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Tamas David-Barrett

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Tamas David-Barrett


Behavioural Scientist in the Social & Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group

  • Director, Inequality Regulating Institutions Project, Kiel Institute for the World Economy
  • Tutor in Economics, Trinity College, University of Oxford
The evolution of social network building traits in human

Research Summary

My research asks what traits allow humans to live in large and culturally complex societies.

This is a puzzle, because human societies are based on the same building blocks as primate societies: strong, costly, and long-lasting dyadic bonds between individuals. Yet in primate societies, the nature of these bonds acts as a constraint on group size and cultural complexity. Because relationships are costly, they can only maintain a limited number of them, which in turn, makes it tricky to coordinate collective action within large groups. How is it that humans, using the same building blocks, can overcome these problems to live in the huge, diverse and globalising environments of today's societies?

The answer to this question comes from constructing a mathematical model of how humans synchronise their behaviour in groups.

The model enables us to explore the evolution of agent-level sociality traits, for instance how many friends we have, whether we have a large enough brain to process so much social information, whether we use language, and how the individual's propensity to invoke supernatural explanations might facilitate the cohesion of even larger groups. All these traits occur at the level of the individual, but can fundamentally affect both the structure of societies and our capacity for collective action.

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Recent Publications