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The adaptive nature of culture. A cross-cultural analysis of the returns of Local Environmental Knowledge in three indigenous societies

Objective

Researchers debate the role of culture in shaping human adaptive strategy. Some researchers suggest that the behavioural adaptations that explain the success of our species are partially cultural, i.e., cumulative and transmitted by social learning.
Others find that cultural knowledge has often resulted in maladaptive practices, loss of technologies, and societies collapse.
Despite the importance of the debate, we lack empirical, comparative, research on the mechanisms through which culture might shape human adaptation. I will collect real world data to test a pathway through which cultural knowledge might
enhance human adaptive strategy: the individual returns to culturally evolved and environment-specific knowledge. I will direct two post-docs and four PhD students who will collect six sets of comparable panel data in three foraging societies:
the Tsimane (Amazon), the Baka (Congo Basin), and the Penan (Borneo). I will use a culturally-specific but cross-culturally comparative method to assess individual local knowledge related to 1) wild edibles; 2) medicine; 3) agriculture; and 4) weather forecast. I will analyze data using instrumental variables to get rigorous estimates of the returns to knowledge on
a) own and offsprings health and b) nutritional status, and c) farming and d) foraging productivity. Data would allow me to make generalizations on 1) the returns to local environmental knowledge and 2) the conditions under which locally developed
knowledge is adaptive or ceases to be so. The ground-breaking nature of this study lies in its explicit attempt to use empirical data and a cross-cultural framework to provide a first test of the adaptive nature of culturally transmitted information, and to do so by linking cultural knowledge to individual outcomes.
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Principal Investigator

Victoria Reyes García (Dr.)

Host institution

UNIVERSITAT AUTONOMA DE BARCELONA

Address

Campus De La Uab Bellaterra
08193 Cerdanyola Barcelona

Spain

Activity type

Higher or Secondary Education Establishments

EU Contribution

€ 1 000 000

Principal Investigator

Victoria Reyes García (Dr.)

Administrative Contact

Veronica Colombo (Ms.)

Beneficiaries (1)

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UNIVERSITAT AUTONOMA DE BARCELONA

Spain

EU Contribution

€ 1 000 000

Project information

Grant agreement ID: 261971

Status

Closed project

  • Start date

    1 January 2011

  • End date

    31 December 2015

Funded under:

FP7-IDEAS-ERC

  • Overall budget:

    € 1 000 000

  • EU contribution

    € 1 000 000

Hosted by:

UNIVERSITAT AUTONOMA DE BARCELONA

Spain