Cultural Evolution for Good: Applications and impact of cultural evolution research and methods

An ESLR workshop & dinner for early-career researchers

Research with an impact?

“Cultural Evolution for Good: Applications and impact of cultural evolution research and methods” is a pre-CES satellite meeting planned by the ESLR Society. The meeting will focus on ways of applying cultural evolution research and methods, communicating scientific findings more effectively, and engaging with different stakeholders and organisations.

The meeting will feature several keynote speakers, and will incorporate plenty of time for discussion around the ideas they raise and the general theme of the meeting.

Speakers & Abstracts

Lotty Brand, University of Sheffield

Abstract: Cultural Evolution is the lens through which I see and understand human behaviour, and it is an excellent lens. As the field expands, there are abundant examples emerging of how cultural evolution work has real impact for society and can be put to excellent use, e.g: Teaching new parents about social learning, understanding anti-vaccination attitudes in the UK, understanding how gender norms change in a population with high levels intimate partner violence, promoting universal basic income, or understanding how people alter their moral decision making.Although there are plenty of examples of how cultural evolution can, and is being, applied, I also want to talk about what cultural evolution is currently missing, or not emphasising enough, and what we can do to make our impact even more effective. For example, taking social learning biases outside of their current contextual vacuum, investigating different communication techniques such as analogies, taking care to communicate findings in a respectful, non-patronising way to diverse audiences, and working with local communities and not-for-profit organisations, including artists and entrepreneurs, to create appealing, accessible mediums that are more engaging, and have wider-reach.

Bella Reichard & Rachel Kendal, Cultural Evolution Society Transformation Fund

How is cultural evolution suited for driving change? Lessons from the CES Transformation Fund.

Abstract: We will summarise the CES Transformation Fund grant scheme and its aims of ensuring cultural evolution research is applied to drive change for the good of society as well as within academia. We will highlight the emergent themes from the awarded grants (research projects and applied working groups) that show how the field has responded to this call and the different ways in which cultural evolution research will be used to have immediate/direct and long-term/indirect impact on society. Given our experiences, we will also outline how researchers in cultural evolution can best engage those working in policy, including translation of the term ‘cultural evolution’ and comprehensive analysis of relevant groups outside of academia that may be interested, influential or impacted.

Charles Efferson, University of Lausanne

An Accidental Path through Cultural Evolution for Good

Abstract: In 2011, UNICEF knocked on my door.  At least I thought that’s what was happening.  In reality, it was the Swiss National Committee of UNICEF.  Perhaps you don’t understand the distinction or why it might matter.  You are, however, now aware of some distinction, and so you already know far more than I did when UNICEF knocked and I started on a path to applied cultural evolutionary research.  Since then, I have collaborated with several organizations who are attempting to steer cultural evolution in pursuit of specific behavioral and policy objectives.  These collaborations have provided an integral part of my education and to a large extent my re-education.  I hope to share some of the key lessons I’ve learned along the way.  For example, the difference between UNICEF and the Swiss National Committee of UNICEF provides a apt metaphor for one especially important lesson.  You need to know who everyone is, how they relate to each other, and why they’ve joined the project.  Part of the talk will be practical, with an emphasis on how one starts such projects, sources of funding, and how to do research with organizations that do not have a mandate to do research.  For the rest of the talk, I will try to summarize my own thoughts, still in-progress, about what researchers and practitioners are actually doing when they collaborate to understand and even engineer cultural change.  I will discuss, in particular, how applied work has entirely reshaped my view of basic research in gene-cultural coevolution.


14:00-15:00 Lotty Brand

15:00-16:00: Charles Efferson

16:00-16:30: Coffee break

16:30-17:30: Bella Reichard & Rachel Kendal

17:30-18:30 Round table discussion

18:30 – Informal dinner at Aarhus Street Food (


The meeting will take place starting at 14:00 on September 20th (the day before the start of the CES conference) in Aarhus, Denmark.

The workshop is held at:


Fredrik Nielsens Vej 2-4, 

8000 Aarhus C

Room: Mødelokale M2 (Meeting room 2) 

Finding the way in: Enter through the entrance of “Building 1421” (see map here) which will look like this picture. Go up the stairs to the first floor, and look for Mødelokale M2. 

Coffee and other refreshments will be provided during the meeting.

After the meeting, we will go to Aarhus Street Food ( for an informal dinner with all participants and the speakers.


Registration is now closed.


This meeting is organised by Dominik Deffner, Rachel Harrison, Karsten Olsen and Maria Pykälä.

Main image by Brad Starkey on Unsplash