I am an evolutionary and cognitive social scientist. I connect insights from cognitive science, behavioral ecology, and evolutionary biology, with the “thick descriptions” of cultures produced by historians, sociologists, and anthropologists. I explore questions like: Why has romantic love become increasingly important in modern societies? Why are people interested in imaginary worlds? Why do people condemn victimless “purity violations”? Why do gods reward virtue and punish bad people? Specifically, I use phenotypic plasticity to explain the variability of human cultures, the gene-centered view of evolution to explain the emergence of cultural adaptations such as puritanism, supernatural beliefs, social control and entertainment, and reciprocity theory to explain human morality.
My work is thus at the intersection of the natural sciences (evolutionary biology, behavioral ecology, experimental psychology), the social sciences (social anthropology, economic history, political sciences) and the humanities (cultural history, moral philosophy, literary theory). I use all kinds of methods (evolutionary modelling, experiments, surveys, online data) and materials (portraits, novels, movies).
I have an interdisciplinary academic training, combining degrees in the Humanities (BA and MA in Philosophy), Social Sciences (Licence in History, Master in Sociology), and the Natural Sciences (BA in Biology, MA in Cognitive Science). I did a PhD in Social Sciences under the supervision of cultural and cognitive scientist Dan Sperber. I then did a first post-doc at the School of Anthropology & Museum Ethnography of the University of Oxford and a second one at the Philosophy, Politics and Economics Program of the University of Pennsylvania before creating the Evolution and Social Cognition in the Department of Cognitive Sciences at the Ecole Normale Supérieure – PSL University in Paris.
I am now Research Director at the CNRS and Professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure – PSL University in Paris. I am also the co-founder of Bunka, an exploration engine using social media data.
I supervise the ‘Social Sciences’ track of the Master of Cognitive Sciences and the PhD Program of Cognitive Sciences where I teach Introduction to Evolutionary Anthropology, Integrative Anthropology: From Environment to Culture, Data Science and Pop Culture and Evolutionary anthropology of the future (here are some tips if you want to join our programs).
Here are some representative articles:
- Fitouchi, L., André, J. B., & Baumard, N. (2022). Moral disciplining: The cognitive and evolutionary foundations of puritanical morality. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1-71.
- André, J., Debove, S., Fitouchi, L., & Baumard, N. (2022). Moral cognition as a Nash product maximizer: An evolutionary contractualist account of morality. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/2hxgu
- Baumard, N., Huillery, E., Hyafil, A. and Safra, L. (2022) The cultural evolution of love in history, Nature Human Behavior (Supplementary material, supplementary review, data and code here, as well as the Ancient World Values Survey). See also PNAS coverage.
- Boon-Falleur, M., Grandin, A., Baumard, N. and Chevallier C. (2022) Leveraging social cognition to promote effective climate change mitigation. Nature Climate Change
- Dubourg, E. & Baumard, N. (2021). Why imaginary worlds: The psychological foundations and cultural evolution of fictions with imaginary worlds, Behavioral and Brain Sciences (response to the commentaries here)
- Jacquet, P.O., Pazhoohi, F., Findling C., Mell, H., Chevallier, C., Baumard, N. (2021) Predictive multivariate modelling of religiosity, prosociality and moralizing in 295,000 individuals from European and non-European populations, Humanities and Social Sciences Communications
- Martin, M. & Baumard, N. (2020) The rise of prosociality in fiction preceded democratic revolutions in Early Modern Europe, PNAS
- Safra, L., Chevallier, C., Grèzes, J., Baumard, N. (2020) Tracking the rise of trust in history using machine learning and paintings, Nature Communications
- Baumard, N. (2019) Psychological Origins of the Industrial Revolution, Behavioral and Brain Sciences
- Baumard, N., Hyafil, A. Morris, I., and Boyer, P., (2015) Increased affluence explains the emergence of ascetic wisdoms and moralizing religions. Current Biology
My current research projects are:
- The psychological foundations and the cultural evolution of moralizing religions
My publications are indexed on Google Scholar. I used to blog at the International of Cognition and Culture Institute and to write a monthly column on psychology and public policies in Cerveau&Psycho (in French).
École Normale Supérieure – PSL University – Paris (France)