TAKEZAWA Masanori Professor
Research Subject

evolution of cooperation, cultural evolution, cognitive foundations of culture

Research Fields
social psychology, social decision making, adaptive decision making
Faculty - Division / Research Group / Laboratory
Division of Human Sciences / Research Group of Behavioral Science / Laboratory of Behavioral Science
Graduate School - Division / Department / Laboratory
Division of Human Sciences / Department of Behavioral Science / Laboratory of Behavioral Science
School - Course / Laboratory
Division of Humanities and Human Sciences / Course of Human Sciences / Laboratory of Behavioral Science

Office/Lab: E411
Email: m.takezawa(at)let.hokudai.ac.jp
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Laboratory of Behavioral ScienceTAKEZAWA Masanori Professor

What Makes the Human Beings Distinct from the Other Animals?

Recent advancements in comparative cognitive science have revealed that the human beings share much more commonalities with the other animals than had been considered. Not only the humans but also other primates, even horses, care inequality of the wealth between their conspecifics. Birds, squirrels, and even hermit crabs socially learn important information from their conspecifics. What then makes the human beings unique and distinct from the other animals?

Culture and social norms – that is an answer. Then, how could the human culture and social norms have arisen in the societies consisting of the human individuals, which share so many similar features with the other animals? That is the question I have been pursuing in my research.

A laboratory experiment of cumulative cultural evolution of technology for constructing a tower. Technology gradually advanced as it was transmitted from generation to generation and the convergent evolution of technology was robustly observed.
Evolutionary game theory is a mathematical tool for analyzing the social dynamics and widely used in the evolutionary social science. Reprinted from Figure 4 in Takezawa, M., & Price, M. E. (2010). Revisiting “The evolution of reciprocity in sizable groups”: Continuous reciprocity in the repeated n-person prisoner's dilemma. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 264, 188–196.

A Newly Emerging Research Field of Evolutionary Social Science

In the last two decades, the evolutionary thinking has gradually spread in both cognitive and social sciences. Researchers in many academic disciplines have been asking how the human mind is shaped by the processes of the Darwinian evolution, and how the human culture and societies have emerged through the interactions of the individuals which actions are controlled by the evolved cognitive system. This emerging intellectual movement does not yet have a proper name, but it is best called evolutionary social science. I have been working in close relation with this field by studying topics such as adaptive rationality, evolutionary foundations of learning, cumulative cultural evolution and the evolution of social norms.

Let us consider about culture as an example. Many different cultures exist in the world. How do we explain variety and diversity of culture as we see now? In biology, culture is defined as a set of information that is transmitted via non-genetic routes. People acquire beliefs, values, and knowledge via teaching, socialization, imitation and social learning. We can thus consider that variation in human culture emerges from the processes of iterated transmission of information across generations. One of my research topics is to explain how scientific knowledge and technology that cannot be attained by a single individual emerges through the processes of cultural evolution.


The evolutionary thinking is not entirely new in the human sciences. Sociobiology, human behavioral ecology, and evolutionary psychology have already made important contributions in understanding many aspects of human psychology as an evolutionary adaptation. Understanding human societies and culture under the evolutionary perspective are rather new in this tradition. Although core ideas of the evolutionary social science such as gene-culture coevolution, evolutionary game theory, and the Price equation had appeared much earlier than evolutionary psychology became popular, applications of these ideas in social sciences did not happen until rather recently.Research in the evolutionary social science is just exciting as researchers are required to go across the borders of academic disciplines. In fact, I had/have been collaborating with biologists, anthropologists, philosophers, economists, mathematicians and so on. I use the methods and knowledge developed in population genetics and molecular biology are used for analyzing the human culture.

Since its foundation in 1977, our department has been playing a central role in launching the evolutionary thinking in cognitive and social sciences.This tradition is inherited to and alive among the faculty members and students in the department. It also makes the department a quite attractive and exciting place for those who are interested in studying both the human cognition and societies from the evolutionary perspective. I am one such person who was trained in this intellectual atmosphere and aspire for making the department as an academic hub standing on the edge of the frontier of the evolutionary social science.