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Sociology colloquium: Franjo Weissing (University of Groningen)

Wanneer:do 20-02-2014 11:15 - 12:30
Waar:Bloemstraat 36, room BL.0056

February 20, 2014, 11:15-12:30 Franz J. Weissing (University of Groningen): Causes and Consequences of Individual Differences in Behaviour

An Evolutionary Perspective In psychology, it has long been realized that individuals of the same sex, age and social background differ consistently in their temperament, motivation, cognition and behaviour. Recently, the study of such consistent differences has become a hot topic in studies of animal behaviour. In fact, "animal personalities" have been described in more than 500 species by now, ranging from spiders to bumblebees, from octopuses to sticklebacks, and from mice to monkeys. In the animal sciences, individual differences are approached quite differently than in the human behavioural sciences. The emphasis is not on psychological mechanisms but rather on the evolutionary causes and consequences. As to the causes, the questions addressed are: Why does behaviour vary; shouldn't we expect a unique fitness maximum? And why are differences stable in time and consistent across contexts; shouldn't we expect a more flexible organization of behaviour?

Regarding the consequences, the most important question is: Do individual differences really matter; do they change the course and outcome of evolution? In his talk, he will argue that these questions are also relevant for the human behavioural sciences. He will review the main explanations for the evolutionary emergence and persistence of individual differences, and he will demonstrate that such differences matter a lot for social evolution (e.g. the evolution of cooperation), communication, and gene-culture co-evolution. In addition to presenting theoretical arguments based on modelling studies, he will also report on own experiments with humans that were set up to shed light on the mechanisms underlying cultural evolution. These experiments reveal that humans differ consistently in their social learning strategies and that these differences are relevant for the functioning of groups, for example in the context of cooperation.

Franjo Weissing is Professor of Theoretical Biology at the University of Groningen. He received his PhD in Mathematics from the University of Bielefeld (Germany) in 1990 on a topic related to evolutionary game theory. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he closely collaborated with political scientists (e.g. Elinor Ostrom) and economists (e.g. Reinhard Selten) in the interdisciplinary research programme "Game Theory in the Behavioural Sciences". Afterwards, he mainly developed evolutionary models in biology. Topics addressed include sexual conflict, sexual selection, sex determination, evolution of cooperation, evolution of communication, social dominance, self-organized division of labour, spatial pattern formation, non-equilibrium processes, and speciation. Much of his work is related to the evolutionary causes and consequences of biodiversity at all levels of biological organization. In recent years, he returned to his roots and started various experimental and theoretical projects with economists, psychologists and social scientists. One goal is to develop more realistic theory on the interaction of genetic and cultural evolution.