What is the evolutionary function of moral cognition? And how does moral cognition relate to the law?
Human condemn and punish the actions of others, even when those actions had no effect on us. No other animal is so concerned about the actions of others. So why do we condemn others? The dominant answer is some version of deterrence: Humans condemn and punish others to deter harmful and selfish behavior. With Robert Kurzban, I study how certain features of moral cognition, especially nonconsequentialism, make it poorly designed to deter. Instead, moral cognition seems better suited for coordinating side-taking decisions in social conflicts. I explore how such a function might explain not only mysteries in moral cognition, but also puzzling features of criminal law.
I also conduct a number of other projects in collaboration with Coren Apicella. In one line of research, I study cooperative behavior in the Hadza hunter-gatherers of Tanzania. Using economic games, we study how a variety of factors influence individuals' decisions to be generous or cooperate with others. In another line of research, I study social factors that affect hormone levels, and how these changes relate to economic decision-making.