Principal researchers

Dr Shakti Lamba

Dr Alexandra Alvergne, University of Oxford

Dr Vivek Nityananda, Newcastle University

Grants and funding

Dr Lamba was awarded a three-year ESRC Future Research Leaders fellowship in 2014.

The project has also received funding from the British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences, The ESRC, The Leverhulme Trust, The Cogito Foundation, The Royal Society, Parkes Foundation and UCL Centre for Ecology and Evolution.

Related publications

Lamba, S. "The empirical evidence that does not support cultural group selection models for the evolution of human cooperation" (In press), Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Lamba, S. "Social learning in cooperative dilemmas" (2014), Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 

Lamba, S and Mace, R. "The evolution of fairness: Explaining variation in bargaining behaviour" (2013), Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Well building in India - a cooperative dilemma

Dr Shakti Lamba, ESRC Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Human Behavioural Ecology, is working with communities in central and northeast India to learn more about cooperation and culture in humans.

Dr Lamba is running a well building project in remote villages in the Chhattisgarh state of India, to test how people cooperate when facing a high stakes cooperative dilemma.

The project uses using methods from across the biological and social sciences to empirically test different theories of cooperation. It aims to discover whether cooperation happens on a reciprocal basis (we help our family and people who help us), whether it is determined by shared cultural values, and how it is affected by migration and the composition of human populations.

Between January and July 2015, ten randomly chosen Pahari Korwa villages were offered money and building materials to build wells. Villagers decided collectively if they would commit unpaid voluntary labour to construct the wells, and Dr Lamba’s research team are now monitoring the six villages that decided to build.

The team are collecting a range of demographic, socio-economic, social network and genealogical data from the villages, to test which factors make the populations more likely to participate in cooperation.

The findings of this project are relevant to policy makers across the world as they will illuminate how demographic change affects social behaviour and systems, a currently pressing issue for governments.

Dr Shakti Lamba, ESRC Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Human Behavioural Ecology

Dr Lamba said: “The building and maintenance of wells for water is a classic public goods dilemma: everyone benefits from the water whether they help to build and maintain the wells or not. Over the next few years we will use these data to examine what sorts of factors affect participation in the cooperative task of well building.”

The project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and involves collaboration with organisations and institutions from both India and the UK, including Chaupal – a voluntary organisation working with tribal peoples in Chhattisgarh.

Dr Lamba aims to apply the project’s findings to advise governments about creating effective policies around shared public goods and new innovations.

She explains: “The findings of this project are relevant to policy makers across the world as they will illuminate how demographic change affects social behaviour and systems, a currently pressing issue for governments.”