The Evolution of Culture and Institutions: Evidence from the Kuba Kingdom

with Sara Lowes, Nathan Nunn, and James A. Robinson. 2017. Econometrica, 85, 4, Pp. 1065-1091. PDFAppendix. Related links: Cato Institute.

We use variation in historical state centralization to examine the impact of institutions on cultural norms. The Kuba Kingdom, established in Central Africa in the early 17th century by King Shyaam, had more developed state institutions than the other independent villages and chieftaincies in the region. It had an unwritten constitution, separation of political powers, a judicial system with courts and juries, a police force and military, taxation, and significant public goods provision…

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Understanding Ethnic Identity in Africa: Evidence from the Implicit Association Test (IAT)

with Sara Lowes, Nathan Nunn, and James A. Robinson. 2015. American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings 105, 5, Pp. 1-8. PDF Appendix. VoxEU.

Despite the salience of ethnicity in African politics, recent experimental research finds little evidence of intrinsic coethnic bias. We develop a new measure of ethnic bias that is less sensitive to experimenter demand effects and other forms of measurement error. Specifically, we argue that a tablet-based implicit association test (IAT) mitigates measurement error concerns associated with studying interethnic preferences…

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The Genetic Legacy of State Centralization in the Kuba Kingdom of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

with L. van Dorp, et al. 2019. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116(2):593-598. PDF. BBC Inside Science.

Few phenomena have had as profound or long-lasting consequences in human history as the emergence of large-scale centralized states in the place of smaller-scale and more-local societies. This study examines a fundamental, and yet, unexplored consequence of state formation: its genetic legacy…

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Moralizing gods, extended prosociality, and religious parochialism across 15 societies

with Lang, M. et al. 2019. Proceedings of the Royal Academy B286: 20190202. PDF.

Explaining the emergence of large-scale cooperation during the Holocene remains a central problem in the evolutionary literature. Among several contributing mechanisms, one hypothesis points to culturally evolved beliefs in punishing, interventionist gods that facilitate the extension of cooperative behavior toward geographically distant co-religionists who are unlikely to reciprocate…

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