Talk by Helena Miton

The Mint Talk

  • Date: May 25, 2016
  • Time: 02:00 PM - 03:30 PM (Local Time Germany)
  • Speaker: Helena Miton
  • Central European University, Budapest
  • Location: MPI SHH Jena
  • Room: Villa V03
  • Host: Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution
  • Contact:
Explaining the spread of maladaptive medical beliefs
Cultural evolution can help us understand the spread of medical beliefs and
practices, and thus open new avenues of research on those topics. Cultural attraction
theory, more specifically, integrates knowledge from evolutionary psychology to cultural
evolutionary models, and can be used to understand the spread and evolution of healthrelated
practices. I’ll illustrate this point through two examples: bloodletting and
resistance to pro-vaccination beliefs. Those two cases illustrate what can go wrong with
medical beliefs, and public health. Bloodletting is an inefficient, even dangerous practice,
which nevertheless enjoyed an impressive cultural success. I investigated bloodletting’s
success using a combination of anthropological data, transmission chain experiments, and
modeling. Vaccination is an efficient practice that faces hostile reactions; as a result,
vaccination rates are not as high as they should be. These reactions are best understood as
the combination of several cognitive mechanisms rendering pro-vaccination beliefs
counter-intuitive. Beyond those two examples, a “cultural attraction” approach to medical
beliefs would be able to suggest better ways to communicate around public health, by
anticipating how risk-related information can be distorted during transmission and by
pointing at which sources, or type of messages, might lead to a better diffusion for
accurate medical beliefs.
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