Thursday, 20 February 2014

Visiting speaker: Gordon Ingram, Bath Spa University

Date and time: Thursday Feb 27, 4:00pm, Room C113

Title: "From hitting to tattling to gossip: an evolutionary rationale for the development of indirect aggression in children"

Gossip is often argued to play an important role in maintaining systems of cooperation based on reputation. It is a common behaviour among adolescents - a critical time for reputation formation - at which age many researchers use negative gossip as an example of indirect aggression (or of the related constructs of relational or social aggression). However, true gossip (in the sense of covert reporting of behaviour) seems to be almost unknown among young children. In the first part of the talk I summarise my PhD research on tattling - a form of overt reporting of behaviour which young children do practise frequently. Tattling in my research sites correlated with both dominance and indirect aggression. In the second part of the talk, I propose a new theoretical model in which aggression (in intra-group contexts) is socialised into increasingly indirect forms as children get older. This is associated with an image-schematic elaboration of the dominance hierarchies characteristic of non-human animals, which are mediated by ritualised physical interactions, into prestige hierarchies that are mediated by abstract, symbolic interactions. From the developmental literature I identify three pieces of evidence for this model: (i) physical aggression falls in early childhood over the same age range during which indirect aggression increases; (ii) the same individuals engage in both physical and indirect aggression; and (iii) dominant individuals practice indirect aggression more frequently. This leads me to postulate two major developmental transitions in social behaviour: the first occurring in early childhood with the internalisation of norms against physical aggression, and the second in preadolescence with the development of increasingly covert forms of reputational competition. I speculate that these developmental transitions may be associated with a two-step model of human evolution, in which increasingly complex societies were first supported by social emotions in face-to-face interactions, and only later by formal institutions with greatly increased spatial and temporal displacement. Finally I briefly consider practical implications of this model for reducing bullying, both face-to-face and online.

Gordon Ingram is Lecturer in Psychology at Bath Spa University, where he coordinates the second-year module in Developmental Psychology and the third-year module in Evolutionary Psychology. He received his PhD in 2009 from the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen's University Belfast, with a thesis entitled: "Young children's reporting of peers' behaviour". Before joining Bath Spa he taught Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University, and then worked on a large-scale European research project at the University of Bath, helping to develop an educational computer game aimed at improving preadolescent children's conflict resolution skills. His research interests include evolutionary developmental psychology; conflict and cooperation in peer groups; social and emotional learning; cyberbullying and the use of social networking software by preadolescents; and the anthropology of childhood.


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