Research Statement

I  use the theoretical perspectives of evolutionary ecology and evolutionary psychology to understand various aspects of human behavior.  My current research is focused on understanding sex differences in mobility, navigation, and spatial cognition.

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  (unlike math and reading) and shows a surprisingly robust sex difference in humans and in some other species, where it is also related to sex differences in mobility.   This has suggested to evolutionists that these are evolved features and that to understand them we need to understand the selection pressures that shaped them. Our cross-disciplinary Spatial Cognition and Navigation project is studying this in the lab and in the field, and now includes five fieldsites. We have recently received additional funding to study the development of these abilities in children cross-culturally.

(2) Understanding the ecological determinants of how humans 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.

Research Keywords

  • human behavioral ecology, evolutionary psychology, spatial cognition

Research Groups

  • Mobility and spatial reasoning in children across cultures , Research Professor. Anthropology. 09/01/2016 - 08/31/2018. Awards/Scholarships/Stipends: funded by NSF program in Developmental Sciences.
  • Spatial Cognition and Navigation (SCAN), Research Professor. Anthropology and Psychology. 09/2013 - 02/28/2018. Awards/Scholarships/Stipends: funded by NSF Interdisciplinary Behavioral and Social Science program.

Grants, Contracts & Research Gifts

  • MOBILITY AND SPATIAL REASONING. PI: CASHDAN,ELIZABETH A. NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION, 09/01/2016 - 08/31/2018. Total project budget to date: $199,926.00
  • AGE & SEX IN SPATIAL COGNITION. PI: CASHDAN,ELIZABETH A. Co-PI(s): Sarah Creem-Regehr, Jeanine Stefanucci. NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION, 06/01/2013 - 02/28/2018. Total project budget to date: $997,871.00

Geographical Regions of Interest

  • Eastern Africa
  • Southern Africa


  • Padilla, L.M., Creem-Regehr, S.H., Stefanucci, J.K. and Cashdan, E., 2016. Sex differences in virtual navigation influenced by scale and navigation experience. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, pp.1-9. Released, 06/2016.
  • E. Cashdan, K. Kramer, H. Davis, L. Padilla, & R. Greaves. Mobility and navigation among the Yucatec Maya: Sex differences reflect parental investment, not mating competition. Human Nature 27(1): 35-50. Published, 03/2016.
  • L. Vashro, L. Padilla, & E. Cashdan. Sex Differences in mobility and spatial cognition: A test of the fertility and parental care hypothesis in Northwestern Namibia. Human Nature 27(1):16-34. Published, 03/2016.
  • K. Gagnon, E. Cashdan, J. Stefanucci, & S. Creem-Regehr. Sex differences in exploration behavior and the relationship to harm avoidance. Human Nature 27(1):82-97. Published, 03/2016.
  • E. Cashdan and S. J. C. Gaulin. Why Go There? Evolution of Mobility and Spatial Cognition in Women and Men. Human Nature 27(1):1-15. Published, 03/2016.
  • S. J. C. Gaulin and E. Cashdan (eds.) Mobility and Spatial Reasoning, Human Nature Special issue Vol 27(1). Published, 03/2016.
  • L. Vashro and E. Cashdan. Spatial cognition, mobility, and reproductive success in Northwestern Namibia. Evolution and Human Behavior 36(2):123–129. Published, 03/2015.
  • Cashdan, E (2014). Biogeography of human infectious diseases: a global historical analysis. PLoS ONE 9(10): e106752. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0106752. Published, 10/2014.
  • E. Cashdan, What is a Human Universal? Human Behavioral Ecology and Human Nature. in Arguing About Human Nature, S. M. Downes and E. Machery, eds. Routledge Press. Published, 03/2013.
  • E. Cashdan and M. Steele, Pathogen prevalence, group bias, and collectivism in the standard cross-cultural sample. Human Nature 24(1). Published, 01/2013.
  • E. Cashdan,F. Marlowe, A.Crittenden, C, Porter, B. Wood. Sex differences in spatial cognition among Hadza Foragers. Evolution and Human Behavior. 33(1):274-84. Published, 07/2012.
  • E. Cashdan and S. Downes, eds. Evolution of Human Aggression. (special issue) Human Nature 23(1). 2012. Published, 03/2012.
  • E. Cashdan and S. Downes. Evolutionary perspectives on human aggression: Introduction to the special issue. Human Nature 23:1-4. Published, 03/2012.
  • E. Cashdan. In-group loyalty or out-group avoidance? Isolating the links between pathogens and in-group assortative sociality. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 35:82 (invited comment). Published, 01/2012.
  • E. Cashdan. Sex Differences in Aggression: What Does Evolutionary Theory Predict? Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 32:273-74 (invited commentary). Published, 10/2009.
  • E. Cashdan. Waist-to-Hip Ratio Across Cultures: Trade-o ffs between Androgen- and Estrogen-Dependent Traits. Current Anthropology 49(6):1099-1107. Published, 12/2008.