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Indermohan Virk
Executive director, William T. Patten Foundation

Steve Hinnefeld
IU Communications

Last modified: Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Primatologist and evolutionary biologist to deliver IU Patten lectures

March 6, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Sarah Hrdy, one of the world's leading primatologists and evolutionary biologists, will deliver two Patten Lectures next month at Indiana University Bloomington.

Hrdy's research has focused on the evolutionary origin of infanticide, female sexual behavior in primates and the evolutionary basis of mothering and parenting in humans. A pioneer in reconciling feminism and sociobiology, she is the author of "The Woman That Never Evolved," "Mother Nature" and, most recently, "Mothers and Others, the Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding."

Hrdy is the A. D. White Professor at Large at Cornell University, professor emerita at the University of California-Davis and an associate at the Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology at Harvard. Her IU Bloomington lectures will take place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 2, and Thursday, April 4, in the Moot Court Room of the IU Maurer School of Law, 211 S. Indiana Ave. Topics include:

  • "The Origin of Emotionally Modern Humans: How Did Humans Become such "Other-Regarding" Apes?" on April 2
  • "From 'Mr. Mom' to 'Deadbeat Dads': Why Paternal Commitment Is So Variable in the Human Species and What Factors Elicit It" on April 4.
Sarah Hrdy

Photo by S. Bassouls

Sarah Hrdy

Print-Quality Photo

In her first lecture, Hrdy will explore a fundamental difference between humans and other apes: the human ability to understand the intentions of others and the eagerness to accommodate or help others, a combination that enabled our ancestors to coordinate behavior in pursuit of the common good. She will discuss why such capabilities emerged in the line leading to the genus Homo but not in other apes.

Her second lecture will focus on a paradox of evolution: Human offspring are slow-maturing and costly to rear, yet men's motivation to help rear them varies tremendously. Evolutionists have asked how natural selection could have developed this combination. Hrdy says the mystery calls for considering the deep history of the human family and rethinking the potential for nurturing in human males.

Called the leading Darwinian feminist of her generation, Hrdy first gained attention for her dissertation research on infanticide among primates, "The Langurs of Abu: Female and Male Strategies of Reproduction." She continued to challenge simplistic evolutionary theories about human nature and sexual difference in "The Woman That Never Evolved," which argues that the pressures of natural selection encourage the evolution of competitive, independent and sexually assertive female primates.

"Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection" offers a complex and compelling argument about how mothers navigate the inevitable trade-offs involved in raising offspring. "Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding" disputes the claim that the distinctive human trait of mutual understanding was inspired by warfare and the need to fight others.

Hrdy has published more than 40 peer-reviewed articles as well as works for general audiences in Time, Science, Natural History and the New York Times Book Review. She was named one of Discover magazine's "Fifty Most Important Women in Science" in 2001.

The William T. Patten Foundation funds the Patten Lecture Series under the auspices of the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs. Established in 1937 with an endowment from IU graduate William T. Patten, it brings to campus leading scholars, scientists, authors and public figures. The 2012-13 series has also included lectures by filmmaker Werner Herzog and communications scholar Barbie Zelizer. For more information, contact or see the Patten Foundation website.