Peter J. (Pete) Richerson

Distinguished Professor Emeritus

Department of Environmental Science and Policy

University of California Davis

Office: 3146A Wickson Hall
Phone:s 530  400-4061, 756-5054

Available Publications
Cultural Evolution

  Limnology & Ecology



Cultural Evolution: Society, Technology, Language and Religion is the product of a Strüngmann Forum from MIT Press

Not By Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed the Evolutionary Process from Chicago University Press, is meant for a general audience.


   The Origin and Evolution of Cultures is a collection of our more important papers published by Oxford University Press.


Culture and the Evolutionary Process .The University of Chicago Press has kept Rob Boyd's and my 1985 book in print.  

Principles of Human Ecology textbook. Send me an email if you want access to electronic copy of this custom published text


Former Undergraduate  Courses

The Global Ecosystem and Geography ESP 30

The Evolution of Societies  and Cultures     ESP/ANT 105

Principles of Environmental Science  ESP 110


Graduate Teaching

Graduate Groups

Recent Students



My main passion is cultural evolution. I frequently collaborate with Robert Boyd, Professor of Human Origins at Arizona State University, in  research on cultural evolution. We use methods of analysis of evolution mainly developed by evolutionary biologists to study the processes of cultural evolution. The idea is to make models, do experiments, and conduct observational studies that illuminate the evolutionary properties of human culture and animal social learning, and the processes of gene-culture coevolution. For an accessible general account of this work in historical perspective click here (pdf file).  In recent publications we have been  using the theoretical models to try to understand some of the main events in human evolution, such as the evolution of  the advanced capacity for imitation (and hence cumulative cultural evolution in humans), the origin of language, the origins of tribal and larger scale cooperation, and the origins of agriculture. We and our students have conducted experiments and field work aimed at understanding the processes of cultural evolution. I taught undergraduates about these things in my course, Evolution of Societies and Cultures.

I am the member of a UCD research group devoted to the evolutionary study of human behavior. My current and former colleagues in this endeavor include Richard McElreath, Mark Lubell, Billy Baum, Brian PaciottiTim Waring, Adrian Bell, Vicken Hillis, Katie Demps, Bret Beheim, Ryan Baldini and Matt Zefferman and Charles Efferson. In the past our lab hosted Max Planck Society postdoc Christian Cordes from Germany and Fulbright predoc Pontus Strimling from Sweden. I have thought about practical applications of cultural evolution. Russell Genet, Dwight Collins, and I have a project to apply ideas derived from what Boyd and I called the "tribal social instincts" and "workaround"  hypothesis to questions of managing businesses and other medium scale human organizations. Innate aspects of our social psychology coevolved with cultural institutions as an adaptation to tribal social life. These tribal instincts are the raw material out of which all human social systems are built. Businesses and other medium scale social systems are much like tribes except that they are embedded in a web of other organizations that make up our complex societies. The institutions of complex societies include workarounds to finesse the problems generated a psychology adapted to a rather different sort of social system. This project is supported by the Collins Education Foundation. We are seeking comments on sketch of this project which can be found on the CEF web site.



Publication List


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