Winter Is Coming (in Mongolia)

CHES graduate affiliate Tom Conte prepares for winter in Mongolia

Hi! My name is Tom Conte and I am a PhD candidate in evolutionary anthropology at Rutgers. My dissertation research focuses on human social behavior and how natural disasters and environmental risks affect humans' willingness and ability to cooperate with one another. Research suggests that cooperation may have given our earliest ancestors a selective advantage in being able to survive and reproduce in extremely variable East African environments.

Unfortunately, it's not particularly easy to infer how our earliest ancestors may have cooperated from the material and fossil record they left behind. Fortunately, we can also study these issues in living populations as well! My dissertation work focuses on how natural disasters affect cooperation among nomadic herders in Mongolia, where severe winters threaten livestock and economic livelihoods. 

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Experimental economic games are a fascinating way of looking at people's cooperative decision making. In Mongolia, this means a lot of planning and improvisation.

Mongolian herders are nomadic and move between four and eight times each year to new pastures. To remain mobile, most herders live in round felt tents known as gers in Mongolian. They are very comfortable and most are way nicer than my apartment in New Jersey!

Cooperation in Mongolia often centers on preparing for the harsh winters where temperatures can drop as low as -50 Fahrenheit. As I prepare for my first winter in Mongolia, I've decided to cover myself in down clothing and Gore-Tex. My house has been transformed into a sporting goods store.