Dr Oliver Scott Curry

Oliver Scott Curry

Dr Oliver Scott Curry is a Senior Researcher at the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford. He received his PhD from the London School of Economics in 2005.

Oliver’s research investigates the nature, content and structure of human morality. He tackles such questions as: What is morality? How did morality evolve? What psychological mechanisms underpin moral judgments? How are moral values best measured? And how does morality vary across cultures? To answer these questions, he employs a range of techniques from philosophy, experimental and social psychology and comparative anthropology. 

His work argues that morality is best understood as a collection of biological and cultural solutions to the problems of cooperation and conflict recurrent in human social life. This theory of ‘morality and cooperation’ uses evolutionary game theory to identify distinct problems of cooperation and their solutions; and it predicts that rules regarding cooperative behaviour – such as caring for family, helping one’s group, reciprocating favours, being brave, deferring to superiors, dividing disputed resources, and respecting property – form the basis of all human morality.

Oliver has tested this theory of ‘morality as cooperation’ by means of a comprehensive cross-cultural survey of moral values. Analysis of the ethnographic records of 60 societies found that, contrary to widely-held moral relativist views, these types of cooperative behaviour were indeed considered morally good wherever they arose, in all cultures. 

Oliver has also used ‘morality as cooperation’ to develop a new self-report measure of moral values – the Morality as Cooperation Questionnaire (MAC-Q). He is currently using this new questionnaire to investigate the heritability of moral values, and how they vary cross-culturally. A classic twin study will help tease apart the relative contribution of genes and environment to the development of morality, and clear a path to investigate which specific genes, and which aspects of the environment, make a difference and why. And a survey of moral (and religious) views in 30-50 countries (as part of the Cognitive and Cultural Foundations of Religion and Morality project) will establish the relationship between moral values and social, economic and demographic variables. 

In addition to his research, Oliver has previously taught courses on evolution and human behaviour, covering evolutionary theory, animal behaviour, evolutionary psychology, cross-cultural psychology, statistics and research methods. Oliver is also a consultant for kindness.org.

You can follow Oliver’s work on the Open Science Foundation, Google Scholar, YouTube and Twitter.

Email: oliver.curry@anthro.ox.ac.uk

Mapping morality with a compass: Testing the theory of ‘morality-as-cooperation’ with a new questionnaire
2019 | Journal article | Journal of Research in Personality

Is it good to cooperate? Testing the theory of morality-as-cooperation in 60 societies
2019 | Journal article | Current Anthropology

Curry, O.S., Morality as Cooperation: A Problem-Centred Approach, in The Evolution of Morality, T.K. Shackelford and R.D. Hansen, Editors. 2016, Springer International Publishing. p. 27-51.

  • Excavating the Foundations: Cognitive adaptations for multiple moral domains

  • Is it good to cooperate?: Testing the theory of morality-as-cooperation in 60 societies

  • Mapping morality with a compass: Testing the theory of ‘morality-as-cooperation’ with a new questionnaire

  • Understanding cooperation through fitness interdependence

  • How moments become movements: Shared outrage, group cohesion, and the lion that went viral

  • More
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