EvolvingEconomics – “Human motivation: evolutionary foundations and their implications for economics” (ERC grant n° 789111)

Project summary

Economics provides decision-makers with powerful tools to analyse a wide range of issues. The methodological unity of the discipline and its quest for a general understanding of market as well as non-market interactions have given the discipline great influence on policy. A core component of economics is its assumption that individuals act as if they each had some goal function that they seek to maximise, under the constraints they face and the information they have.

Despite significant advances in behavioural economics, there still is no consensus as to whether and why certain preferences are more likely than others. Further progress could be made if the factors that shape human motivation in the first place were understood. The aim of this project is to produce novel insights about such factors, by establishing evolutionary foundations of human motivation.

The project's scope is ambitious. First, it will study two large classes of interactions: strategic interactions, and interactions within the realm of the family. Second, to obtain both depth and breadth of insights, it will consist of four different, but inter-related, components (three theoretical and one empirical), the ultimate goal being to significantly enhance our overall understanding of the factors that shape human motivation.

The methodology is ground-breaking in that it is strongly interdisciplinary. Parts of the body of knowledge built by biologists and evolutionary anthropologists in the past decades will be combined with state-of-the-art economics to produce insights that cannot be obtained within any single discipline. Focus will nonetheless be on addressing issues of importance for economists.

The proposed research builds on extensive work done by the PI in the past decade. It will benefit from the years that the PI has invested in understanding the biology and the evolutionary anthropology literatures, and in contributing towards building an interdisciplinary research ecosystem in Toulouse, France.

Project dates: January 1st 2019 - June 30th 2024

TSE contact: Ingela ALGER