Bernard Chapais

Bernard Chapais, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Montréal, will deliver the keynote lecturer, and will be introduced by Sarah Hrdy, Professor Emerita of Anthropology at the University of California, Davis. Talk title and abstract below.

Phylogeny and the evolutionary analysis of human behavior 

Human behavioral ecology, evolutionary psychology, and dual inheritance theory have been described as “three styles in the evolutionary analysis of behavior” (Smith 2000). Here I focus on the contribution of a fourth “style,” the comparative method, or phylogenetic approach (PA), by emphasizing its significance for, and complementary with functional approaches. Traditionally, PA has been used to identify homologous and homoplasious similarities and has focused accordingly on traits that humans share with other primates. Interestingly, however, PA is also informative about the origins of complex social traits that other primates do not exhibit – e.g., patrilineal kinship structures, affinal kinship, and marital arrangements – and therefore it sheds light on a much greater portion of human social evolution.  Many such traits appear to have emerged from the combination of more elementary building blocks that may or may not be present in other primates. Better knowledge of phylogeny in turn contributes to three issues regarding the evolutionary analysis of behavior. First, because it draws attention to the prior social state out of which a trait originated, PA helps identify the trait’s relevant functional consequences and may generate new hypotheses about its adaptive function. Second, PA may help clarify the biological underpinnings of human behavior. It suggests, for example, that many behavioral propensities might have a composite biological foundation and an emergent character, rather than reflect specific evolved mechanisms. Third, PA leads to the idea of an interface linking evolved psychological mechanisms and cultural variation through the intermediary of sociocultural categories, categories that have a composite biological foundation, but are socioecologically modulated and exhibit a highly polymorphic cultural content. ‘Universals’ are seen as a specific subset of such categories.