The Impact of Globalization on Cultures

How do we know whether others mean what they communicate?

Research team

Alejandro Erut, Principal Investigator
Cristine Legare, Co-Investigator

Key information

Full title: Epistemic vigilance and transmission chains in children from two societies
Host institution: University of Texas at Austin (USA)
Research location: USA, Ecuador

This project is one of three additional Seedcorn awards.

Project overview 

The study of how humans communicate with each other via speech and other symbolic systems has been a central concern for evolutionary social science. This is not surprising given that the study of communication is fundamental to address questions ranging from the origins and functions of human sociality, identity, morality, cooperation, conflict, and even reasoning. One of the core challenges of human communication is that when individuals share information with each other, it is not always precise, accurate, genuine, true, or motivated by “good” intentions. This raises the hypothesis that humans may have evolved cognitive mechanisms to assess the quality of the source and information that circulates in their environments – what Sperber et al. (2010) call epistemic vigilance.

Sunset: Shuar community of Chinimpi, Morona  Santiago, Ecuador – Photo by Alejandro Erut

Still, although epistemic vigilance seems to be a universal phenomenon, the specifics of its cultural instantiations remain understudied and deserve attention from an evolutionary and developmental perspective. By comparing epistemic strategies between Shuar-Achuar children from Ecuador and children from Austin in the USA, this project aims to pilot methods (e.g., vignettes and transmission chain tasks) to study epistemic vigilance from a comparative perspective.

Project contacts

If you would like to contact the project team, please email the grant management team in the first instance, at

Alejandro Erut: Twitter, Website