Mind, Body, Cultural Evolution Lab

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Our students pick up new skills as part of our R Club

Our students pick up new skills as part of our R Club


R Session 2

Hi everyone,

here are the slides for the R session on ggplot2.

New experiments in the making


Our next group project is taking shape. First trial run with our awesome crew of summer students.  Watch this space for news about our findings!

Inaugural Cultural Evolution Society Conference

Ron presented at the Inaugural Cultural Evolution Society Conference in Jena, Germany.

Read the abstract below and download the presentation.

Synchrony as social bonding mechanism: A review and meta-analysis of experimental and field studies on the effects of synchronous behavior

Ronald Fischer, Reneeta Mogan, Joseph Bulbulia

Victoria University of Wellington New Zealand

All known human groups are known to have rituals that involve synchronized behavior (singing, chanting, dancing, marching, etc.). The most commonly proposed hypothesis for the universality of synchronous behavioral ritual is that it was evolutionary adaptive by bonding groups of unrelated individuals into cohesive groups. We examine these claims. First, we meta-analytically investigated the strength of synchrony on four dimensions of social cognition and behavior: prosocial behavior, perceptions of social bonding, social cognition, and positive affect.  We analyzed a total of 42 independent studies (N = 4,327) in which experimentally manipulated synchronous actions were compared to control conditions in healthy non-clinical samples.  Supporting the general social bonding hypothesis, synchronous actions were associated with increases in all four dimensions.  Synchrony had a medium-sized effect on prosocial behaviors, a small­-to-medium-sized effect on perceptions of social bonding and social cognition, and a small-sized effect on positive affect.  At the same time, the effects were sensitive to scale: synchrony in larger groups increased prosocial behavior and positive affect, but decreased social bonding perceptions and social cognition.  This suggests that distinct process mechanisms (neurocognitive versus affective) might underpin synchrony’s effects. Moving from the lab to the field, synchronous behaviors in real-world groups increase social bonding behaviors in a variety of different cultural settings. We review previous studies and present novel data showing the effects of synchronous behavior on social bonding. Yet, in real-world settings synchrony effects are conditional on power dynamics and meaning created around the behaviors. These effects further explain how cultural evolution may have augmented and fine-tuned basic behavioral bonding processes for maintaining social cohesion and dominance structures across evolutionary time frames.

Johannes will present at the AASP17

Johannes will give a talk on attitudes and behaviours towards international students in New Zealand Universities and High Schools.


The number of international students is steadily increasing and is expected to reach 7.2 Million by 2025. While most major institutions of higher education now have departments assisting international students in their transition into their new environment, most problems international students face require the help of their domestic peers. Particularly problems of academic nature, for example course specific work, require the assistance of students and staff familiar with the local academic environment. An important question, therefore, is: what are barriers and promotors of willingness to assist international students in an academic environment?

In the current study we explored the influence of contextual and individual variables on the willingness to help international students in academic matters. We conducted the research with 543 domestic students in secondary and tertiary educational institutions in New Zealand. The research participants answered survey assessing their social dominance orientation, perception of cultural inclusiveness of their current institution, perceived threat by international students, attitudes towards and contact with international students, as well as their willingness to assist international students in academic matters.

We established a model, using pathway analysis, in which the effects of social dominance orientation and cultural inclusiveness, and contact on attitudes were partially mediated by perceptions of threat. In turn, attitudes completely mediated the relationships of cultural inclusiveness and threat with the willingness to assist international students in academic matters. The effect of social dominance orientation and contact was only partially mediated.

These findings draw attention to intra-individual processes in understanding the influence of individual and contextual factors on the willingness to assist international students. Theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.

Johannes presented at the IACCP17 in Warsaw

You can find the presentation here.

Diversity as a Predictor of Identity and Well-being

An increasing portion of members of the younger generations, especially in Eastern European countries identify as Europeans. Collective identities can be affected by a range of contextual factors, for example, ethnic diversity. The present study investigated perceived ethnic diversity as a predictor, and national and European identities as mediators in the prediction of well-being. The study was conducted in Bulgaria and Romania due to the scarcity of research conducted on collective identity constructs in those two countries. An online questionnaire was administered to 204 Bulgarian and 163 Romanian university students. We established a path model in which the effect of diversity on well-being was completely mediated by national and European identity. European and national identity were positvely correlated in both countries. Our findings indicate that the European and national identity play an important role in understanding the positive influence of diversity on well-being.

Ron’s presentation on Spirit Possession

Ron presented at the conference on  Spirit Possession: Global and Multidisciplinary Perspectives.

Read his abstract below or download the presentation.

Spirit possession in Southern Thailand – linking biology, social context and meaning

Associate Professor Ronald Fischer, Victoria University of Wellington and Tina Tasananukorn, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, NZ.

Spirit possessions are a central aspect of Taoist-Buddhist practices among the Sino-Thai communities in Southern Thailand. These practices find their most visible expression each year during the nine day Vegetarian Festival, celebrated during the first nine days of the ninth lunar month in honor of the Nine-Emperor God. During this period, thousands of spirit mediums go into trance and perform various acts of divination, blessing and self-mutilation. These acts are puzzling due to the apparent endurance of extreme pain, but are seen as acts of supernatural power among local community members. In order to understand these dynamics better, together with a small team of researchers, we have conducted a series of multimethod studies over the last five years, incorporating various surveys, in-depth interviews, observations, physiological measures and historical analyses. In this presentation, we will provide an overall summary of the emerging picture related to the social status and experiences of spirit mediums. Overall, our findings suggest a complex interaction of biological and social variables describes best the emergence and popularity of spirit mediumship in this particular population. Individuals with (biological) vulnerabilities are more likely to become spirit mediums. Interestingly, economic vulnerabilities and socio-economic status appear less important than in Western societies. Yet, these vulnerabilities that in Western societies often lead to marginalization and stigmatization are channeled into a socially acceptable and valuable cultural expression, that elevates the social status of the spirit mediums and thereby allows them to fully participate in social life and provides them with a unique opportunity to fulfill highly valued social roles. Our case study shows that spirit possession is a multi-faceted expression that needs to be unpackaged using multi-disciplinary approaches. It also provides new insights for psychological help, as it highlights the importance of social acceptance and cultural dynamics.