Social decision-making is a remarkably flexible process that appears highly sensitive to varying cultural and ecological inputs. However, our understanding of how this process plays out across development is limited by a persistent sampling bias toward Western cultures. In this talk, I will present the early results of a five-culture investigation into the development of social decision-making — namely, decisions regarding trustworthiness and fairness — among children (5-13 years old) using incentivized economic games. Across both tasks, we find convergent behavior in early life, marked by a preference for self-interest, with divergent behavior across age, marked by increased sensitivity to others’ outcomes. However, these findings are importantly qualified by socioecological factors such as industrialization, such that other-regarding preferences tend to be more common with age in industrialized societies. Together, these studies shed light on cross-cultural variation in the development of social decision-making and underscore the utility of bringing anthropological field methods to the study of developmental psychology.


I am an evolutionary anthropologist interested in how differing cultural & ecological environments shape the developing mind. Most of my work focuses on decision-making and the ontogeny of preferences across societies. My primary fieldwork takes place among the Shuar, an indigenous forager-horticulturalist group living in Amazonian Ecuador. I received my PhD at Yale University in Biological Anthropology, and am currently a postdoctoral researcher in the Boston College Department of Psychology. My website is here & my Twitter account is here.