Speaker Series

Fall 2022

One Monday each month (during the academic year), 3:30-5:00 pm (see below for specific dates)

See below for details

The ESS Speaker Series hosts presentations by scholars exploring evolutionary perspectives from an interdisciplinary framework. Our speakers span the full spectrum of the sciences and the humanities, including biology, neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, economics, history, philosophy, and literature.

While presentations are aimed at a professional audience of faculty and graduate students, interested undergraduates and members of the public are welcome too.


  • David Puts
  • September 12, 2022
  • David Puts
  • Penn State
  • Endocrine organization of sex differences in psychology and behavior: New evidence from a rare source
  • Meeting ID: 954 0167 8909
    Passcode: 052231
    Zoom Link

  • How does selection produce different phenotypes in males and females when the sexes are nearly genetically identical? Across species, this problem is solved primarily by developmental patterns that are sex hormone dependent. In laboratory animals, sex differences in hormone levels lead to differences in gene expression in the developing brain. However, the types of experiments conducted in laboratory animals would be unethical in humans, so researchers must use other sources of information. The most powerful approach currently available is to examine behaviors in individuals who were naturally exposed to early sex hormone levels that are unusually high or low compared to most people with the same gender of rearing. I will present new evidence from a highly promising endocrine condition, idiopathic hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, to explore how sex hormones influence the development of the human brain and behavior.

  • Thom Scott-Phillips
  • October 10, 2022
  • Thom Scott-Phillips
  • Central European University
  • On the diversity of human expression
  • Meeting ID: 956 6205 9400
    Passcode: 940948
    Zoom Link

  • Humans inform others in a wide variety of ways, from ordinary language use to painting, from exaggerated displays of affection to micro-movements that aid coordination. I shall present and defend the claim that this diversity is united by an interrelated suite of cognitive capacities, the evolved functions of which are the expression and recognition of intentions. In particular, I shall suggest that people exploit audience dispositions in an efficient way, not only in language use and other canonical cases of expression and communication, but also in cases that, while informative, might not be communicative in a strict sense. I shall discuss in particular the cases of teaching and art.

    Recent and relevant papers include:

    • Heintz, C., & Scott-Phillips, T. (in press). Expression unleashed: The evolutionary & cognitive foundations of human communication. Behavioral & Brain Sciences (target article).
    • Scott-Phillips, T., & Heintz, C. (in press). Animal communication in linguistic & cognitive perspective. Annual Review of Linguistics.
    • McCallum, K., Mitchell, S., & Scott-Phillips, T. (2020). The art experience. Review of Philosophy & Psychology, 11, 21-35.
  • Kevin Flaherty
  • November 7, 2022
  • Kevin Flaherty
  • University of Missouri
  • The Evolution of the Human Brain in Regions, Cells, and Genes
  • Life Sciences Center 572
  • Many of the earliest and most persistent questions in biological anthropology regard the evolutionary mechanisms responsible for the massive size increase of the human brain. Humans have the largest brain relative to body size of any vertebrate. The most pronounced changes to the human brain occurred in the cerebral cortex, which accounts for the majority of the volume of our brains. Regional size comparisons of the cerebral cortex between humans and extant primates reveal an interesting story about how our brains have changed. Cortical regions that process basic sensory and motor information from the thalamus (e.g. primary visual cortex and primary motor cortex) are often smaller than expected in humans based on our total brain size. However, regions of our brains that participate in human-specific behaviors such as language and complex social interactions are significantly expanded relative to other primates. These regions, collectively known as association cortex, integrate information from multiple brain regions and are crucial in generating the massive degree of behavioral diversity present across the human world. Recent advances in the fields of genetics and developmental biology provide a window into the biological mechanisms responsible for producing these changes to the human brain. In some cases, we have been able to link specific genetic changes to alterations in the developmental processes in the generation of the human brain. These processes account for anatomical changes that vary in scale from the overall size of the brain, to the connections between cortical regions, and even to the structure of individual neurons.

  • Sarah Bush Johannes Schul
  • December 5, 2022
  • Sarah Bush and Johannes Schul
  • University of Missouri
  • Teaching evolution: addressing common misconceptions
  • Life Sciences Center 572
  • In this presentation, we will discuss some common misconceptions regarding 1) evolutionary processes and 2) interpretation of phylogenetic trees, based on both the science education literature and our own experiences. We will share strategies we have adopted for teaching this content in our undergraduate classes. It is our hope that other participants will contribute to the conversation with examples of their own approaches to teaching evolution.