HEB Colloquium: "Risk and time preferences as adaptive strategies: An evolutionary & cross-cultural perspective"


Monday, January 29, 2018, 4:00pm to 5:30pm


Haller Hall, Geological Museum Room 102, 24 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA

Dorsa Amir

Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Anthropology, Yale University

Given that the future is uncertain but inevitable, virtually every aspect of our decision making is influenced by preferences regarding risk and time. While these preferences have sometimes been viewed as inherent traits, I will offer an alternative perspective, arguing that they are adaptive strategies for managing the downside costs of uncertainty, shaped by early experience with the local socioecological environment. I will present the results of a cross-cultural investigation of preferences in children from India, Argentina, the United States, and the Ecuadorian Amazon, showing that market integration and related socioecological shifts, which fundamentally reduce the downside costs of uncertainty, lead to the development of more risk-seeking and future-oriented preferences.  I supplement these results with evidence from a large study of American adults, showing that access to resources in early development has persistent effects on preferences into adulthood, such that early deprivation is associated with greater risk-aversion, greater present-orientation, as well as greater cooperation, which represents a risk-averse social strategy. These findings suggest that preferences are malleable, with sensitive windows in development for integrating information from the local environment in ways that optimize decision-making.