ELIZABETH CASHDAN

Curriculum Vitae

ELIZABETH CASHDAN portrait
  • Professor, Anthropology Department, University of Utah

Research

Research Statement

I  use the theoretical perspectives of evolutionary ecology and evolutionary psychology to understand various aspects of human behavior. My overseas fieldwork has been with hunter-gatherers in Botswana (Bushmen) and Tanzania (Hadza).

My research has followed two primary threads over the years:

(1) Understanding the adaptive significance and proximate (hormonal) correlates of of sex differences in competition, aggression, and, most recently, spatial cognition.  Spatial ability is phylogenetically ancient and very practical (unlike math and reading) and it shows a surprisingly large sex difference in some areas.  The size of these effects, their presence in some other species, and their relationship to sex hormones and mobility have suggested to evolutionists that these are evolved features and that to understand them we need to understand the selection pressures that shaped them.  I have been pursuing this in work with two groups of foragers, the Hadza of Tanzania and, with my graduate student Layne Vashro, the Twe of Namibia.  Last summer I collected similar data in Tonga with another grad student, Liz Schauerte.  A multi-disciplinary NSF grant to study spatial cognition and mobility cross-culturally was recently recommended for funding.

(2) Understanding the ecological determinants of how hunans use space. This research thread includes my earlier work on hunter-gatherer mobility and territoriality, and more recent work on ethnic diversity and its environmental and biogeographic determinants.  Because some theorists have argued that infectious disease has been an important selection pressure shaping human culture, I have included this along with other environmental pressures in attempting to understand ethnic boundedness and global diversity.