Research

 

In collaboration with psychologists, neuroscientists, behavioural economists, anthropologists, and other social scientists around the world, AnthroLab applies the tools of psychological science—experimental methodologies, psychometrics, longitudinal surveys, cross-cultural surveys, and psychophysiological measures—to answer fundamental questions about human beings. Why are we religious? What is morality? Are collective rituals psychologically or socially beneficial? How are tight social bonds formed in large groups? Our research interests may be grouped under three overlapping themes.

 

Religion and morality

Religion— minimally, the belief in supernatural agents—is cross-culturally and historically ubiquitous, though there is variation in how the supernatural is conceptualised. Similarly, while what is deemed to be good or bad varies cross-culturally, many moral rules are much the same all around the world. Researchers at AnthroLab are investigating the cultural, cognitive, and evolutionary processes that shape how humans reason about gods and what is good, and exploring the ways in which religion and morality co-evolved. 

From January 2017, our work on this topic has been supported by the Templeton World Charity Foundation, as part of a project entitled Cognitive and Cultural Foundations of Religion and Morality. Our research activities include a large multinational survey, as well as field experiments based in nonWestern and nonAbrahamic contexts. Do contact us for collaborative opportunities. 

 

Collective rituals

Rituals are, behaviours that have become fixed by convention so as to form part of a socially learned cultural tradition. From shaking hands to hazing, from the Mexican wave to firewalking, from Roman Catholic mass to Shinto misogi, human social life is replete with collective rituals that come in diverse forms.  Here at AnthroLab, we seek to understand why human beings participate in rituals, and why certain features of rituals—behavioural synchrony, causal opacity, emotional intensity, pain—recur across cultures. Is there some evolutionary function to our readiness to learn and transmit behavioural conventions?

From October 2016, our work on this topic has been supported by the European Research Council, as part of a project entitled Ritual Modes: Divergent Modes of Ritual, Social Cohesion, Prosociality, and Conflict. Do contact us for collaborative opportunities. 

 

Social bonding

Human beings form social bonds, not only with close family, but much more broadly, even with strangers. We form relational ties with people around us, and also categorical ties with people whom we might never meet but who are nevertheless members of our ingroups. At AnthroLab, we investigate the causes and consequences of these two main types of social bonding. We are particularly interested in identity fusion, which is a kind of social bondingcharacterised by a visceral feeling of oneness with the group, such that the borders between one’s personal and social selves are porous.

 

 

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