Dr. annie wertz

    growing a mind: 

    How learning mechanisms can

    evolve and shape development


    Thursday March 24, 2022, 3:30PM - 5pm (CDT)

    LIVE! via ZOOM

    (fill out contact form below to receive zoom link)

    Growing a Mind

    Dr. Annie Wertz,

    Max Planck Institute for Human Development

    Berlin, Germany


     Learning is often presented as an alternative to evolutionary accounts of human cognition. While it may seem reasonable on its face, on closer inspection this dichotomy makes no sense. Learning mechanisms do not spring forth from nothingness. Instead, like every other aspect of biological design, learning mechanisms evolve. What is more, they evolve in response to specific recurrent problems and, as a result, are tailored to acquiring and utilizing information in particular ways. In this talk, I will present research investigating one set of evolved learning mechanisms: social learning mechanisms for acquiring information about plants. Plants are an essential—albeit easy to overlook—aspect of human environments. For millennia, humans have consumed a variety of plant foods and used plant resources to manufacture artifacts. However, acquiring knowledge about plants is neither straightforward nor risk-free. Although some plants (or plant parts) are edible, others are suffused with toxic chemicals that can be harmful and, in some cases, deadly to humans. Because plants are in co-evolutionary relationships with many different herbivorous species, there are no morphological features of plants that reliably predict human-relevant edibility or toxicity. How then does each individual human determine which plants are food and which ones are fatal? Employing a trial-and-error strategy under these circumstances would be extremely costly. Instead, I argue that a set of social learning mechanisms evolved to enable humans to safely acquire information about plants, called Plant Learning and Avoiding Natural Toxins, or PLANT. I will present the empirical evidence for PLANT from studies of infants and young children across several cultures, as well as comparative studies of nonhuman primate species. I will conclude by discussing PLANT as a paradigmatic case of the ways in which evolutionary processes can build learning mechanisms that shape development.



    OCEAN Speaker Series made possible via generous support from the Dean's Office, the Vice President of Research, President's Fellows Funding, and the OSU Department of Psychology.

    REGISTER for the talk below

  • Fill out the form---using your .edu email address---To Receive the zoom link (to attend the live talk)

    Link will be sent out the same day as the talk

  • PAST SPEAKER: David puts, ph.d.

    september 2 2021

    Endocrine organization of sex differences in psychology + behavior


    What causes males and females to develop different patterns of behavior? 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 hormone condition, isolated GnRH deficiency, to show that sex hormones likely play important roles in the development of sex differences in human behavior.



    OCEAN Speaker Series made possible via generous support from the Dean's Office, the Vice President of Research, President's Fellows Funding, and the OSU Department of Psychology.

  • PAST SPEAKER: amy boddy, Ph.D

    february 25 2021

    Life history trade-offs in reproduction and cancer


    Life history theory is a powerful approach to study human health and disease. However, there has been little work in applications of life history theory in cancer biology. Here I will discuss how cancer is fundamentally characterized by life history trade-offs. Using a newly curated comparative oncology dataset across a wide range of mammals, I show why some mammals may be more vulnerable to cancer than others. I suggest some of this cancer vulnerability is due to life history trade-offs in reproductive output and discuss how insights into life history and cancer can be useful for human health and disease.

  • PAST SPEAKER: Sarah Hill, Ph.D

    October 22nd 2020, 3:30PM

    It’s time to talk about the brain and the birth control pill


    The majority of women in the US will use the birth control pill at some point in their lives. Yet, there is very little information out there for women or their partners about what the pill does to the brain. This is critical information to have because - although women go on the pill for a small handful of targeted effects - sex hormones simply can't work that way. Sex hormones impact the activities of billions of cells in the body at once, many of which are in the brain. This means that being on the birth control pill makes women a different version of themselves than when they are off of it. In this talk, I will talk about what we know and don’t know about the pill and women’s brains and behavior. I will also talk about why this information matters for men and what it means for our evolved psychology. Does the pill create a hormonal state that is an analogue of naturally occurring points in women’s cycles? Or is the hormonal message an evolutionary novelty, the effects of which are largely unknown? Lastly, I will urge researchers to conduct better, more inclusive science that teaches men and women about who they are and how their brains work, whether they are on or off of medications like the birth control pill.


    OCEAN Speaker Series made possible via generous support from the Dean's Office, the Vice President of Research, President's Fellows Funding, and the OSU Department of Psychology.


    FEBRUARY 25TH 2020, 3:30PM

    A "Need for Chaos" and Motivations to Share Hostile Political Rumors


    Why are some people motivated to share hostile political rumors, such as conspiracy theories and other derogative news stories? In this talk, I utilize evolutionary insights on the psychology of status-seeking to argue that extremely disruptive psychological motivations are at the root. Specifically, I developed the prediction that individuals who feel socially and politically marginalized are motivated to circulate hostile rumors because they wish to "burn down'' the entire established political order in the hope that they can gain status in the process. Together with colleagues, I conducted 8 studies in Denmark and the United States (N = 9558) to show that some individuals are predisposed to have a "Need for Chaos" when facing social isolation and discontent, and that this need is the strongest predictor of explicit motivations to share hostile political rumors, even when these rumors are not believed by the sharer. Panel and experimental data show that chaotic motivations reflect stable traits that are primed by the environment and, consistent with the rising inequality across advanced democracies, we find that these motivations are strikingly widespread. To stem the tide of hostile political rumors on social media, the present findings suggest that real-world policy solutions are needed that address the growing social and political frustrations of democratic populations.


    OCEAN Speaker Series made possible via generous support from the Dean's Office, the Vice President of Research, President's Fellows Funding, and the OSU Department of Psychology.