Peter Richerson (2016-17)

Peter Richerson is a professor emeritus of environmental studies. His research interests include cultural evolution, animal social learning and mathematical models.

Peter is currently a member of Cultural Evolution Lab, a research group devoted to the study of cultural evolution in laboratory scale microsocieties. At present, he is investigating the evolution of institutions to manage cooperation using the Public Goods game as the cooperation task. He earned his Ph.D. in zoology at UC Davis.

With Monique Burgerhoff Mulder, Travis Lybbert, and Mark Lubell, Peter Richerson lead a Winter 2017 Proseminar entitled Experimental Economic Games.

In the summer of 2017, Dr. Richerson provided the following update, describing how he used his ISS Fellow award to support his research:

Evolution of Cooperation in the Laboratory

William M. Baum and Peter J. Richerson

The evolution of cooperation has been studied in a variety of ways.  Mathematical models have explored various factors that might promote or retard cooperation.  Empirical studies have examined phenomena that might underlie cooperation.  Few experiments have been carried out that model evolution of cooperation in laboratory conditions.  We have provided such an experimental model.  Groups of 10 undergraduates played a public-goods game.  Each group constituted a generation, played for 10 rounds, and then left advice for the next group.  The advice from the previous generation was read aloud to the new generation before the first round.  Contributions to the public account evolved little, because participants entered the experiment with a strong tendency to cooperate, despite some few who would defect.  In contrast, when the participants were given the opportunity to punish anyone who contributed too little to the public account, they showed little and varied inclination to punish.  Since punishing defectors required coordination, altruistic punishment offered the opportunity to measure the evolution of cooperative punishing.  When the participants’ cost of punishing was high, punishment did not evolve, but when it was small, punishment evolved across generations.  The methods and the results indicate that experimental models of evolution of cooperation are possible.  As an example, evolution of punishment in our experiments may model evolution of speech critical of misbehaving politicians when speech is free (low cost) and the failure of evolution of critical speech in autocratic societies when cost is high. ISS funding helped pay participant costs which run over $15/participant.

Learn more about Peter Richerson at his faculty webpage.

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