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The evolution and ontogeny of ethno linguist


 While many social species are group living, linguistically or symbolically marked social groups, characterized by large repertoires of shared cultural norms and behaviours, are uniquely human. However, the evolutionary relevance and psychological underpinnings of such ethnic groups remains debated. In this talk, I will examine the possibility that the way humans learn about ethno-linguistic boundaries reveal the structure of adaptations for reasoning about these. I report on psychological and ethnographic research from the Quechua-Aymara border in the Peruvian altiplano that speaks to these questions.

Results 1) reveal the importance of distinguishing between functionally independent intergroup phenomena such as stereotyping and cooperation, and 2) suggest that children are prone to develop essentialist beliefs about ethno-linguistic groups, even in cultural contexts where adults do not. Implications for our models of human social evolution will be discussed.


Cristina Moya is a Senior Research Scientist at the Max Plank Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and an Assistant Professor at UC Davis. Her research focuses on human's unique evolutionary history as a cultural species, and how social behavior responds adaptively to culture structure.

Since 2007 she has worked along the Quechua-Aymara language boundary in the Peruvian Altiplano to study how linguistic boundaries shape social organization and the development of social cognition. She received her PhD in Anthropology from UCLA based on this work and has gone on to additionally study social influences on reproductive decisions, third party responses to norm violations, and religious belief in various post docs in the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the University of British Columbia, and Harvard.