Computational behavior theory and cultural evolution

Video: Laura Fortunato, The Evolution of Marriage and Kinship Systems

Part of the Cultural Evolution Seminar Series at Brooklyn College

Download video (500MB)

Abstract: Kinship and marriage systems represent the ways in which humans organize relatedness and reproduction. The work presented in this talk extends the philosophical, theoretical, and methodological foundations of evolutionary biology to the study of these aspects of human social behavior. Specifically, I use game theory to show that the evolution of monogamous marriage can be understood based on inclusive fitness theory. Results show that where resources are transferred across generations, monogamous marriage can be advantageous if partitioning of resources among the offspring of multiple wives causes a depletion of their fitness value, and/or if females grant husbands higher fidelity in exchange for exclusive investment of resources in their offspring. I evaluate the results of the model using evidence about the history and cross-cultural distribution of marriage and inheritance strategies. This suggests that monogamous marriage may have emerged in Eurasia following the adoption of intensive agriculture, as ownership of land became critical to productive and reproductive success.

Laura Fortunato is Omidyar Fellow at the Santa Fe Institute. Her research investigates theevolution of human social organization, focusing on the social norms regulating kinship and marriage. This involves understanding (i) why societies differ withrespect to these norms – for example, why some prescribe monogamous marriage, while the majority allow polygyny; and (ii) how this variation came about – forexample, whether the prevalence of monogamous marriage among European societies is simply an artefact of history, or whether itreflects ecological and/or social determinants.

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