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Department of Evolutionary Anthropology

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Carel van Schaik, Prof. Dr.

  • Emeritus

Research projects

I am interested in social evolution in primates, with special emphasis on how data and models inform the human condition. Specifically, I am interested in the origin of some of the most striking derived traits of humans relative to the great apes: technology and culture, life history, intensive cooperation, language and sexual behavior. This work encompasses several projects:

  1. We study socioecology, including infanticide and sexual counterstrategies, and within- and between-group coalitions, which should improve our understanding of the roots of human war.
  2. We examine the origins of technology and culture, by studying the extent to which great ape behavior is cultural, in order to explain the absence of cumulative culture in great apes. This also involves studying the ontogeny of skills in orangutans, including tool use.
  3. We examine brain size evolution in birds and mammals to identify the main drivers of evolutionary increases in brain size. In particular, we are interested in the life-history correlates of brain size.
  4. We ask why humans have become so hyper-cooperative, and focus on the role of cooperative breeding and hunting in shaping our psychology. We use other cooperative breeders, especially callitrichid monkeys, to test predictions form the cooperative breeding model for human evolution.
  5. We examine how species can become intelligent, by refining and testing the cultural intelligence model. One set of tests is developmental, in which we study the role of the social environment in skill acquisition in the wild and in captivity. Another set of tests is comparative, where species are compared in relation to the opportunities for social learning.