Robert Kurzban

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Robert Kurzban
Born (1969-09-29) September 29, 1969 (age 54)
Academic background
EducationBA, Cornell University, 1991; Ph.D, UCSB, 1998
ThesisThe Social Psychophysics of Cooperation in Groups (1998)
Doctoral advisorLeda Cosmides & John Tooby
Academic work
Sub-disciplineEvolutionary Psychology
InstitutionsUniversity of Pennsylvania
Notable worksWhy Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind
The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind: How Self-Interest Shapes Our Opinions and Why We Won’t Admit It

Robert Kurzban is an American freelance writer and former psychology professor specializing in evolutionary psychology.


Kurzban was a tenured professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania until 2018, when he resigned following allegations of inappropriate relationships with undergraduate students. Following his resignation, he was dismissed as the director of the department's honors program.[1][2] He also resigned as president of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society (HBES) and as Editor-in-Chief of the Society’s journal, Evolution and Human Behavior.[3] Since then he has worked as a freelance writer.

Kurzban was trained by two pioneers in the field of evolutionary psychology, John Tooby and Leda Cosmides, and his research focused on evolutionary approaches to understanding human social behavior. He took an adaptationist view of human psychology, studying the adaptive function, or, survival value, in the adoption of traits by humans. His work aimed at understanding the functions of psychological mechanisms occurring in human social life. He used methods drawn from social psychology, cognitive psychology, and especially experimental economics to research topics including morality, punishment, and mate choice.[4][5]

His early work investigated the social construction of race and concerned a hypothesis being proposed at the time, that people "automatically" encode the race of people they observe. Kurzban argued that because humans evolved in a world in which they rarely, if ever, encountered people of significantly different physical appearance from themselves, it was unlikely that the human brain evolved with a mechanism to encode what is currently referred to as "race". A series of experiments showed that with a relatively minor manipulation in the laboratory, the extent to which people categorized others by race could be reduced.[6]

Evolutionary psychology has come under attack from a number of critics. Kurzban was active in defending the discipline from prominent detractors and also worked to clarify the principle of cognitive modularity, which plays an important role in the discipline.[7][8]

He was elected president of HBES in 2017.[9]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Weeden, Jason; Kurzban, Robert (2014). The hidden agenda of the political mind: how self-interest shapes our opinions and why we won't admit it. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-16111-2.
  • DeScioli, Peter; Kurzban, Robert (2013). "A solution to the mysteries of morality". Psychological Bulletin. American Psychological Association (APA). 139 (2): 477–496. doi:10.1037/a0029065. ISSN 1939-1455. PMID 22747563.
  • Kurzban, Robert (2010). Why everyone (else) is a hypocrite: evolution and the modular mind. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-15439-8.