Spring 2017 Lecture Series

The Evolution, Purpose, and Consequences of Religious Prosociality | Azim Shariff | February 21, 2017

Tuesday, February 21, 2017
4:00 pm
PAIS 290

The Evolution, Purpose, and Consequences of Religious Prosociality

Azim Shariff
Department of Psychology
University of California, Irvine

Co-sponsored by the Department of Psychology, the Center for Ethics / Program in Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding, the Graduate Division of Religion, and the Hightower Fund

Why do today's religions look and function the way they do? Presenting research primarily on religion’s effects on prosocial behavior and prejudice toward outgroups, I will argue that the form and function of modern religions can be understood as the legacy of a millennia-long process of cultural evolution. Our recent research has begun to empirically test perennially debated questions about whether religions make people act more ethically, what functions religions have served, and why some religious traditions have fared better than others. The results reveal that while the social consequences of religion are not always desirable, they can be explained as the product of cultural adaptations that served vital social functions. In particular, I’ll discuss how recurrent elements throughout religions have served to stabilize cooperation among large groups of unrelated strangers, and maximize survival in intergroup competition. Finally, I’ll speak about how this cultural evolutionary perspective informs predictions about the future of religion.  Altogether, this research demonstrates how social psychological research can add important empirical data to heated debates about the values and vices of religion in the modern world.

Immersive Virtual Reality as a Research Tool for the Behavioral Sciences | Kerry Marsh | March 1, 2017

Wednesday, March 1, 2017
4:00 pm
PAIS 290

Immersive Virtual Reality as a Research Tool for the Behavioral Sciences 

Kerry Marsh
Department of Psychology
University of Connecticut

Co-sponsored by the Department of Psychology

This talk discusses the wide-ranging potential of immersive virtual reality (IVR) as a research tool in the behavioral sciences. The speaker will discuss her research using IVR to study mundane judgments of the built environment, her emergency evacuation IVR work conducted with engineers and disaster experts, and her social-health work studying HIV risk behavior in highly interactive dating scenarios with virtual dating partners.

The Evolution of Human Sleep | Charles Nunn | March 14, 2017

Tuesday, March 14, 2017    
Location TBD

The Evolution of Human Sleep

Charles Nunn 
Evolutionary Anthropology and Global Health Institute
Duke University

Scientists have made substantial progress in understanding the evolution of mammalian sleep, yet the evolution of human sleep has been largely ignored in comparative studies.  This omission is surprising given the extraordinary mental capacity and behavioral flexibility of humans, and the importance of sleep for human cognitive performance.  I will discuss new phylogenetic methods that enable rigorous investigation of sleep along a single evolutionary lineage, and will apply these methods to study human sleep and brain size.  In addition, I will present new findings from my lab on sleep in traditional human populations, which sheds additional light on the evolution of human sleep.  I will close by considering how evolutionary perspectives provide insights to human sleep disorders, health across the lifespan, and health disparities.

Location details to be announced.

The Disruptive Force of Endangered Language Documentation on Linguistics and Beyond | Shobhana Chelliah | March 30, 2017

Thursday, March 30, 2017        
4:00 pm
PAIS 290

The Disruptive Force of Endangered Language Documentation on Linguistics and Beyond

Shobhana Chelliah
Department of Linguistics
University of North Texas

Co-sponsored by the Emory Program in Lingustics and the Hightower Fund

Language Documentation is a reborn, refashioned, and reenergized subfield of linguistics motivated by the urgent task of creating a record of the world’s fast disappearing languages.  In addition to producing resources for communities interested in language and culture preservation, maintenance, and revitalization, language documentation continues to produce data that challenge and improve linguistic theory.  A case in point is a pattern of participant marking, i.e. ways that speakers indicate who does what to whom in a sentence, in the endangered languages of the Tibeto-Burman region (Northeast India).  From current typological studies we expect one of three participant marking patterns and these are based on purely syntactic factors.  From very small languages in and around the Himalayan region we discover that that there is a possible fourth pattern based not on syntax but on information structure and pragmatics – a game changing discovery for syntactic and typological theory.   Endangered language data also provides data on how humans represent and interact with their environment and through this data provide a window into human cognition.  Looking again at Tibeto-Burman, we find languages with complex systems of directional marking which, in the simplest sense, indicate the direction in which an activity is or will be performed.  However, directionals are metaphorically extended to express movement through time and social or psychological space.  Appropriate usage requires knowledge of social conventions and the cultural attribution of relative prestige of locations. Such data requires us to revisit theories of spatial cognition.

Exploring Sleep as a Mediator between Ethnic/Racial Discrimination and Adolescent Academic and Psychosocial Outcomes | Tiffany Yip | April 13, 2017

Thursday, April 13     
4:00 pm
PAIS 290

Exploring Sleep as a Mediator between Ethnic/Racial Discrimination and Adolescent Academic and Psychosocial Outcomes

Tiffany Yip
Department of Psychology
Fordham University

Co-sponsored by the Department of Psychology, the James Weldon Johnson Institute, and the Hightower Fund

The negative academic and health effects of ethnic/racial discrimination are robust and pervasive. Taking a biopsychosocial approach, the current study combines actigraphy with a daily diary design to explore sleep duration and quality as an explanatory link between discrimination and outcomes.  In a sample of 189 ethnic/racially diverse 9th grade adolescents, the study first assessed the daily impact of discrimination on next-day academic engagement and mood.  Second, the study explored sleep as a mediating pathway between discrimination and outcomes. This paper contributes to two timely, yet independent, developmental science literatures.  First, the study contributes to a growing literature on how social experiences of discrimination may be embodied psychophysiologically to contribute to ethnic/racial academic and health disparities.  Second, the study contributes to the burgeoning science of sleep and its importance for youth development.  Intersecting these literatures, the study found that on days in which youths reported unfair ethnic/racial treatment, they also spent more minutes awake after falling asleep.  In turn, sleep disturbance was associated with feeling more anxious and less academically engaged the next day.  Together, the data support a temporal mediated pathway wherein discrimination is associated with same-evening sleep disturbance, which is then predictive of next-day outcomes.  The developmental implications of the observed daily-level associations are profound.  Over time, the downstream effects of everyday discrimination may contribute to persistent academic and health disparities.