Matthew Gervais

Postdoctoral Fellow

Matt Gervais received his PhD in Biological Anthropology from UCLA in 2013, and a BS in Psychobiology, Philosophy, and Anthropology, with a certificate in Evolutionary Studies (EvoS), from Binghamton University in 2006. His research is concerned with the evolution of human social relationships and the psychological systems that support them, including the bases of uniquely human social networks. Within a broad comparative and evolutionary framework, Matt integrates theories and methods from cognitive anthropology, behavioral ecology, social psychology, and experimental economics to understand the interacting levels of influence on human social behavior.


Structures of Sentiment in Yasawa, Fiji

Matt is principally a field anthropologist, having conducted 20 months of fieldwork in villages on Yasawa Island, Fiji. This work has focused on 1) the structure of Yasawan affect concepts, 2) the interpersonal functions of affect in Yasawan relationships, and 3) the social-relational contexts of sharing, taking, and punishment in Yasawan villages. This work includes the development of novel economic games that integrate recipient identities and thereby tap the norms and sentiments that regulate enduring social relationships.

The Strategy of Psychopathy

Matt also conducts lab research in the US, focusing on subclinical psychopathy as a model of strategic social behavior. This work, in collaborating with Joseph Manson at UCLA, has documented strategic defection as a function of partner value among those high in primary subclinical psychopathy, as well as their tendencies toward conversational dominance in first-encounter sitations. Currently he is gathering data, with Heejung Kim at UCSB, on the role of psychopathy in moderating the effects of intranasally administered oxytocin on trust and reciprocity.

Phylogenetic Adaptationism and the Emotions

Matt also works towards integrating phylogeny and proximate biology into the adaptationist study of human emotions. He has published on the functions and phylogeny of laughter and humor, and more generally on a phylogenetic adaptationist approach to emotions, with Dan Fessler at UCLA. Currently he is preparing to publish a new conceptual framework for the study of contempt that is a rapprochement between evolutionary psychology and psychological anthropology.


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Gervais, M.M. (2014). Evolution after mirror neurons: Tapping the shared manifold through secondary adaptation. Commentary on Cook, R., Bird, G., Catmur, C., Press, C., &

Heyes, C. (2014). Mirror neurons: From origin to function. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 37, 177-241. doi:10.1017/S0140525X13000903

Fessler, D.M.T., Holbrook, C., & Gervais, M.M. (2014). Men’s physical strength moderates
conceptualizations of prospective foes in two disparate human societies. Human Nature.

Fessler, D.M.T., Tiokhin, L.B., Holbrook, C., Gervais, M.M., & Snyder, J.K. (2014). Foundations of the
Crazy Bastard hypothesis: Nonviolent risk-taking enhances conceptualized formidability.
Evolution and Human Behavior 35, 26-33.

Gervais, M.M., Kline, M., Ludmer, M., George, R., & Manson, J. (2013). The strategy of psychopathy:
Primary psychopathic traits predict defection on low-value relationships. Proceedings of the Royal Society – Biology 280. doi:10.1098/rspb.2012.2773.

Manson, J.H., Gervais, M.M., & Kline, M. (2013). Defectors cannot be detected from “small talk” with strangers. PLoS ONE 8, e82531. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082531.

Manson, J.H., Bryant, G.A., Gervais, M.M., & Kline, M. (2013). Convergence of speech rate in conversation predicts cooperation. Evolution and Human Behavior 34, 419-426.

Fessler, D.M.T. & Gervais, M.M. (2010). From whence the captains of our lives: Ultimate and phylogenetic perspectives on emotions in humans and other primates. In: P. Kappeler & J. Silk (Eds.). Mind the Gap: The Origins of Human Universals (pp 261-282). Springer.

Gervais, M.M. & Wilson, D. S. (2005). The evolution and functions of laughter and humor: A synthetic approach. Quarterly Review of Biology 80, 395-430.