UBC Home Page -
UBC Home Page UBC Home Page -
News Events Directories Search UBC myUBC Login
- -
Lab team
MECC lab Cluster

Joseph Henrich
Principal Investigator (site)

Post Docs

Dr. Myriam Juda

The origin of our big brain and sophisticated cognitive abilities remains an evolutionary puzzle. The social theory of intellect from the 1960s proposed that social demands drove the evolution of primate intelligence, challenging the then traditional view that the brain evolved to solve ecological problems. The social brain hypothesis postulates that the increased brain size of primates derived from complex social pressures involving cooperation, competition, and strategies for manipulation. The cultural brain hypothesis, on the other hand, holds that the increased brain size in humans results from pressures on social learning for the proficient storing and transmission of cultural information. My research interest lies in examining the function of theory of mind in terms of solving problems of cooperation and/or cultural learning. For this, I am conducting studies with children (3-6 years old) and adults, both in Canada and Fiji.

I am from Luxembourg but completed my B.A, in Psychology at Simon Fraser University and my M.Sc at the University of Liverpool in Evolutionary Psychology. After venturing off into the field of Chronobiology during my PhD at the University of Munich, I am now thrilled to be in beautiful Vancouver as a part of this dynamic and inter-disciplinary lab.

Dr. Benjamin Purzycki

Benjamin Purzycki recently earned his PhD (anthropology) at the University of Connecticut and currently is a post-doctoral research fellow at CERC. He works on the evolution of religious systems and religious cognition, particularly how people make sense of their gods’ minds. He has conducted fieldwork in the Tyva Republic (Tuva) and has published works in a variety of journals including Cognitive Science, Religion, Brain and Behavior, Journal of Cognition and Culture, and Skeptic Magazine.

His professional website and publications can be accessed here.


Grad Students


Maciek Chudek

I use the tools of developmental and social psychology - typically: experiments with children (3- to 5-year-olds) and adults - to test the predictions of gene-culture coevolutionary accounts of the origins of human social learning. I'm particularly interested in understanding the psychological underpinnings and sociological consequences of our capacity for learning complex culture and in understanding how young children manage to perform such a complex feat. Topics I'm currently investigating include prestige, norms and memory biases for social information. (website)

Rita McNamara

I come to UBC with a joint BA in Anthropology and Psychology from Washington University in St. Louis. Between my time at Wash U and UBC, I spent a year as the lab manager for Karen Wynn's Infant Cognition Center at Yale University. In my work, I am interested in the role of cultural transmission for the development of religious belief, and the extent to which explicit belief matters.I am also interested in the ways various aspects of culture (such as norms) are represented in the mind, and how these impact life outcomes. More broadly I am interested in how representations of various aspects of culture and the degree of adherence to them work together to drive cultural change over time.


Adam Baimel

Had you met me 10 years ago, I would have probably told you that all I wanted to do with my life was become a Rabbi. Despite these ambitions, I have opted to pursue my fascination with religions, religious thought and behaviours from within the frame work of evolutionary psychology. I have recently graduated with a BA in Psychology and Religious Studies from UBC.

Research Assistants


Shayan Pourahmadi

I am currently pursuing a degree in Economics. I am interested in game theory, behavioural economics, and all theoretical and experimental tools that can be used to study individual and strategic decision making

Lab Manager


Brittany Hathaway

My research interests lie in studying cultural differences, cognition, and psychopathology. I am currently completing my BA in Psychology at UBC, and I am looking to pursue graduate studies in the near future.


Former Post Docs, Graduate Students & Lab Team Members

Dr. Aiyana Willard

I am interested in the area of cultural evolution and transmission. I am particularly interested in transmission of folktales, myths, and religious beliefs. This includes how certain types of content and narrative structures become high fidelity parts of culture that can survive through time and across large geographical spaces and cultural differences. I am also interested in the spread of new religions and spiritual belief around the world, as well as why human beings are a religious species in the first place.

Aiyana Willard is now a postdoctoral fellow in the Cognition, Culture, and Development Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin. (website)

Colin Xu

My research interests lie in understanding psychological phenomenon and human behaviour from an evolutionary perspective, especially on the origins of modern human cognition.

After completing his BA in Psychology at UBC, Colin Xu is now a graduate student at University of Pennsylvania.

Michael Muthukrishna

Dr. Michael Muthukrishna

Broadly, I am interested in the psychological and evolutionary processes that underlie culture and how culture is propagated, maintained, and modified. My goal is to gain a better understanding of the dynamic relationship between cultures and individuals, where "cultures" emerge from the interactions of individuals over time, who are in turn shaped by the emergent cultures they constitute. I use a two-pronged methodological approach in my research, combining my training in computational modeling (social network analysis, evolutionary models, complexity theory, etc.) and my training in experimental psychology.

Michael Muthukrishna is now a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University. (website)


Dr. Joey Cheng

My work focuses on the emotional underpinnings of status hierarchies. I believe that a set of human emotions - pride, humility, respect, and admiration - evolved under a larger psychology designed to facilitate cultural learning processes. While cultural transmission was largely predicated upon the social organization of prestige, emotions served as a vital proximal solution to the challenge of creating and stabilizing prestige hierarchies. For instance, taking pride in one's achievements may motivate the demonstration of skill and competence, attracting social learners and thus promulgating cultural knowledge. Using self-report, peer-report, and behavioral observation data obtained from naturalistic groups, I am examining the emotional precursors and consequences of attaining prestige (i.e., pride and humility), the feelings and emotions that motivate social learning (i.e., respect, admiration, adoration), and the ways in which individuals attain prestige (i.e., intelligence, alliances, altruism).

Joey Cheng is now an assistant professor of psychology and social behaviour at UC Irvine's School of Social Ecology. (website)

Dr. Taylor Davis

My most long standing general theoretical interest is in the implications of evolution for human thought and behavior.  What began as an interest in the evolution of moral behavior has now transformed into a more general interest in the naturalistic bases of value, normativity and objectivity.  I hope someday to be able to say something coherent about the relationships between functional normativity (proper function vs. malfunction) and the objectivity of value.

After completing his PhD in philosophy from UBC, Dr. Taylor Davis has continued his research as an assitant professor in the Department of Philosophy at Purdue University's College of Liberal Arts. (website)


Dr. Damian Murray

My primary research interests focus broadly upon how ecological variables influence cross-cultural differences and social behaviour. Disease, for example, has ubiquitously posed a threat to humans throughout their history. It's therefore worth considering the implications that ecological variables such as disease might have for social behaviour, and for the evolution of cultural systems as well. Indeed, some of my recent work shows that disease prevalence predicts cross-cultural differences in personality, sexual behaviours, and value systems. I'm also in the early stages of work investigating other environmental phenomena: Fire, for example, has been integral in human social life for hundreds of thousands of years, being used for heat, food preparation, light, and protection. Humans are thus inherently curious, yet concurrently fearful, of fire. What types of psychological responses, then, might be associated with fire?

After completing his PhD, Damian has continued as a visiting researcher at UCLA's Psychology & Close Relationships Lab with Dr. Martie Haselton. (website)

Dr. Jonathan Lanman

Jonathan Lanman was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Coordinator at the Centre of Anthropology of Mind at the Univesrity of Oxford and a Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow in Psychology at UBC. He taught as a Departmental Lecturer for the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology and as a College Lecturer for Keble College from 2009-2011.

He is interested in applying the theories and tools of both social and cognitive anthropology to issues in the study of religion, atheism, morality, and intergroup relations. His DPhil research yielded both a descriptive and explanatory account of atheism in the contemporary West, which he is writing up as a monograph. At present, he is collaborating with anthropologists and psychologists on an ESRC Large Grant, entitled, Ritual, Community and Conflict, to ascertain the effects of ritualized behaviour on ingroup cohesion and intergroup relations across a range of contexts.

Dr. Jonathan Lanman now works as a professor at the School of History and Anthropology at Queen's University in Belfast.


Dr. Miriam Matthews


I am a post-doctoral researcher with the Centre for Anthropology and Mind at the University of Oxford. I am currently based at the University of British Columbia, working on the Ritual, Community and Conflict project. My research involves applying social psychological models to the understanding of intergroup and intragroup attitudes, emotions, and behaviors.

In previous research, I examined the effects of threats on political attitudes, the factors that influence support for anti-Western jihad, the influence of acculturation ideologies on intergroup attitudes, and the factors that contribute to negative intergroup attitudes and emotions among Americans and Middle Easterners. Currently, I am examining the role of ritual in intergroup and intragroup relations. For example, I am assessing the processes through which shared experiences may operate in influencing perceptions of and responses to others.

Dr. Miriam Matthews now continues her work as an associate researcher at the nonprofit global policy thinktank RAND corporation (website)



Gul Deniz Salali

I'm a visiting master's student at the Culture, Cognition and Coevolution Lab. During this final phase of my master's, I'm conducting experiments on the imitation of costly punishment in children. I seek to investigate whether children aged 3 to 8 engage in costly punishment and if social influence has an effect on children's sense of fairness. In my research, I aim to combine biological and computational approaches with empirical ones in order to study human social evolution.

After spending the first semester of my Erasmus Mundus Master's in Evolutionary Biology at the University of Groningen, I continued my master's at the University of Montpellier where I worked with Michael Hochberg on agent-based modeling projects: one on the evolution of cooperation and the other on the evolution of social complexity. I did my BSc in Molecular Biology and Genetics at Istanbul Technical University. As a result of my flourishing interest in social evolution, I had the opportunity to work as an intern at the University of Lausanne and at the Trinity College Dublin on animal social behavior during my undergraduate.

Gul Deniz Salili is continuing her research a PhD student in Evolutionary Anthropology at University College London (website)


Kristin Laurin

I am a graduate student at the University of Waterloo, currently spending the last few months of my degree visting the Psychology department at UBC. In my research I seek to investigate the emergence and maintenance of broad belief systems such as religions, political ideologies and beliefs in justice. I am also interested in the consequences of these beliefs, particularly for self-regulation, which I also study separately.

One theme that runs through my work is that of power and control. For example, I have examined how power and control (or lack thereof) can lead people to embrace specific kinds of belief systems, and how these belief systems can in turn influence people's feelings of power and control. Related to ideas of power and control, I have also studied how people respond when they feel constrained or restricted by external forces

Dr. Kristin Laurin is now an assistant professor of Organizational Behaviour at Stanford Graduate School of Business. (website)

Matthew Ruby

I come from the deep woods of New England, where I completed my undergraduate training in Psychology and German Language and Literature at Colby College. After a year teaching English as a Fulbright Teaching Fellow in Ludwigshafen am Rhein, Germany, I came to join my wonderful colleagues here at UBC. My research interests are many, but the major lines of research that I pursue are cultural differences in the conceptualization, and pursuit of, happiness and well-being; the psychological underpinnings of people's food choices, and human-animal interactions.

Dr. Matthew Ruby is continuing his research as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Universität Hamburg


Dr. Daniel Hruschka

My work asks how we as humans make our culture and how culture makes us human. How does our culture influence the way we face tough ethical decisions or deal with serious illness? How do we transform culture by the force of both our best efforts and our unintentional actions? I approach these questions as an anthropologist, but I borrow pragmatically from across the social sciences, adapting and developing the tools - qualitative and quantitative, observational and experimental, analytical and agent-based - that are best suited for each specific question. Much of my work focuses on developing novel ways of framing and testing the wealth of hypotheses in the social sciences about two specific questions - how humans stay healthy and how humans cooperate.


Dr. Sarah

My research interests lie in the intersection of complex social behavior and cognition. More specifically, I am interested in mechanisms underlying cooperation, reciprocity, inequity, and other economic decisions in nonhuman primates from an evolutionary perspective. This includes, but is not limited to, questions of what decisions individuals make and how they make these decisions, how their social or ecological environments affect their decisions and interactions, and under what circumstances they can alter their behaviors contingent upon these inputs.

Dr. Sarah Brosnan is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Georgia State University and a member of the Neuroscience Institute


Wanying Zhao

I hail from Toronto, Canada where I studied Commerce and Finance, Economics, and Psychology at the University of Toronto. During my spare time I meddled around in emotions research with Drs.Stephane Cote and Julie McCarthy and their graduate students at the Rotman SChool of Management.
I am interested in the processes by which moral systems are formed within a culture, how they are socialized in individuals and groups within a society, and how, evolutionarily, they fit in with human adaptation. These questions I hope to investigate with the good folks at UBC and their collaborators the world over.

Wanying Zhao is completing her PhD in Development Psychology at UBC


width="120"Jenna Becker


I'm in the faculty of Social Work but became interested in evolutionary psychology while taking my prerequisites. As lab manager I am given the opportunity to remain engaged in the field while pursuing different goals. My main area of interest is in the evolutionary roots of religion.

Rahul Bhui
I'm a fourth-year honours Economics student drawn to economic methodology. I believe economics is a science, or part of one, and that the unification of the behavioural and social sciences lies in its future. Topics that interest me include: the role of institutions and networks in economic interactions; the influence on behaviour of evolutionary processes on biological, social, and institutional levels; the involvement of social factors such as trust in the functionality of economic processes; the interdependence of bounded rationality and institutions; and the relationships between these topics.

James Broesch

My theoretical interests are in empirically examining predictions from cultural transmission theory to determine their validity explaining patterns of cultural transmission in the real-world. I am also interested in how cultural transmission theory might inform and aid in the diffusion of public-health interventions through the recruitment of individuals that occupy key structural roles within local social networks.
I received my B.S. in Zoology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where I studied the impact of limb morphology changes on the energetic costs of human locomotion. After finishing my undergraduate degree, I spent 1 year studying juvenile development and social learning among non-captive white-faced capuchin monkeys in Costa Rica. I have conducted ethnographic field work in Bolivia among the Tsimane', and among indigenous Fijians in both the Yasawa and Moala groups of the Fiji Islands. I am currently a 4th year Ph.D. student in the Department of Anthropology at Emory University.

Dr. James Broesch is now a Knowledge Exchange Leader for Aboriginal Health Strategic Initiatives at Vancouver Coastal Health (website)


Tanya Broesch

I am a graduate student in the Cognition and Development program in the Department of Psychology at Emory University. I graduated from St.F.X. University in 2001, was a CIPA funded Coady Intern for 2001-2002 in Kenya – at which time I developed an interest and began conducting cross cultural research in early cognitive development. Since 2002 I have worked closely with my advisor, Dr. Philippe Rochat, investigating various aspects of early social cognitive development in a variety of cultures. I also collaborate with Dr. Joseph Henrich on various developmental projects in Fiji and have been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Culture and Mind project to investigate early theory of mind development in Fiji and Kenya. My research interests stem from the question of how early social experience shapes cognition and I take a cross cultural approach to this question – investigating caregiving behaviors and infant responses across cultures.

Dr. Tanya Broesch is now an assistant professor of developmental psychology at Simon Fraser University (website)