Brown Bag Talk by Prof Richard Ebstein on 3 October


Speaker: Prof Richard Ebstein

Title: “Gene – Culture Coevolution” Exemplified by the Rice – Wheat Culture Theory in China

Date: 3 October 2014, 1-2pm

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room)


A unique feature of H. sapiens is that many of the skills essential for individual and group survival can be passed from one generation to the next. Such cultural evolution in humans is apparently an important mechanism that can help explain group selection especially in the presence of other complementary processes. Moreover, evidence suggests that cultural and genetic forces are likely to jointly shape broad aspects of human behaviour, a conceptualisation referred to as gene-culture coevolution.

A recent article in SCIENCE suggests that in China there are differences based on geography in wheat and rice farming that are reflected in levels of holistic versus analytical thinking. Our group here in NUS (B2ESS) investigated these findings using our own data of more than 1000 university students in Beijing. We not only confirm but extend the initial findings using behavioural economic as well as Chinese national survey data. Additionally, we also observe that a particular gene, the dopamine D4 receptor (DRD4), appears to partially mediate the cultural differences in prosocial behaviour and farming practices. Hence, our findings add to the nascent field of gene – culture coevolution and suggest that genetic mechanisms are important in embedding human cultural norms.

About the Speaker:

Prof Ebstein completed his Masters and PhD at Yale University, after which he held numerous positions such as Assistant Professor at New York University Medical Center to Professor at Hebrew University. Prof Ebstein then joined NUS as a Professor in 2010. Richard Ebstein’s research revolves around human behaviour genetics, with the overarching goal of providing molecular insights into the role of genes as a partial contributor to all facets of human behaviour. His work is highly interdisciplinary and combines personality, social, cognitive, and neuropsychology with techniques of molecular genetics. Major research areas include neuroeconomics, the genetics of social behaviour and normal personality, autism, ADHD, eating disorders, and substance abuse. Prof Ebstein has published widely in leading academic journals such as The American Journal of Psychiatry, The Journal of Pain and the Journal of Risk and Uncertainty.

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