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Social Evolution: from Genes to Culture

  • Teacher(s): L.Lehmann
  • Course given in: English
  • ECTS Credits: 3 credits
  • Schedule: Spring Semester 2018-2019, 2.0h. course (weekly average)
  •  séances
  • site web du cours course website
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Objectives

What makes us such a unique species, able to cooperate in large-scale societies, organize social interactions, and dominate ecologically the Earth? The main goal of this course is to provide the foundations of social evolution, which consists of two main ingredients in humans: cooperation and cumulative cultural evolution. On one side, the course will thus focus on studying the main forces favoring and maintaining cooperation (mutually beneficial interactions, altruism) and conflict (cheating, malevolence, warfare) in group-structured populations. On the other side, we will study the forces behind cultural evolution, where behavior in interactions depends on genetic determinants, social learning, and individual learning (“gene-culture coevolution”). This will allow discussing the major steps in human social organization evolution, from primate autarky to division of labor in large-scale societies.

Contents

The course will be composed of five main parts and more focused on human behavior than the "Ecology and Evolution" class on which it builds:

(1) Cooperation and conflict in well-mixed populations. Here, we will study the evolution of cooperation (and cheating) in well-mixed population (no division into groups). We will study the standard one-shot social dilemmas illustrating the tension between self-interest and group-interest, like the prisoner’s dilemma and the stag-hunt game. We will then investigate various settings of repeated interactions, where reputation dynamics between individuals are crucial to sustain long-term relationships.

(2) Cooperation and conflict in group-structured population. Here, we will study the forces shaping cooperation when interactions occur in group-structured populations (the rule in humans), and where the localization of the social interactions generates in the same time novel incentives to cooperate and novel incentives for spiteful behavior. We will also consider conflicts between groups and study warfare in small-scale hunter-gather societies.

(3) Social learning and dual inheritance theory. Here, we will study the main modes of social learning (“cultural transmission”), which underlies cumulative cultural evolution that is the main determinant of the human lineage ecological success. We will also study gene-culture coevolution and how social learning impacts the dynamics of cooperation within groups.

(4) Individual learning and preferences. Here, we will discuss the main modes of individual learning that allow individuals to learn information about the relevant behavior to express on their own (e.g., trial-and error learning and related decision heuristics, maximizing behavior). We will investigate the conditions under which evolution may and may not lead individuals to become equipped with goal functions (“utility maximization behavior”).

(5) Major transition from small to large-scale societies. Here, we will discuss the main evolutionary steps that took the human lineage in a 6 million year long co-evolutionary gene-culture ride from self reliant primate social organizations (“autarky”) to large scale societies with extreme division of labor (“catallaxy”). This major transition involved a "zizag" path from dominance, to egalitarianism, to more inequality again.

Pre-requisites

Ecology and Evolution course

Evaluation

First attempt

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Examens organisés par l'Ecole de Biologie

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