Skip to main content

Increased affluence, life history theory, and the decline of shamanism

  • Nicolas Baumard (a1)

I applaud Singh's proposition to use evolutionary psychology to explain the recurrence of shamanistic beliefs. Here, I suggest that evolutionary mechanisms (i.e., life history theory) also can explain the variability of the distribution of shamanism. When resources are abundant, individuals become more patient and more open minded to the point that science becomes cognitively attractive and may replace magic.

Hide All
Allen, R. C. (2001) The great divergence in European wages and prices from the Middle Ages to the First World War. Explorations in Economic History 38(4):411–47.
Baumard, N. & Chevallier, C. (2015) The nature and dynamics of world religions: A life-history approach. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 282::20151593.
Baumard, N., Hyafil, A., Morris, I. & Boyer, P. (2015) Increased affluence explains the emergence of ascetic wisdoms and moralizing religions. Current Biology 25(1):1015.
Broadberry, S., Campbell, B. M., Klein, A., Overton, M. & Van Leeuwen, B. (2015) British economic growth, 1270–1870. Cambridge University Press.
Cashdan, E. & Steele, M. (2013) Pathogen prevalence, group bias, and collectivism in the standard cross-cultural sample. Human Nature 24(1):5975.
Cohn, A., Engelmann, J., Fehr, E. & Maréchal, M. A. (2015) Evidence for countercyclical risk aversion: An experiment with financial professionals. The American Economic Review 105(2):860–85.
Cornelisse, S., Van Ast, V., Haushofer, J., Seinstra, M. & Joels, M. (2013) Time-dependent effect of hydrocortisone administration on intertemporal choice (July 16, 2013). Available at SSRN: or
Dohmen, T., Falk, A., Huffman, D., Sunde, U., Schupp, J. & Wagner, G. G. (2011) Individual risk attitudes: Measurement, determinants, and behavioral consequences. Journal of the European Economic Association 9(3):522–50.
Gelfand, M. J., Raver, J. L., Nishii, L., Leslie, L. M., Lun, J., Lim, B. C., Duan, L., Almaliach, A., Ang, S., Arnadottir, J., Aycan, Z., Boehnke, K., Boski, P., Cabecinhas, R., Chan, D., Chhokar, J., D'Amato, A., Ferrer, M., Fischlmayr, I. C., Fischer, R., Fülöp, M., Georgas, J., Kashima, E. S., Kashima, Y., Kim, K., Lempereur, A., Marquez, P., Othman, R., Overlaet, B., Panagiotopoulou, P., Peltzer, K., Perez-Florizno, L. R., Ponomarenko, L., Realo, A., Schei, V., Schmitt, M., Smith, P. B., Soomro, N., Szabo, E., Taveesin, N., Toyama, M., Van de Vliert, E., Vohra, N., Ward, C., Yamaguchi, S. (2011) Differences between tight and loose cultures: A 33-nation study. Science 332(6033):1100–104.
Guiso, L. & Paiella, M. (2008) Risk aversion, wealth, and background risk. Journal of the European Economic Association 6(6):1109–50.
Guiso, L., Sapienza, P. & Zingales, L. (2013) Time varying risk aversion. Working paper. Available on the website of the National Bureau of Economic Research: Available at: National Bureau of Economic Research.
Haushofer, J. (2013) The psychology of poverty: Evidence from 43 countries. Working paper. Available at:
Houston, A. I. & McNamara, J. M. (1999) Models of adaptive behaviour: An approach based on state. Cambridge University Press.
Ifcher, J. & Zarghamee, H. (2011) Happiness and time preference: The effect of positive affect in a random-assignment experiment. The American Economic Review 101(7):3109–29.
Kandasamy, N., Hardy, B., Page, L., Schaffner, M., Graggaber, J., Powlson, A. S., Coates, J. (2014) Cortisol shifts financial risk preferences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 111(9):3608–13.
Kenrick, D. T., Griskevicius, V., Neuberg, S. L. & Schaller, M. (2010) Renovating the pyramid of needs: Contemporary extensions built upon ancient foundations. Perspectives on Psychological Science 5(3):292314.
Lerner, J. S., Li, Y. & Weber, E. U. (2013) The financial costs of sadness. Psychological Science 24(1):7279.
Lundberg, J., Bobak, M., Malyutina, S., Kristenson, M. & Pikhart, H. (2007) Adverse health effects of low levels of perceived control in Swedish and Russian community samples. BMC Public Health 7 (1):314.
Malinowski, B. (1954) Magic, science and religion and other essays, pp. 8587. Doubleday.
McCauley, R. N. (2011) Why religion is natural and science is not. Oxford University Press.
Morris, I. (2013) The measure of civilization: How social development decides the fate of nations. Princeton University Press.
Murray, D. R., Trudeau, R. & Schaller, M. (2011) On the origins of cultural differences in conformity: Four tests of the pathogen prevalence hypothesis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 37(3):318–29.
Nettle, D. (2009) An evolutionary model of low mood states. Journal of Theoretical Biology 257(1):100103.
Pepper, G. V. & Nettle, D. (2017) The behavioural constellation of deprivation: Causes and consequences. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 40:172.
Poortinga, W., Dunstan, F. D. & Fone, D. L. (2008) Health locus of control beliefs and socio-economic differences in self-rated health. Preventive Medicine 46(4):374–80.
Thomas, K. (1971b) Religion and the decline of magic: Studies in popular beliefs in sixteenth and seventeenth-century England. Penguin UK.
Yesuf, M., Bluffstone, R. (2008) Wealth and time preference in rural Ethiopia. Available at:
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Behavioral and Brain Sciences
  • ISSN: 0140-525X
  • EISSN: 1469-1825
  • URL: /core/journals/behavioral-and-brain-sciences
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *