Dr. Richard Wrangham

Richard Wrangham is the Ruth Moore Research Professor of Biological Anthropology in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, where he taught from 1989 to 2020.  His major interests are chimpanzee and human evolutionary ecology, the evolutionary dynamics of violence and non-violence, and ape conservation. He received his Ph.D. in Zoology from Cambridge University in 1975, was a Research Fellow at King’s College (Cambridge) from 1977 to 1980, and taught at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) from 1981-1989.  Since 1987 he has studied wild chimpanzee behavior in Kibale National Park, Uganda. He has been President (2004-2008) of the International Primatological Society, and an Ambassador for UNEP/UNESCO’s Great Ape Survival Project (GRASP). Wrangham was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1987, and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the British Academy. His most recent books are Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human (Basic Books, June 2009) and The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution (Pantheon, January 2019).



HBES 2021 Keynote Address:

Self-Domestication and the Evolution of Human Groupishness

Christopher Boehm (1999, 2012, 2018) has argued that many genetically based aspects of human morality originated and evolved as a result of late Pleistocene Homo being able to cheaply kill alpha males. In this talk I support and extend Boehm’s analysis. I show that the style of killing that was apparently needed for this process does not occur in chimpanzees or any other nonhuman. The style, called targeted conspiratorial killing, is expected to have had two major and essentially simultaneous effects. One was self-domestication, which is datable by genetics and anatomy to the origin of Homo sapiens and would have had numerous adaptive and pleiotropic consequences. The other is selection for “groupishness”, i.e. the psychological mechanisms that underlie human ultrasociality and often appear to transcend self-interest. Both effects are reconstructed as being due to male competitive strategies. This scenario suggests the unfashionable view that the origins of many specifically human adaptations for ultrasociality lie in the dynamics of male-male relationships. A male-biased history of the origin both of Homo sapiens and of much of our uniquely groupish behavior represents a sensitive political issue in an era when canonical views of the evolution of ultrasociality often ignore sex differences, and when the academy rightly aspires to equitable recognition of the significance of each gender.