks to Tim Jenkinson, John Renkema and Saïd Business School for organising and hosting the event.

Invited speaker at University of Michigan

I was invited to speak at the University of Michigan‘s RCGD Fall Seminar Series, co-sponsored by the Institute for Social Research and Department of Psychology. I presented my book, A Theory of Everyone, focusing on the theory, historical psychology, and cross-cultural differences in cognition.

My thanks to Shinobu Kitayama for inviting me and to University of Michigan for organizing the event.

Invited Speaker at the Kinship, Historical Psychology and European Medieval Development Workshop, Harvard University

I was invited to a workshop at Harvard on “Kinship, Historical Psychology and European Medieval Development“. I presented on the “Database of Religious History,” and its use in historical psychology.

More about the workshop and projects can be found on the Historical Psychology Project website. This paper launched the field:

Muthukrishna, M., Henrich, J. & Slingerland, E. (2021). Psychology as a Historical Science. Annual Review ofPsychology, 72, 717-49. [Download] [Publisher] [Summary Post] [Twitter]

My thanks to Jonathan Schulz and Joe Henrich for organizing the workshop.

Book Launch: A Theory of Everyone: Who We Are, How We Got Here and Where We’re Going

I launched my book, “A Theory of Everyone: Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We’re Going,” at the LSE. The launch was a fireside chat with author, journalist, and Olympian Matthew Syed, chaired by our Head of Department, Liam Delaney. I was thrilled that the room was overflowing with thousands watching online. You can watch the launch below:

Invited Speaker at WEIRD Conference, University of Minnesota Law School, University of Minnesota.

The University of Minnesota Law School hosted a WEIRD Conference. Joe Henrich opened the conference with a discussion of his book (which the conference was built around) and I ended the conference with a talk on my book, A Theory of Everyone. It was a US soft launch for the book – the official launch was at LSE and you can watch the video below:

My thanks to Claire Hill for organizing the event and inviting me to talk about A Theory of Everyone.

Invited speaker at Emotion in History: Boundary Crossing Adventures Workshop, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA.

I gave a talk at the “Emotions in History: Boundary-Crossing Adventures” workshop, hosted by the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). This symposium brought together experts from the fields of psychology and history to explore the interplay between emotional theories across these disciplines.

The talk also included a wonderful roundtable discussion.

For those interested, you can watch the recordings of this event, accessible here. My deepest thanks to UCSB and the organizers, Hongbo Yu and Ya Zuo.

What makes us smart?

Summary from Twitter thread:

New paper on “What makes us smart?“.

Unpacked in my soon-to-be-released book, “A Theory of Everyone“.

Here’s the take home: Studying hardware won’t help you understand the capabilities of pivot tables in Excel nor Code Interpreter in ChatGPT.


Your head is filled with entire analogies, metaphors, epistemologies, and tools that you once learned and now effortlessly use for thinking. It’s how you cook, how you count, and why you think invisible germs are a good explanation for disease. But invisible spirits are not.

Studying our genes and neural hardware won’t help you understand human intelligence. Our cultural software endows us with *new* cognitive capabilities.

How does this software get written? How do we become more brilliant, creative, and improve our education systems?

Consider how we count. We went from counting 1, 2, 3, many, as some small-scale societies still count, to a full-blown number system. Numbers likely emerged as an innovation for more efficiently tracking cattle and crops – you need to know who owes you what!

This new cognitive capability used a metaphor – fingers. But there’s nothing unique about fingers & 10 is awkward (16 would be better). Cultures have counted on body parts from base 6 to 27. But to count beyond body parts, we needed a different metaphor. Something like stones.


‘Calculus’ comes from ‘pebble’ (think calcium or limestone), and was used for addition and subtraction. Stones let you think about addition or subtraction beyond how creative you can get with body parts. There are some stones, and you can throw down more or snatch some away.

Stones are great for natural numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. But stones don’t make zero obvious. What does zero pebbles look like? It looks a lot like zero of everything else – it’s nothing – and ‘nothing’ is hard to imagine. Zero came a lot later. What about negatives?

The number line as a metaphor helped make zero more concrete and easily transmissible even to children. Number lines work by mapping numbers not to objects but to movement and position, but they also revealed the negative numbers, which are not otherwise intuitive!

File:Number-line.svg - Wikimedia Commons


“Negative numbers darken the very whole doctrines of the equations and make dark of the things which are in their nature excessively obvious and simple” as Francis Maseres complained in the 18th century.



Nothing about numbers is intuitive to our ape brains. But these metaphors, mental models, and cultural innovations – cultural software – literally changed our minds and gave us new capacities. They’re like software upgrades.

These kids have a Soroban abacus in their heads allowing them to swiftly add large sums: 3267 + 9853 + 6531 + 7991 + 2641 in seconds. It’s a brand new cognitive capability. New cultural software. Video here: https://twitter.com/mmuthukrishna/status/1684576156803289091?s=20

Some innovations are more general than others. For example, thanks to the invention of writing, I can convey information through straight and squiggly lines on a page. I’m doing it right now and I’m literally changing your brain.

Another lesson: Mental tools can go out of date. Mental math became less useful. My middle school teacher, warned us about not being able to +, -, x, / without a calculator (because we wouldn’t be carrying calculators in our pocket). He didn’t foresee the arrival of the iPhone.

Much of what we assume are human capabilities are actually cultural software, invented and transmitted. This can be hard to see because we all live in a bubble. Academics in Ivory Towers, coastal elites, rural small towns – all part of a big bubble.

Almost everyone you’ll ever meet went to school; can all read, write, & count; and consumes some form of television and online media.

Breaking out of this big bubble requires going back in time or to far-flung places.

History – the cultural fossil record – shows that we didn’t always have a number system. Anthropologists in far-flung sites get laughed at explaining germ theory: ‘This guy thinks there are invisible animals, “germs”, in the water!

If that seems crazy because we grew up in a world where people took germ theory for granted, remember that less than 150 years ago, doctors didn’t believe fewer mothers might die if they washed their hands between examining a dead body and delivering a baby.

If our cultural software is what makes us smart, it means that we can be deliberate in how it gets written. We can seek out new mental models, intellectually arbitrage our way to creativity & discovery, and revitalize our education systems.

If you liked this post and want to learn more about how cultural evolution can be applied to our lives, companies, and societies, please pre-order A Theory of Everyone: https://linktr.ee/theoryofeveryone. Pre-orders really help with the success of the book and Amazon pre-orders guarantee the lowest price. Thank you!

The Evolution of Comity: Ultimate Constraints on the Scale of Cooperation at the School of Collective Intelligence, Mohammed VI Polytechnic University

I gave an invited talk at the School of Collective Intelligence at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University in Morocco on the dynamics of collective intelligence within communities and its significance in driving innovation and addressing complex problems.

  • Muthukrishna, M. (2023). [BOOK] A Theory of Everyone: Who we are, how we got here, and where we’re going. MIT Press (US & Canada) / Basic Books (UK and Commonwealth) [Amazon and Local Bookstores]
  • Schnell, E., Schimmelpfennig, R., & Muthukrishna, M. (2023). The Size of the Stag Determines the Level of Cooperation. bioRxiv
  • Muthukrishna, M., Henrich, J. & Slingerland, E. (2021). Psychology as a Historical Science. Annual Review of Psychology, 72, 717-49. [Download] [Publisher] [Twitter]
  • Henrich, J. & Muthukrishna, M. (2021). The Origins and Psychology of Human Cooperation. Annual Review of Psychology, 72, 207-40. [Download] [Publisher] [Twitter]

The title of my talk was “The Evolution of Comity: Ultimate Constraints on the Scale of Cooperation.” Key publications relevant to this discussion are:

The research is related to my book, and a grant focused on expanding our comprehension of the foundational processes facilitating cooperation, with the goal of enhancing social harmony and unity. I am grateful to the faculty, students and staff at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University for the invitation and their hospitality.

Mapping Psychological Terrae Incognita: Explorations Beyond WEIRD Psychology at APS International Convention of Psychological Science (ICPS) 2023

I was a symposium speaker at “East, West, and the Rest: Exploring Psychological Variation across the Globe”, Association for Psychological Science‘s (APS) International Convention of Psychological Science (ICPS) 2023, held at Brussels, Belgium. The symposium was chaired by Shinobu Kitayama and also included Catherine Thomas and Ayse Uskul.

I spoke about “Mapping Psychological Terrae Incognita: Explorations Beyond WEIRD Psychology”, which primarily focused on these papers:

  1. Muthukrishna, M., Bell, A. V., Henrich, J., Curtin, C., Gedranovich, A., McInerney, J. & Thue, B. (2020). Beyond Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance. Psychological Science, 31(6), 678-701. [Download] [Supplementary] [Code] [Summary Post] [Publisher] [Twitter]
  2. White, C. J. M., Muthukrishna, M. (equal senior) & Norenzayan, A. (2021). Worldwide evidence of cultural similarity among co-religionists within and across countries using the World Values Survey. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118 (37) e2109650118. [Download] [Supplementary] [Publisher] [Twitter]
  3. Muthukrishna, M., Henrich, J. & Slingerland, E. (2021). Psychology as a Historical Science. Annual Review of Psychology, 72, 717-49. [Download] [Publisher] [Summary Post] [Twitter]

The Evolution of Comity: Ultimate Constraints on the Scale of Cooperation at the Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam

I was invited to speak at the this month, where I discussed my research on the conditional nature of human cooperation and its potential threats to our progress and advancement.

I presented “The Evolution of Comity: Ultimate Constraints on the Scale of Cooperation” at University of Amsterdam‘s Faculty of Social and Behavioural Science. The most relevant papers are:

  1. Muthukrishna, M., Henrich, J. & Slingerland, E. (2021). Psychology as a Historical Science. Annual Review of Psychology, 72, 717-49. [Download] [Publisher] [Twitter]
  2. Henrich, J. & Muthukrishna, M. (2021). The Origins and Psychology of Human Cooperation. Annual Review of Psychology, 72, 207-40. [Download] [Publisher] [Twitter]

The research is also related to my forthcoming book and to a new grant, which aims to deepen our understanding of the underlying mechanisms that enable cooperation and how they can be leveraged to foster greater harmony and unity in our interconnected world.

What makes us smart? at The University of Queensland’s School of Economics

December 17, 2022

I spoke at the University of Queensland‘s School of Economics about the factors that contribute to human intelligence. The talk was a broad sweep of my work on intelligence and human evolution, including work in progress. A lot of this work is covered in my forthcoming book, A Theory of Everyone.

Some of the key papers discussed include:

  1. Schimmelpfennig, R. & Muthukrishna, M.  (2023). Cultural Evolutionary Behavioural Science in Public Policy. Behavioural Public Policy. [Publisher] [Download] [Twitter] [LinkedIn]
  2. Muthukrishna, M., Bell, A. V., Henrich, J., Curtin, C., Gedranovich, A., McInerney, J. & Thue, B. (2020). Beyond Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance. Psychological Science, 31(6), 678-701. [Download] [Supplementary] [Code] [Summary Post] [Publisher] [Twitter]
  3. Henrich, J. & Muthukrishna, M. (2021). The Origins and Psychology of Human Cooperation. Annual Review of Psychology, 72, 207-40. [Download] [Publisher] [Twitter]
  4. Muthukrishna, M., Henrich, J. & Slingerland, E. (2021). Psychology as a Historical Science. Annual Review of Psychology, 72, 717-49. [Download] [Publisher] [Twitter]
  5. Muthukrishna, M., Francois, P., Pourahmadi, S., & Henrich, J. (2017). Corrupting Cooperation and How Anti-Corruption Strategies May Backfire. Nature Human Behaviour, 1(0138). [Download] [Summary Post] [Publisher]
  6. 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] [Summary Post] [Publisher] [Twitter]
  7. Muthukrishna, M. & Henrich, J. (2016). Innovation in the Collective Brain. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 371(1690).  [Telegraph] [Scientific American] [Video] [Evonomics] [LSE Business Review] [Summary Post] [Download] [Data] [Publisher]
  8. Schimmelpfennig, R., Razek, L., Schnell, E., & Muthukrishna, M. (2021). Paradox of Diversity in the Collective Brain. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. [Download] [Summary Post] [Publisher] [Twitter]
  9. Uchiyama, R., Spicer, R. & Muthukrishna, M. (2021). Cultural Evolution of Genetic Heritability. [Target article]. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1-147. [Download] [Summary Post] [Publisher] [Twitter]

The Evolution of Comity: Ultimate Constraints on the Scale of Cooperation at the Department of Economics, George Mason University

October 5, 2022

I was invited to speak at George Mason University‘s Economics Department. I presented “The Evolution of Comity: Ultimate Constraints on the Scale of Cooperation” at Duke University. The most relevant papers are:

  1. Muthukrishna, M., Henrich, J. & Slingerland, E. (2021). Psychology as a Historical Science. Annual Review of Psychology, 72, 717-49. [Download] [Publisher] [Twitter]
  2. Henrich, J. & Muthukrishna, M. (2021). The Origins and Psychology of Human Cooperation. Annual Review of Psychology, 72, 207-40. [Download] [Publisher] [Twitter]

The research is also related to my forthcoming book.

The Evolution of Comity: Ultimate Constraints on the Scale of Cooperation at the Department of Psychology, Duke University

I presented “The Evolution of Comity: Ultimate Constraints on the Scale of Cooperation” at Duke University. The most relevant papers are:

  1. Muthukrishna, M., Henrich, J. & Slingerland, E. (2021). Psychology as a Historical Science. Annual Review of Psychology, 72, 717-49. [Download] [Publisher] [Twitter]
  2. Henrich, J. & Muthukrishna, M. (2021). The Origins and Psychology of Human Cooperation. Annual Review of Psychology, 72, 207-40. [Download] [Publisher] [Twitter]

The research is also related to my forthcoming book and to a grant in collaboration with Brian Hare and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong.

Cultural Evolutionary Behavioral Science in Public Policy at Behavioural Insights Team, UK

I was invited by the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) to speak about cultural behavioral science and its applications in public policy. I explain how, by using cultural evolution as a theory of human behavior can help some of the challenges in behavioral science in terms of long term change and contextual factors that affect whether an intervention will work. This figure from a key paper presents the history of behavioral science that has led to cultural evolutionary behavioral science as an obvious next step.

The most relevant papers are:

  1. Muthukrishna, M. (2019). Cultural Evolutionary Public Policy. Nature Human Behaviour, 4, 12-13. [Download] [Publisher]
  2. Schimmelpfennig, R. & Muthukrishna, M.  (2023). Cultural Evolutionary Behavioural Science in Public Policy. Behavioural Public Policy. [Publisher] [Download] [Twitter] [LinkedIn]

Cultural Evolutionary Behavioral Science in Public Policy at Norms and Behavioral Change (NoBeC) Talks, Center for Social Norms and Behavioral Dynamics, University of Pennsylvania

April 21, 2022: Keynote speaker at Norms and Behavioral Change (NoBeC) Talks, Center for Social Norms and Behavioral Dynamics, .

I was invited to speak in the Norms and Behavioral Change (NoBeC) Talks at the University of Pennsylvania‘s Center for Social Norms and Behavioural Dynamics. I discussed some work on cultural evolutionary behavioral science and its applications in public policy (see also cultural evolutionary public policy).

My talk begins with an overview of the problem plaguing behavioral economics – the lack of a theoretical foundation that can guide policy interventions. I introduce cultural evolution as a possible solution to bridge the theoretical gap. By using cultural evolution as a theory of human behavior, improvements can be made in policy efficiency. For example, studying how social norms change and evolve over time will provide a foundation for implementing effective policy interventions in multicultural societies.  Some of this history is captured in this figure from the paper:

Considering the historical path dependence of norms provides crucial in understanding why certain populations hold certain beliefs, like vaccine hesitancy and a distrust in healthcare systems. Identifying how people acquire cultural norms, and narrowing down the ultimate causes for behavior (through cultural distance tools like world.culturalytics.com) could provide insights into designing interventions that work.

 

Understanding cultural evolution and behavioral science can help reanalyze the literature on public policy, providing insights into why some approaches are successful while others are not. I explain how studying universal cognitive capabilities will provide a deeper understanding of norm change, and thus, improve policy design.

My thanks to the Center for Social Norms and the University of Pennsylvania for inviting me and organising the event.

Innovation and the Paradox of Diversity in the Collective Brain at the Department of Cognitive and Information Sciences, University of California Merced

I was invited to speak at University of California Merced‘s Department of Cognitive and Information Sciences as part of the Mind, Technology, and Society Invited Speaker series.

I presented a recent paper on the Paradox of Diversity in the Collective Brain. The most relevant papers are:

  1. 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] [Summary Post] [Publisher] [Twitter]
  2. Muthukrishna, M. & Henrich, J. (2016). Innovation in the Collective Brain. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 371(1690).  [Telegraph] [Scientific American] [Video] [Evonomics] [LSE Business Review] [Summary Post] [Download] [Data] [Publisher]
  3. Schimmelpfennig, R., Razek, L., Schnell, E., & Muthukrishna, M. (2021). Paradox of Diversity in the Collective Brain. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. [Download] [Summary Post] [Publisher] [Twitter]