Ganging up on the germs: The evolution of care-giving for the sick

This week in the CRESIDA seminar series, our speaker is Sharon Kessler, who is Marie Curie Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at Durham University.  Her talk is on the evolution of care-giving for the sick. Come and join us on Thursday at 4.15pm in Room G070 at Parkstead House to learn more.


Humans are the only species to have evolved cooperative care-giving as a strategy for disease control. A synthesis of evidence from the fossil record, paleogenomics, human ecology, and disease transmission models, suggests that care-giving for the diseased evolved as part of the unique suite of cognitive and socio-cultural specializations that are attributed to the genus Homo. In the first part of the talk, I will discuss my recent modeling work which suggests that 1) the evolution of human social structure facilitated the evolution of care-giving for the sick and 2) care-giving may have been a more effective method of disease control than an avoidance strategy, enabling hominins to suppress disease spread as social complexity, and thus socially-transmitted disease risk, increased. In the second part of the talk, I discuss how I’m using studies of primate behavior to empirically test predictions derived from these models, including exploring the evolutionary links between the ability to recognize when a group-mate is ill and other cognitive abilities.

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