Emily Jeffries: “The Moral of the Story: Investigating the co-evolution of storytelling and prosociality using comparative analysis and game theory experiments”

In Students by General Account

    My Ph.D.  aims to address two key problems in the evolution of human sociality and culture: Why do we cooperate and why do we tell stories? Though human cooperation has been justified through many explanations such as reciprocal altruism, kin selection or strong reciprocity, there is still a question of why we seemingly cooperate more than expected coined the “free rider problem”.  Meanwhile, Human beings, have learned to create fictional worlds that are not present or real. These worlds are in dreams, music, art, poetry, books, oral traditions, stories, and folktales. However, though some theories have been offered, it is not clear what adaptive functions, if any, storytelling serves. This project will use comparative analysis of the international folktale record to determine whether stories rated with highly prosocial elements are more widely distributed and thus passed on evolutionarily over further distances than stories containing purely individual traits.  Transmission chains simulations will further expand on this and see if there is a difference between vertical and horizontal transmission of prosocial storytelling and finally game theory experiments will determine whether the prosocial stories contribute to prosocial behaviour. This research is vital in understanding how and why we cooperate at an individual and international level. Storytelling is the answer.

    Before commencing my Ph.D., I graduated with a 2,1 in biological sciences from the University of East Anglia, where I specialised in looking at how variation to Public Goods Games affects Human cooperation, such a group size or sex differences. I then studied a Masters in Socio-Cultural Anthropology at Durham University graduating with distinction. At Durham, my interest in Storytelling developed, looking at Irish Storytelling and how it effects identity of Irish or Northern Irish people living in England. Having a background in both biology and anthropology has been really beneficial for investigating such an interdisciplinary topic as the co-evolution of storytelling and cooperation.