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  1. William M. Baum & Peter J. Richerson, Cultural Evolution in Laboratory Microsocieties Including Traditions of Rule Giving and Rule Following.
    Experiments may contribute to understanding the basic processes of cultural evolution. We drew features from previous laboratory research with small groups in which traditions arose during several generations. Groups of four participants chose by consensus between solving anagrams printed on red cards and on blue cards. Payoffs for the choices differed. After 12 min, the participant who had been in the experiment the longest was removed and replaced with a naı¨ve person. These replacements, each of which marked the end of (...)
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  2. Robert Boyd, Monique Bogerhoff-Mulder & Peter J. Richerson, Are Cultural Phylogenies Possible?
    Biology and the social sciences share an interest in phylogeny. Biologists know that living species are descended from past species, and use the pattern of similarities among living species to reconstruct the history of phylogenetic branching. Social scientists know that the beliefs, values, practices, and artifacts that characterize contemporary societies are descended from past societies, and some social science disciplines, linguistics and cross cultural anthropology for example, have made use of observed similarities to reconstruct cultural histories. Darwin appreciated that his (...)
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  3. Robert Boyd, Gerd Gigerenzer, Peter J. Richerson, Arthur Robson, Jeffrey R. Stevens & Peter Hammerstein, Individual Decision Making and the Evolutionary Roots of Institutions.
    Humans hunt and kill many different species of animals, but whales are our biggest prey. In the North Atlantic, a male long-fi nned pilot whale (Globiceph- ala melaena), a large relative of the dolphins, can grow as large as 6.5 meters and weigh as much as 2.5 tons. As whales go, these are not particularly large, but there are more than 750,000 pilot whales in the North Atlantic, traveling in groups, “pods,” that range from just a few individuals to a (...)
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  4. Robert Boyd & Peter Richerson, Style, Function, and Cultural Evolutionary Processes.
    Version 4.4 October, 1994 Introduction When explaining human behavior, anthropologists frequently distinguish the things that people do of their own free will from the things they do because they have to. In much of anthropology, and most American archaeology, this is the difference between style and function. Functional behaviors are the things people are constrained to do; stylistic behaviors are the things people do when unconstrained. Where necessity stops and free choice begins is, of course, a classic problem of social (...)
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  5. Robert Boyd & Peter J. Richerson, Culture and the Evolution of Human Cooperation.
    Receive free email alerts when new articles cite this article - sign up in the box at the top here right-hand corner of the article or click..
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  6. Robert Boyd & Peter J. Richerson, Group Beneficial Norms Can Spread Rapidly in a Structured Population.
    Group beneficial norms are common in human societies. The persistence of such norms is consistent with evolutionary game theory, but existing models do not provide a plausible explanation for why they are common. We show that when a model of imitation used to derive replicator dynamics in isolated populations is generalized to allow for population structure, group beneficial norms can spread rapidly under plausible conditions. We also show that this mechanism allows recombination of different group beneficial norms arising in..
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  7. Robert Boyd & Peter J. Richerson, Norms and Bounded Rationality.
    Anthropologists believe that human behavior is governed by culturally transmitted norms, and that such norms contain accumulated wisdom that allows people to behave sensibly even though they do not understand why they do what they do. Economists and other rational choice theorists have been skeptical about functionalist claims because anthropologists have not provided any plausible mechanism which could explain why norms have this property. Here, we outline two such mechanisms. We show that occasional learning when coupled with cultural transmission and (...)
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  8. Robert Boyd & Peter J. Richerson, Rapid Cultural Adaptation Can Facilitate the Evolution of Large-Scale Cooperation.
    Over the past several decades, we have argued that cultural evolution can facilitate the evolution of largescale 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 several papers questioning this argument. They analyze models showing that cultural evolution can actually reduce the range of conditions under which cooperation can evolve and interpret these models as indicating that we (...)
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  9. Robert Boyd & Peter J. Richerson, Shared Norms Can Lead to the Evolution of Ethnic Markers.
    Most human populations are subdivided into ethnic groups which have self-ascribed membership and are marked by seemingly arbitrary traits such as distinctive styles of dress or speech. Existing explanations of ethnicity do not adequately explain the origin and maintenance of group marking. Here we develop a mathematical model which shows that groups distinguished by both differences in social norms and in arbitrary markers can emerge and remain stable despite significant mixing between them, if (1) people preferentially interact in mutually beneficial (...)
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  10. Robert Boyd & Peter J. Richerson, Transmission Coupling Mechanisms: Cultural Group Selection.
    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 ideas about cultural group selection relevant to cultural phylogenetics. We discuss why group selection among multiple equilibria is not subject to the usual criticisms directed at group selection, (...)
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  11. Robert Boyd & Peter J. Richerson, The Evolution of Indirect Reciprocity.
    Human societies are based on cooperation among large numbers of genetically unrelated individuals. This behavior is puzzling from an evolutionary perspective. Because cooperators are..
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  12. Robert Boyd & Peter J. Richerson, Why Does Culture Increase Human Adaptability?
    It is often argued that culture is adaptive because it allows people to acquire useful information without costly learning. In a recent paper Rogers (1989) analyzed a simple mathematical model that showed that this argument is wrong. Here we show that Rogers' result is robust. As long as the only benefit of social learning is that imitators avoid learning costs, social learning does not increase average fitness. However, we also show that social learning can be adaptive if it (...)
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  13. Peter Richerson, Tribal S Ocial Instin Cts a Nd the Cultural Evolution O F Institutions to Solv E Col Lecti Ve Action Problems.
    Human social life is uniquely complex and diverse. Much of that complexity consists of culturally transmitted ideas and skills that underpin the operation of institutions that structure our social life. Considerable theoretical and empirical work has been devoted to the role of cultural evolutionary processes in the evolution of institutions. The most persistent controversy has been over the role of cultural group selection and gene-culture coevolution in early human populations the Pleistocene. We argue that cultural group selection and related cultural (...)
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  14. Peter J. Richerson, Beyond Existence and Aiming Outside the Laboratory: Estimating Frequency-Dependent and Payoff-Biased Social Learning Strategies.
    The existence of social learning has been confirmed in diverse taxa, from apes to guppies. In order to advance our understanding of the consequences of social transmission and evolution of behavior, however, we require statistical tools that can distinguish among diverse social learning strategies. In this paper, we advance two main ideas. First, social learning is diverse, in the sense that individuals can take advantage of different kinds of information and combine them in different ways. Examining learning strategies for different (...)
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  15. Peter J. Richerson, Cultural Innovations and Demographic Change.
    Demography plays a large role in cultural evolution through its effects on the effective rate of innovation. If we assume that useful inventions are rare, then small isolated societies will have low rates of invention. In small populations, complex technology will tend to be lost as a result of random loss or incomplete transmission (the Tasmanian effect). Large populations have more inventors and are more resistant to loss by chance. If human populations can grow freely, then a population-technology-population positive feedback (...)
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  16. Peter J. Richerson, Is Religion Adaptive? Yes, No, Neutral, but Mostly We Don't Know.
    The question of whether religion is adaptive or not is debated with much vigor and passion, but the question as usually posed is much too simplistic to be answerable. Religions are extremely diverse. What is true of one often will not apply to another. Given religions are complex systems of beliefs, emotions, rituals, moral injunctions, and social institutions and organizations. Some parts may be adaptive and others maladaptive. We know that cultural evolutionary processes can, in theory, lead to adaptations, maladaptations, (...)
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  17. Peter J. Richerson, Rethinking Paleoanthropology.
    Ongoing advances in paleoclimatology and paleoecology are producing an ever more detailed picture of the environments in which our species evolved. This picture is important to understanding the processes by which our large brain evolved. Our large brain and its productions—toolmaking, complex social institutions, language, art, religion—are our most striking differences from our closest living relatives. Indeed, humans are unique in the animal world for our brain size relative to body mass and in the elaboration of our cultures. We are (...)
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  18. Peter J. Richerson, Why Do People Become Modern? A Darwinian Explanation.
    MOST MODERN PEOPLE think it is obvious why people become modern. For them, a more interesting and important puzzle is why some people fail to embrace modern ideas. Why do people in traditional societies often seem unable or unwilling to aspire to a better life for themselves and their children? Why do they fail to see the benefi ts of education, equal rights, democracy, and a rational approach to decisionmaking? What is the glue that makes them adhere to superstition, religion, (...)
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  19. Peter J. Richerson & Robert Boyd, Culture is Part of Human Biology.
    Rates of violence in the American South have long been much greater than in the North. Accounts of duels, feuds, bushwhackings, and lynchings occur prominently in visitors’ accounts, newspaper articles, and autobiography from the 18th Century onward. According to crime statistics these differences persist today. In their book, Culture of Honor, Richard Nisbett and Dov Cohen (1996) argue that the South is more violent than the North because Southerners have different, culturally acquired beliefs about personal honor than Northerners. The South (...)
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  20. Peter J. Richerson & Robert Boyd, Complex Societies: The Evolutionary Origins of a Crude Superorganism.
    The complexity of human societies of the past few thousand years rivals that of social insect societies. We hypothesize that two sets of social “instincts” underpin and constrain the evolution of complex societies. One set is ancient and shared with other social primate species, and one is derived and unique to our lineage. The latter evolved by the late Pleistocene, and led to the evolution of institutions of intermediate complexity in acephalous societies. The institutions of complex societies often conflict with (...)
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  21. Peter J. Richerson & Robert Boyd, Evolution on a Restless Planet: Were Environmental Variability and Environmental Change Major Drivers of Human Evolution?
    Two kinds of factors set the tempo and direction of organic and cultural evolution, those external to biotic evolutionary process, such as changes in the earth’s physical and chemical environments, and those internal to it, such as the time required for chance factors to lead lineages across adaptive valleys to a new niche space (Valentine 1985). The relative importance of these two sorts of processes is widely debated. Valentine (1973) argued that marine invertebrate diversity patterns responded to seafloor spreading as (...)
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  22. Peter J. Richerson & Robert Boyd, The Evolution of Free Enterprise Values.
    Free enterprise economic systems evolved in the modern period as culturally transmitted values related to honesty, hard work, and education achievement emerged. One evolutionary puzzle is why most economies for the past 5,000 years have had a limited role for free enterprise given the spectacular success of modern free economies. Another is why if humans became biologically modern 50,000 years ago did it take until 11,000 years ago for agriculture, the economic foundation of states, to begin. Why didn’t free enterprise (...)
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  23. Peter J. Richerson & Lore Ruttan, Ethnic Interactions: Analysis of a Sample of Boundaries.
    In this paper, we analyze a sample of 46 ethnic boundaries drawn from the literature. The principal aim is to test whether there is a universal syndrome of ethnocentrism, the idea that ethnic relations can be characterized along a single dimension of differences, or, whether there are instead multiple types of ethnic relations. The latter hypothesis is based on a cultural evolutionary perspective that suggests that there may be competing forces leading to the evolution of ethnic markers, and hence to (...)
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  24. Peter Richerson & Robert Boyd, Constraints on the Development of Agriculture.
    Evolutionary scholars advance two major sorts of hypotheses to explain big events, such as the origin of agriculture. One hypothesis assumes that natural selection is so powerful that organisms are always close to an evolutionary equilibrium with current environment. Thus, any major changes will be a result of external processes having to do with the environment. The other camp imagines that evolution is a slow, halting, and biased process that is limited and directed by internal obstacles that thwart what natural (...)
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  25. Robert Boyd & Peter J. Richerson, Gene–Culture Coevolution and the Evolution of Social Institutions.
    Social institutions are the laws, informal rules, and conventions that give durable structure to social interactions within a population. Such institutions are typically not designed consciously, are heritable at the population level, are frequently but not always group benefi cial, and are often symbolically marked. Conceptualizing social institutions as one of multiple possible stable cultural equilibrium allows a straightforward explanation of their properties. The evolution of institutions is partly driven by both the deliberate and intuitive decisions of individuals and collectivities. (...)
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  26. Robert Boyd & Peter J. Richerson, Payoff Biased Migration and the Evolution of Group Beneficial Behavior.
    Human migration is nonrandom. In small scale societies of the past, and in the modern world, people tend to move to wealthier, safer, and more just societies from poorer, more violent, less just societies. If immigrants are assimilated, such nonrandom migration can increase the occurrence of culturally transmitted beliefs, values, and institutions that cause societies to be attractive to immigrants. Here we describe and analyze a simple model of this process. This model suggests that long run outcomes depend on the (...)
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  27. Peter Richerson, An Evolutionary Theory of Commons Management.
    Our aim in this chapter is to draw lessons from current theory on the evolution of human cooperation for the management of contemporary commons. Evolutionary theorists have long been interested in cooperation but social scientists have documented patterns of cooperation in humans that present unusual problems for conventional evolutionary theory (and for rational choice explanations as well). Humans often cooperate with nonrelatives and are prone to cooperate in one-shot games. Cooperation is quite dependent on social institutions. We believe that this (...)
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  28. Peter Richerson, Built for Speed: Pleistocene Climate Variation and the Origin of Human Culture.
    Recently, several authors have argued that the Pleistocene climatic fluctuations are responsible for the evolution of human anatomy and cognition. This hypothesis contrasts with the common idea that human language, tools, and culture represent a revolutionary breakthrough rather than a conventional adaptation to a particular ecological niche. Neither hypothesis is satisfactory. The “Pleistocene hypothesis”, as proposed, does not explain how Pleistocene fluctuations favor the particular adaptations that characterize humans. The alternative hypothesis does not explain what has prevented many animal lineages (...)
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  29. Peter Richerson, Culture and the Evolution of the Human Social Instincts.
    Human societies are extraordinarily cooperative compared to those of most other animals. In the vast majority of species, individuals live solitary lives, meeting to only to mate and, sometimes, raise their young. In social species, cooperation is limited to relatives and (maybe) small groups of reciprocators. After a brief period of maternal support, individuals acquire virtually all of the food that they eat. There is little division of labor, no trade, and no large scale conflict. Communication is limited to a (...)
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  30. Peter Richerson, Cultural Evolution and the Shaping of Cultural Diversity.
    This chapter focuses on the way that cultures change and how cultural diversity is created, maintained and lost. Human culture is the inevitable result of the way our species acquires its behavior. We are extremely social animals and an overwhelming proportion of our behavior is socially learned. The behavior of other animals is largely a product of innate evolved determinants of behavior combined with individual learning. They make quite modest use of social learning while we acquire a massive cultural repertoire (...)
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  31. Peter Richerson, Cultural Evolution of Human Cooperation.
    Evolutionary theory relevant to the question of human cooperation is reviewed and compared to other theoretical perspectives. A compound explanation is distilled as a plausible account of human cooperation and selfishness. This account leans heavily on group selection on cultural variation but also includes lower-level forces driven by both micro-scale cooperation and purely selfish motives. It is proposed that innate aspects of human social psychology coevolved with group-selected cultural institutions to produce just the kinds of social and moral faculties originally (...)
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  32. Peter Richerson, Cultural Evolutionary Theory: A Synthetic Theory for Fragmented Disciplines.
    Cultural evolutionary theory, like other evolutionary theories, links individual-level and population or society-level phenomena. It provides numerous bridges between social psychology and other disciplines and sub-disciplines. The theory uses mathematical models to understand the population-level consequences of the individual-level processes of individual and social learning. The theory has been used to explain group-level behavior such as cooperation, altruism, and the cross-cultural variation associated with social institutions. The empirical study of social psychological assumptions of such models and experimental tests of cultural-evolutionary (...)
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  33. Peter Richerson, Cultural Selection and Genetic Diversity in Humans.
    Recent research into human origins has largely focused on deducing past events and processes from current patterns of genetic variation. Some human genes possess unexpectedly low diversity, seemingly resulting from events of the late Pleistocene. Such anomalies have previously been ascribed to population bottlenecks or selection on genes. For four species of matrilineal whale, evidence suggests that cultural evolution may have reduced the diversity of genes which have similar transmission characteristics to selective cultural traits, through a process called cultural hitchhiking. (...)
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  34. Peter Richerson, Evolution: The Darwinian Theory of Social Change, an Homage to Donald T. Campbell.
    One of the earliest and most influential papers applying Darwinian theory to human cultural evolution was Donald T. Campbell’s paper “Variation and Selective Retention in Sociocultural Systems.” Campbell’s programmatic essay appeared as a chapter in a book entitled Social Change in Developing Areas (Barringer et al., 1965). It sketched a very ambitious project to apply Darwinian principles to the study of the evolution of human behavior. His essential theses were four.
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  35. Peter Richerson, Group Beneficial Norms Can Spread Rapidly in a Structured Population.
    Group beneficial norms are common in human societies. The persistence of such norms is consistent with evolutionary game theory, but existing models do not provide a plausible explanation for why they are common. We show that when a model of imitation used to derive replicator dynamics in isolated populations is generalized to allow for population structure, group beneficial norms can spread rapidly under plausible conditions. We also show that this mechanism allows recombination of different group beneficial norms arising in different (...)
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  36. Peter Richerson, Group Size and Sincere Communication in Experimental Social Dilemmas.
    This paper makes two contributions to the research on cooperation in experimental social dilemmas. First, we demonstrate an interaction between group size and communication in which the effectiveness of communication in promoting cooperation declines as group size increases. Second, we corroborate some previous research showing the positive effect of communication is due to sincere signaling of cooperative intentions. The experimental data comes from 289 undergraduate student subjects playing public goods games over a computer network. These findings suggest that large group (...)
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  37. Peter Richerson, Homage to Malthus, Ricardo, and Boserup: Toward a General Theory of Population, Economic Growth, Environmental Deterioration, Wealth, and Poverty.
    The debates over the future of human population and the earth’s environment, and similar large issues, usually take place without reference to explicit models. Debate would be clarified if such models were employed. We propose that the logistic equation and its extensions like the generalized logistic and the Lotka-Volterra equations, so familiar to ecologists, can easily be modified to model the important "macro" questions that motivated the three thinkers of our title. The long term rate of population growth must normally (...)
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  38. Peter Richerson, Institutional Evolution in the Holocene: The Rise of Complex Societies.
    Summary: The evolution of complex societies began when agricultural subsistence systems raised human population densities to levels that would support large scale cooperation, and division of labor. All agricultural origins sequences postdate 11,500 years ago probably because late Pleistocene climates we extremely variable, dry, and the atmosphere was low in carbon dioxide. Under such conditions, agriculture was likely impossible. However, the tribal scale societies of the Pleistocene did acquire, by geneculture coevolution, tribal social instincts that simultaneously enable and constrain the (...)
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  39. Peter Richerson, Is Religion Adaptive?
    We argue that the question “Is Religion Adaptive?” has no simple answer. We will use evolutionary theory as a tool to outline a theory of adaptation and maladaptations as regards religion. Evolutionary theory gives us access to concepts and theoretical and empirical tools that have been very successful in explaining biological diversity. Of course the tools of evolutionary biology have been mostly developed through the study of non-human living organisms with the assumption that it is genes that are evolving. The (...)
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  40. Peter Richerson, Large Scale Human Cooperation and Conflict.
    Suppose you stroll to the corner restaurant for breakfast: eggs, bacon, and a glass of orange juice. A simple activity? No. Mind-numbing complexity is more like it. A farmer in Virginia produced your egg, another in Florida your orange juice, and yet another in the Midwest your bacon. Different truckers brought each of these to a supermarket. The restaurateur then bought them there and had them prepared for you. Seven people are involved in your ‘simple’ activity? Well, no. This is (...)
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  41. Peter Richerson, Memes: Universal Acid or a Better Mouse Trap?
    Among the many vivid metaphors in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, one stands out. The understanding of how cumulative natural selection gives rise to adaptations is, Dennett says, like a “universal acid”—an idea so powerful and corrosive of conventional wisdom that it dissolves all attempts to contain it within biology. Like most good ideas, this one is very simple: Once replicators (material objects that are faithfully copied) come to exist, some will replicate more rapidly than others, leading to adaptation by natural selection. (...)
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  42. Peter Richerson, Shared Norms Can Lead to the Evolution of Ethnic Markers.
    Most human populations are subdivided into ethnic groups which have self-ascribed membership and are marked by seemingly arbitrary traits such as distinctive styles of dress or speech. Existing explanations of ethnicity do not adequately explain the origin and maintenance of group marking. Here we develop a mathematical model which shows that groups distinguished by both differences in social norms and in arbitrary markers can emerge and remain stable despite significant mixing between them, if (1) people preferentially interact in mutually beneficial (...)
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  43. Peter Richerson, Solving the Puzzle of Human Cooperation.
    Is society an organic whole with each of its many components working together like the organs in a body? Like organisms, societies are composed of many parts which seem to work together enhance their survival. Different people fulfill different, necessary role—subsistence, reproduction, coordination, and defense. Regular exchange of matter and energy guarantees that each component has the resources it needs. Norms, laws and customs regulate virtually every aspect of social interaction, who may marry who, how disputes are resolved, and how (...)
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  44. Peter Richerson, The Evolution of Altruistic Punishment.
    Robert Boyd*†, Herbert Gintis‡, Samuel Bowles§, and Peter J. Richerson¶.
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  45. Peter Richerson, The Evolution of Subjective Commitment to Groups: A Tribal Instincts Hypothesis.
    Version 3.0 12/02/00. Submitted to R.M. Nesse (ed.) The Evolution of Subjective Commitment, Russell Sage Foundation. Please do not cite without author’s permission.  by Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd. Comments welcome! Word count 14,487.
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  46. Peter Richerson, The Evolution of Human Ultra-Sociality.
    E.O. Wilson (1975) described humans as one of the four pinnacles of social evolution. The other pinnacles are the colonial invertebrates, the social insects, and the non-human mammals. Wilson separated human sociality from that of the rest of the mammals because, with the exception of the social insect like Naked Mole Rats, only humans have generated societies of a grade of complexity that approaches that of the social insects and colonial invertebrates. In the last few millennia, human societies have even (...)
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  47. Peter Richerson, Why Culture is Common, but Cultural Evolution is Rare.
    If culture is defined as variation acquired and maintained by social learning, then culture is common in nature. However, cumulative cultural evolution resulting in behaviors that no individual could invent on their own is limited to humans, song birds, and perhaps chimpanzees. Circumstantial evidence suggests that cumulative cultural evolution requires the capacity for observational learning. Here, we analyze two models the evolution of psychological capacities that allow cumulative cultural evolution. Both models suggest that the conditions which allow the evolution of (...)
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  48. Peter J. Richerson & Robert Boyd, Migration: An Engine for Social Improvement the Movement of People Into Societies That Offer a Better Way of Life is a More Powerful Driver of Cultural Change Than Conflict and Conquest.
    As cultural evolutionists interested in how culture changes over the long term, we've thought and written a lot about migration, but only recently tumbled to an obvious idea: migration has a profound effect on how societies evolve culturally because it is selective. People move to societies that provide a more attractive way of life, and all other things being equal, this process spreads ideas and institutions that lead to economic efficiency, social order and equality.
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  49. Peter J. Richerson & Robert Boyd, Why Possibly Language Evolved.
    Human syntactic language has no close parallels in other systems of animal communication. Yet it seems to be an important part of the cultural adaptation that serves to make humans the earth’s dominant organism. Why is language restricted to humans given that communication seems to be so useful? We argue that language is part of human cooperation. We talk because others can normally trust what we say to be useful to them, not just to us. Models of gene-culture coevolution give (...)
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  50. Peter J. Richerson & Christian Cordes, How Does Opportunistic Behavior Influence Firm Size? An Evolutionary Approach to Organizational Behavior.
    This paper relates firm size and opportunism by showing that, given certain behavioral dispositions of humans, the size of a profit-maximizing firm can be determined by cognitive aspects underlying firminternal cultural transmission processes. We argue that what firms do better than markets – besides economizing on transaction costs – is to establish a cooperative regime among its employees that keeps in check opportunism. A model depicts the outstanding role of the entrepreneur or business leader in firminternal socialization processes and the (...)
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