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Matthew M. Gervais

Postdoctoral Associate

Department of Anthropology

Rutgers University

Egalitarian motives in a stratified society: Evidence from RICH economic games in Fiji

September 15th, 2014

Seminar Abstract

Experimental economic games have shed significant light on variation in human social behavior. However, most of these games involve anonymous recipients, limiting their generalizability beyond fleeting interactions. Enduring, networked relationships were the cradle of human uniqueness and remain essential to human adaptation across societies. Mapping the mechanisms that structure human social relationships will require methods that have the virtues of economic games – including incentivized behavior, and replicability and comparability across sites – but which integrate recipient identities and allow for the study of Recipient Identity-Conditioned Heuristics (RICHs) such as reciprocity, kinship norms, and need-based helping. This paper describes three RICH economic games that integrate recipient identities and reports their validation in a study of male social relationships in a fishing-horticultural village in Fiji, characterized by both hierarchy and communalism. The three games, an Allocation Game, a Taking Game, and a Costly Reduction Game, involve monetary decisions made across a photo array of other villagers. Levels of both altruism and spite in these games are higher than those found using anonymous games in neighboring villages. Recipient need is the major driver of giving and refraining from taking, while the wealthiest villagers are the mostly likely to be reduced at a cost. Such need-based giving and leveling are hallmarks of human egalitarianism, evident here even in a stratified society. These methods hold promise for mapping population variation in the norms and sentiments supporting cooperation within human communities, significantly advancing the toolkit of the evolutionary behavioral sciences.

On the deep structure of affect: Emotions, sentiments, and the case of “contempt”

Lunch Talk Abstract

1pm to 2pm

Science 3 room 214.

In this talk I will develop an adaptationist model of basic affect systems that can account for population variation in folk affect concepts, thereby bridging Universalist and Constructionist approaches to affect. Specifically, I will use an analysis of the perplexing folk affect concept “contempt” to resurrect and refine a forgotten construct in social psychology, the sentiment. “Sentiment” once vied with “attitude” to be the “foundation of all social psychology” (Allport 1935; McDougall, 1933), but fell from favor for various reasons; a modern remodeling of the construct could constitute a major stride in the affective sciences. Sentiments are the deep structure of social affect – each is a functional network of basic affect systems that includes diverse fleeting emotions moderated by an enduring evaluative representation, or attitude. Candidate sentiments include Love, Hate, Respect, Fear, Liking, and Contempt; each tracks costs and/or benefits within a relationship and implements adaptive emotions across relational situations, thereby serving both bookkeeping and commitment functions. Folk affect concepts conflate the causally- and temporally-linked components of these underlying affect networks, which themselves vary in their deployment across individuals and populations. This predicts variation in folk affect concepts patterned by the costs and benefits of social relationships and the experienced distribution of social-relational adaptive problems. This model can resolve the “special case” of contempt and illuminate other prominent cases of cultural and historical variation in affect concepts, while foregrounding the universal social-relational functions that many emotions, and sentiments, serve.


Matthew M. Gervais is a Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of Anthropology at Rutgers University, with a visiting appointment at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University. For the past year he was a Junior Research Fellow at the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind at UC Santa Barbara. Matt received his PhD in Anthropology from UCLA in 2013, after graduating from Binghamton University in 2006 with degrees in Psychobiology, Philosophy and Anthropology, along with an inaugural EvoS certificate. Matt’s research bridges anthropology and psychology, focusing on the evolution of human social relationships and their proximate bases. His primary research occurs in villages in Yasawa, Fiji, where he was studied the social-relational functions of affect and the relational contexts of sharing and punishment. He also conducts research in the US on subclinical psychopathy as a model of strategic social behavior.


Reading will be posted to the EvoS blackboard group. Anyone with a Binghamton University email address can request to be added to the blackboard group by emailing EvoS[at]binghamton[dot]edu.


Video will be posted following the talk. There will be no video for the lunch talk.

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