SBEE Lecture Series: Felix Warneken

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm

Ehrlicher Room, 3100 North Quad

The Social, Behavioral and Experimental Economics lecture series is sponsored by the School of Information, the Ross School of Business and the Department of Economics. Speakers from U.S. and international universities present their research at weekly seminars during the 2017-2018 academic year.

The Origins of Cooperation: Evidence from Children and Chimpanzees


Humans are able to cooperate with others in sophisticated, flexible ways: sharing valuable resources, assisting others who need help, and working collaboratively in teams. These behaviors are regulated by norms of fairness about the best way to distribute resources and how to treat uncooperative individuals. However, the origins of these behaviors are contested. Are humans initially driven by purely selfish motives and must be taught to be cooperative? Or do we have a biological predisposition for cooperation? How do humans learn to share a common resource according to what’s ‘fair’?

Here I show how experimental studies with children and chimpanzees can provide unique insights into these questions, including studies on altruistic behavior, inequity aversion, and third-party punishment. By studying children, we can examine the interplay of biological predispositions and how they are shaped by social norms and experiences. By in addition looking at our closest evolutionary relatives, we can determine what aspects are human-specific and which aspects have deeper evolutionary roots.  

About the speaker 

Felix Warneken studies the origins of human social behavior, with a focus on the development and evolution of cooperation and morality. He uses developmental and cross-cultural studies with children, as well as comparative studies with nonhuman apes. He completed his Ph.D. and postdoctoral training at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Before coming to Michigan, he was an assistant and later associate professor of psychology at Harvard University.

He has received several awards, including an NSF CAREER Award, the Janet Taylor Spence Award for Transformative Early Career Contributions from the Association for Psychological Science, and the Boyd McCandless Award by the American Psychological Association