I am a third-year PhD student working in the Department of Biosciences of the University of Exeter in Cornwall (UK). I am supervised by Professor Alex Mesoudi. My PhD thesis forms part of a larger project funded by the Leverhulme Trust on the Cultural Evolution of Social Hierarchy. Dr. Charlotte Brand also works on this project.
My PhD focuses on Henrich and Gil-White’s (2001) theory of the evolution of prestige in humans. According to these authors, humans use two different strategies to acquire high social rank and social influence, which they labeled ‘dominance’ (i.e. using threat and intimidation to induce fear in others) and ‘prestige’ (displaying competence in valued domains to induce admiration in others). The first part of my thesis focuses on the distinction between dominance and prestige. I am currently writing a review article discussing the evidence for and against this dual evolutionary model of social hierarchy and developing my own model integrating research on all of these fields. In an additional article with Dr. Adam Flitton, we discuss the limitations of the current application of the dominance-prestige distinction to modern politics; moreover, we analyse survey data showing that economic uncertainty and intergroup conflict predict preferences for both dominant and prestigious political leaders. We also show that perceptions of political leaders as dominant or prestigious depend on the political ideology of the perceiver and the politician. This article will be available very soon as a preprint.
Henrich and Gil-White argue that prestige psychology is exclusive to humans, while dominance psychology is shared with other social animals. They believe that prestige evolved as a way to select models from whom socially learn. Consequently, they predict that humans preferentially copy the behaviours, opinions, and skills of prestigious individuals and better
recall information provided by them than the information provided by less prestigious individuals. This is known as prestige-biased social learning. The second part of my thesis focuses on the above mentioned social learning bias. Firstly, we have conducted a literature review on prestige-biased social learning addressing whether the use of prestige bias is adaptive and what is its actual use. We have also distinguished between two different prestige cues that people use to infer competence, which we call first-order (e.g. age, material possessions or appearance of potential models) and second-order prestige cues (e.g. attention and deference that other individuals pay towards potential models). This article has been published in Palgrave Communications (Jiménez & Mesoudi, 2019). Furthermore, we have conducted an experiment in which we tested whether the information provided by prestigious sources was better transmitted across a chain of four participants than information provided by non-prestigious sources. We did not find evidence to support a better transmission of information provided by prestigious individuals. This article is currently under review but a preprint is available (Jiménez & Mesoudi, Submitted). We are currently conducting an additional experiment, which results will be available as a preprint in the next few months.
Prior to my PhD, I undertook the MA Research Methods at the Department of Anthropology at Durham University following the cultural evolution pathway. My dissertation was supervised by Dr. Jamie Tehrani and focused on the cognitive biases affecting the transmission of vaccine-related information and decisions. Together with Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, we ran a transmission chain experiment published in Social Science & Medicine (Jiménez, Stubbersfield & Tehrani, 2018). We tested whether anti-vaccination information was better transmitted than pro-vaccination information and how the style of the information (emotional vs medical) influenced the transmission of the pro-vaccination/anti-vaccination information. We found that emotional information was better transmitted than medical information with the independence of the view (pro-, anti-) on vaccination. Later, we have conducted another experiment testing whether the side effects of a vaccine are better recalled than symptoms of a vaccine-preventable infectious disease. Contrary to our predictions, we did not find evidence for better recall of side effects than symptoms. A preprint of this article is available (Jiménez, Mesoudi & Tehrani, Submitted).
In the near future, I would like to continue conducting research on the dominance-prestige distinction. Specifically, I aim to study the long-term consequences of dominance and prestige-based hierarchies on invention, innovation and cumulative culture. I would also like to study how the use of the dominance and prestige strategies varies in different settings (e.g. informal vs formal hierarchies, large vs small-scale societies) and how prestige-biased social learning is affected by digital technologies.
I am also very interested in studying how people integrate individual and social learning within key areas of their lives such as health (e.g. what to eat, how to do exercise), time (e.g. how to manage this important limited resource, how to deal with distractions), money (e.g. how to save money, invest it, gain more of it), social and romantic relationships (e.g. how to make friends, attract a partner, maintain healthy relationships and deal with toxic relationships), career (e.g. what aspects of a job need to be prioritised, how to gain a promotion) and personal development (e.g. how to compose a song, learn a second language, surf, dance, fish, grow vegetables) development.
If you want to know more about me, you can download my CV here.