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What makes societies more peaceful? In 2018, the Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP) joined forces with Seshat: Global History Databank to create a new Historical Peace Index (HPI) that will use cutting-edge statistic methods and robust historical data to map global over thousands of years, and provide evidence-based insight into how to improve the prospects for peace in the future. The HPI will follow the methodology of IEP’s Global Peace Index, extending it back in time and using the same or similar indicators. By extending these measures to a host of societies spread over the last 5,000 years and throughout the world the HPI will allow researchers, policy makers, and other advocates for peace a means to track the long-term evolution of the different elements of peacefulness. While many have appealed to historical examples to support their views on current public policy, this has usually meant cherry picking while ignoring counter-examples. The HPI will allow us to identify the precursors to peace worldwide over thousands of years and so provide a more objective way of learning from the past to plan better for the future.

Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences ➞

Are the bonds of kinship based more on shared biology or shared experience? Brock Bastian’s lab has been studying the positive social effects of pain and now we’re comparing the effects of all kinds of shared dysphoria (including pain) with the effects of shared genealogy when it comes to fusion with a group. The research team includes Bill Swann (Texas), Angel Gomez (UNED), and Sergey Gavrilets (Tennessee).

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Sydney, Western Sydney & Macquarie Universities

What is the relationship between group alignment, belief transmission, prejudice, and out-group hostility? The research team includes Martha Newson (Oxford), Karen Gonsalkorale (University of Sydney), Jorge Dorfman Knijnik (Western Sydney University), and Fiona White (University of Sydney) is investigating these issues with the help of the supporters of Western Sydney Wanderers' Football Club.

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In Australia, and in many other countries, the criminal justice system requires offenders to adopt inauthentic personal narratives in order to make parole. But what if this requirement prevents ex-prisoners from fusing with mainstream groups and their values? We hypothesise that offenders’ perceived identities and fusion to groups will provide mechanisms through which they may successfully reintegrate to the community. Insofar as many aspects of the prisoners’ authentic identities are shared with non-offenders, affirming these positive core identities may strengthen motives to connect or ‘fuse’ with suitable support groups. Our broad aim is to understand the social psychological effects of the institutionalized experiences of offenders so that we may suggest strategies for increasing the likelihood of successful re-entry. The research team includes Michael Buhrmester (Oxford), Robin Fitzgerald (Queensland), Bill Swann (Texas).


Grupo de Estudos sobre Futebol e Torcidas (GEFuT) (UniversidadeFederal de Minas Gerais, Belo HorizontE) ➞ 

Are football hooligans exceptionally fused with their clubs? Silvio Ricardo da Silva’s research group in Belo Horizonte has been studying football fandom in Brazil for many years and now we’ve teamed up to find out what motivates extreme behaviour among supporters in a comparative study of Brazilian and British fans. The research team includes Martha Newson (Oxford) and Tiago Soares Bortolini (Rio).

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Evolution of Cooperation Research Group (Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte, Natal) ➞

In the 2014 World Cup football tournament hosted by Brazil, there were both winners and losers: Did the most agonizing experiences of defeat bond the supporters of national teams more tightly than the joys of victory? Maria Emilia Yamamoto’s lab in Natal has been studying the mechanisms underlying social behavior in both humans and marmosets and now we are using this expertise to measure the physiological effects of winning and losing on football fans and the longer-term impact of this on fusion with fellow supporters. The research team includes Martha Newson, Michael Buhrmester (Oxford), and Wall Hattori (Rio).



A major puzzle in the study of cultural evolution is how small-scale human groups made the transition to larger-scale, hierarchically more complex ones. Michael Hochberg has been helping us design a spatially explicit agent based model as a first step toward understanding the ecological dynamics of small- and large-scale human groups. The research team includes Gul Deniz Salali (UCL), Joanna Bryson (Bath), and Ken Kahn (Oxford).

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Radicalization is on the rise in Indonesia. We are investigating the role of identity fusion in the region combined with perceptions of outgroup threat. One hypothesis is that undergoing shared dysphoria (either personally or vicariously), and the quality of reflection on such experiences, influences levels of fusion and judgements of present and future threat. The research team includes Chris Kavanagh (Oxford), Valerie van Mulukom (Coventry), Susilo Wibisono (Queensland),  Idhamsyah Eka Putra (Persada Indonesia University, Jakarta), Whinda Yustisia (University of Indonesia, Jakarta), Al Makin (State Islamic University, Yogyakarta).


Culture, Social Ecology, and Psychology Lab (Hokkaido UniversitY) ➞

How do cultural and social ecological variables affect group formation? Masaki Yuki’s lab has been carrying out pioneering research in cross-cultural psychology for several decades and now we have joined forces to study the role of physically gruelling rituals, such as immersion in icy water and walking through searing flames, in binding together communities in Japan. The research team includes Chris Kavanagh, Jonathan Jong (Coventry), and Rob Thomson (Hokkaido).

New Zealand

Cultural Evolution Lab (Auckland University) ➞

How is variation in cultural rituals related to differences in social and cultural systems? Quentin Atkinson’s lab uses the theories and methods of evolutionary biology to explain the emergence and spread of culture and language. Applying these ideas to the study of ritual, we have been building ethnographic and archaeological databases and also conducting fieldwork together on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu. The research team includes Pieter François, Ben Johannes, and Dan Mullins (Oxford).

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Department of Psychology (Otago University) ➞ 

Two distinct collaborations are exploring the cognitive and affective mechanisms involved in turning shared experiences into social bonds. Together with Jamin Halberstadt’s lab group and Jonathan Jong (Coventry), we are developing new methods of image-based tracking to study incipient group formation and evolution using a high definition video camera mounted atop a large field laboratory. We are also collaborating with Elaine Reese’s lab group to examine the impact of important life experiences on personal and group identity development throughout childhood. The research team includes Tara Tasuji (Oxford) and Valerie Van Mulukom (Coventry).

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See related outputs:
Poster: Evaluating an emphasis model of collective self-esteem and social identity using in-vivo spatial tracking (PDF)


Emotion and Cognition Lab (National University of Singapore) ➞

Does synchronous activity bond people together? If so, how? Eddie Tong, an expert on the role of emotion in social cognition, is helping us investigate the precise cognitive mechanisms through which synchronous activities form and strengthen social bonds between individuals. The research team includes Paul Reddish (NUS) and Jonathan Jong (Coventry).

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Intra- and Inter-Group Relations Group (UNED) ➞

How do individuals fuse with a group? For several years, Ángel Gómez Jiménez and his colleagues at UNED have been developing measures of identity fusion—a visceral sense of oneness with one’s group associated with costly sacrifice. Together we are exploring the mechanisms that give rise to identity fusion in multiple contexts around the world. The research team includes Michael Burhmester (Oxford), Bill Swann (Texas), Juan Jiménez, Alexandra Vázquez, and Elena Stewart (UNED).

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ÇatalhöyüK ➞

What was the role of ritual in the transition from foraging to farming? Ian Hodder and his team have been studying this transition at the Neolithic settlement at Çatalhöyük in Turkey. In recent years, we have been assembling evidence that a major factor driving the emergence of complex society was religious routinization. The frequency of rituals appears to have increased over the course of settlement at Çatalhöyük and this may have had major consequences for the scale and structure of Neolithic society. The research team includes Michael Gantley, Amy Bogaard (Oxford), Camilla Mazzucato, and Ian Hodder (Stanford).

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United Kingdom

Anthrolab ➞

AnthroLab investigates the mechanisms by which groups are formed, inspired, and co-ordinated; and the effects of ingroup processes on intergroup relations. Our researchers conduct qualitative field research, surveys, and controlled psychological experiments both in the lab and in the field. 

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Efforts to quantify changes in cultural institutions over time allow us to test hypotheses about the evolution of social complexity. Pieter Francois, coordinator of the Cultural Evolution Lab, is an historian who works closely with us on the construction of Seshat: Global History Databank. The lab provides a home also to databases on civil war armed groups (led by Ben Johannes), the transition from foraging to farming in the prehistory of Western Asia (led by Michael Gantley and Camilla Mazzucato), and the quantification of ethnographic data (led by Dan Mullins).

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Institute of Cognition and Culture (QUB) ➞

What is the role of shared experience in group bonding? Jon Lanman is an anthropologist with a strong experimental background. Together we have been refining the theory of modes of religiosity and developing new empirical research into the role of ritual in building social cohesion. The research team includes Miriam Matthews, Michael Buhrmester (Oxford), Lauren Swiney, Jonathan Jong (Coventry), and Ryan McKay (RHUL).

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Social and Affective Processes Research Group (Royal Holloway) ➞

How do the cognitive processes underlying religious belief and moral judgment interact? Building on earlier collaborations with Ryan McKay on our “Explaining Religion” project, we have been exploring how the various cognitive systems required for religious thinking and behaviour (e.g., agency detection, Theory of Mind, hazard avoidance) may affect or be affected by various aspects of moral judgment (e.g., social cohesion, disgust, empathy) in both cultural and cognitive evolution. The research team includes Michael Buhrmester (Oxford), Jonathan Jong (Coventry), Veronika Rybanska (Oxford), and Jonathan Lanman (QUB).

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Understanding social glue and how it is produced has potentially profound implications for preventing and ameliorating intergroup violence. But social glue can also be used positively to solve collective action problems, especially in the wake of destructive conflicts. Under the leadership of Lord John Alderdice, who helped to bring about the peace process in Northern Ireland, we have established this centre (CRIC) at Harris Manchester College in Oxford, which also forms part of a recently established interdisciplinary network of research studying war and peace at the University of Oxford (see below). 

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WAR and Peace at Oxford (University of Oxford) ➞

The War and Peace at Oxford Network opens up some of the many and varied ways in which historians, political scientists, economists, theologians, anthropologists, geographers, area studies specialists, psychologists, evolutionary theorists, and lawyers are bringing their diverse approaches and perspectives to bear on the immense challenges of war, peace, conflict, and security in the 21st century.

Oxford Martin School Natural Governance Project ➞

Here we are striving to understand how humans can become 'super-cooperators' and overcome self-interest to act for the common good. Short-term goals weigh heavily on political and economic decision-making, yet failure to act on problems such as climate change, armed conflict, and inequality, means that future generations will pay a heavy price. This project seeks to apply lessons learned from the study of evolved, sustainable systems of governance, to help solve problems facing humanity today.

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United States

Binghamton Neighbourhood Project (Binghamton University) ➞

How do cultural groups evolve? David Sloan Wilson’s lab has been undertaking fine-grained studies of localized groups and their cultural ecosystems for many years now. Together, we are expanding this research to study specifically religious groups comparatively around the world. The research team includes Jonathan Jong (Coventry), Justin Lane (Oxford), Yasha Hartberg, Ian MacDonald, and Hadassah Head (Binghamton).

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Cognition, Culture, and Development Lab (The University of Texas at Austin) ➞

How do children acquire the rituals of the communities around them? Cristine Legare is an expert on the ontogeny of cultural learning and together we have been studying the emergence of what we call the “ritual stance” in cognitive development—that is, the motivation to copy causally opaque behaviour essential for the transmission of any group’s normative conventions. The research team includes Rachel Watson-Jones and Paul Harris (Harvard).

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Experimental Anthropology Lab (University of Connecticut) ➞

How do psychological theories fare in the real world? Dimitris Xygalatas is a pioneer of field-based experimental research. In our earliest work together, we examined the foundations of group bonding among Greek firewalkers. Now we are developing even more fine-grained behavioural measures of social cohesion in comparative studies across multiple field sites.

Seshat: Global History Databank (the Evolution Institute) ➞

How have rituals contributed to the evolution of social complexity? We are creating a databank of world history known as SESHAT that will enable us to test a range of hypotheses about the evolution of social complexity, including the role of rituals in that process. SESHAT is governed by the Board of Editors, which includes Peter Turchin (founding editor and overall coordinator), Harvey Whitehouse (founding editor and editor for ritual variables), Pieter François (founding editor and historical coordinator), Thomas Currie (editor for resources, agriculture, and population variables), and Kevin Feeney (editor for information technology). The SESHAT board is advised by a number of consultants. Data collection for a specific NGA is coordinated by a Regional Editor and data entered for a specific polity is vetted by expert historians and archaeologists. Much of the hands-on work of populating the databank is accomplished by the project’s Research Assistants and Postdoctoral Research Associates.

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Swann Lab (The University of Texas at Austin) ➞

How does fusion with a group contribute to radicalization and self-sacrifice? Bill Swann and his lab have pioneered the fusion construct and its role in motivating extreme pro-group behaviour. Together we are seeking ways of de-fusing combatants or harnessing their fusion in the service of peaceful outcomes. Given the centrality of the fusion concept for so much of our work, the Swann Lab contributes to many strands in our network of collaborations.

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