Plenary Speakers

Hanna Kokko

Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz | Website

Life history theory: sometimes intuitive, sometimes not

If lifespans are often cut short – in other words, if an organism lives in a hazardous environment, either for biotic or abiotic reasons – one might expect the optimal life history scheduling to change. Theoretical work seems to sometimes provide strong support for this idea and sometimes not, and theoreticians working on this end up talking a lot about population regulation and density dependence – which at first sight seem to be phenomena that are only distantly related to fast and slow life histories. In my talk I will attempt to clarify why this connection plays such a crucial role in deriving predictions.

Karline Janmaat

University of Amsterdam | Website

Understanding the roots and fruits of our primate brain: a way to a more sustainable future?

All our closest-living relatives live in tropical rainforests. They rely on forest foods, such as energy-rich ripe fruits that can have complex distributions in time and space. In this presentation, I present evidence of cognitive abilities that non-human primates use to find forest fruit and discuss how comparative studies within the primate order, including humans can inform us about the origins of foraging cognition. A prerequisite for such comparative studies is to know the extent of each species’ ability, which likely develops differently dependent on the environment. When deciding which food source to travel to, foragers can use a variety of mechanisms that help them to acquire, incorporate and act upon public and personal information – think of the sound of other foragers or the spatial information of a previously visited food tree. Such foraging decisions show similarities with the decisions we make in our current society. However, few of us still search for food on a daily basis. Because we doubted whether WEIRD people are the best population to inform us on the extent of human’s cognitive capacities we investigating the foraging cognition of contemporary hunter-gatherers, the BaYaka, in the Republic of Congo. I will discuss evidence of their exceptional orientation abilities, and present our latest findings on the development of their botanical knowledge. Forests are disappearing all over the world, which has large consequences for our climate, biodiversity, and human diet. With these forests, we also lose yet undiscovered knowledge of the evolutionary history and function of our cognition and resulting behaviours, making their conservation even more important. I will end my presentation with a brief outlook on the future and explain why I think that a better understanding of the roots and fruits of our primate brain could help us create a more sustainable future.

Piet van den Berg

KU Leuven | Website

The evo-devo of individual differences in social learning

The capacity for social learning is foundational to the explosion of technological and cultural advancement in human societies. Under these spectacular collective consequences lies quite some individual variation: experiments show that people consistently differ in the degree to which they rely on social learning, and also in which type of social information they attend to. These differences can impact the outcome of cultural evolution. For example, in a context of cooperation, groups of individuals that mostly focus on the success of others (how well does cooperation pay?) end up cooperating less than groups of individuals that are mostly concerned with frequency-information (how many of my fellow group members chose the cooperative option?). Despite this evidence for individual variation in social learning, it is unclear why such differences should exist. We provide a potential explanation for this with an evolutionary simulation model. In a nutshell, our model shows that individual differences in reliance on social learning can emerge if it is unpredictable how useful social learning might be. This unpredictability can stem from several demographic factors that cause variation in how many suitable models are available to learn from. Our model shows that some conditions select for developmental flexibility in social learning, where individuals change the degree to which they rely on social learning depending on experience. This leads to consistent individual differences in social learning, where developmental flexibility causes some individuals to end up relying heavily on social learning, while others hardly rely on social learning at all.

Wouter Wolf

Utrecht University | Website

A shared intentionality account of human social bonding

Many mechanisms of social bonding are common to all primates, but humans seemingly have developed some that are unique to the species. These involve various kinds of interactive experiences – from taking a walk together to having a conversation – whose common feature is the triadic sharing of experience. In a series of studies with adults, children and great apes, we show that sharing experiences through joint attention facilitates social bonding in both species, but that humans seem to do so in a special way, through common ground. These results fit into a larger picture of a shared intentionality account of human social cognition, proposing that humans evolved sophisticated social cognitive abilities in order to survive through cooperation. These same social cognitive abilities seem to have shaped the way in which we connect with others, explaining why humans engage in such unique social bonding activities, and why certain modern forms of social interaction (e.g., virtual lectures) might be less effective for social bonding purposes.