Arts, literature, music and digital culture

What explain the rise of romantic love stories in many different societies (e.g. Early Roman Empire, Abbasid caliphate, Central Medieval Europe, Late Imperial China)? What is the origin of the massive cultural success of fantasy worlds in modern societies, from Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter and Star Wars? Why is the rise of novel a late phenomenon in both Greek, European and Chinese literary history? When and where did fictions about the struggle between good and evil begin to become so popular? Are there parallel developments in the fictional content and devices of literary fiction, video games, and films? It has long been difficult to respond to these questions, largely because we lack a way to reliably compare thousands of fictions across media, time, space, and languages. The explosion of cultural data, coupled with the recent advances in machine learning, natural language processing, big data and cognitive science, offers a unique opportunity to better understand the human mind and human culture.

Representative papers:

Dubourg, E. & Baumard, N. (2021). Why imaginary worlds: The psychological foundations and cultural evolution of fictions with imaginary worlds, Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Dubourg, E., & Baumard, N. Why and How Did Narrative Fictions Evolve? Fictions as Entertainment Technologies. Frontiers in Psychology, 277.

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)


Dubourg, E., Thouzeau, V., de Dampierre, C., & Baumard, N. (2021). Exploratory preferences explain the cultural success of imaginary worlds in modern societies.

André, J. B., Baumard, N., & Boyer, P. (2020) The Mystery of Symbolic Culture: What fitness costs? What fitness benefits?

Dubourg, E., André, JB, and Baumard, N. (2021) The evolution of music: one trait, two ultimate-level explanations. Commentary to ‘Origins of music in credible signaling’ by Mehr et al., Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Dubourg, E. & Baumard, N. (Forthcoming) The Evolutionary Origins of Fiction. Handbook of Fiction and Belief.

Dubourg, E., André JB, and Baumard N., (2021) L’origine des fictions : l’hypothèse des fonctions évolutionnaires sociales, Fabula, 25.

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 Communication