Swallow Hall, a 19th Century Gothic Building,
home of the Department of Anthropology

Gavan Lecture Series "Pascal Boyer"

Speaker: Pascal Boyer; Henry Luce Professor of Collective and Individual Memory; Washington University, St. Louis Professor, Sociocultural Anthropology and Psychology

Talk Title: "Folk-Economic Beliefs: An Evolutionary Cognitive Perspective"

Abstract: Why do people not understand the economy? The domain of “folk-economics” consists in explicit beliefs about the economy held by laypeople, untrained in economics, that are usually described by economists in terms of irrationality, biases and lack of information, while their cognitive underpinnings are not properly studied. I propose that information about economic phenomena is processed by a suite of specialized, largely automatic inference systems that emerged as adaptations to human sociality. These include free-rider detection, fairness-based partner-choice, ownership intuitions and coalitional psychology. Activation of these systems may explain how certain folk-economic beliefs, about e.g., the effects of regulation, the dangers of trade or of markets in general, and the connections between work and wages, become intuitively compelling and culturally transmitted, with important consequences for political choices.