Evolution, Cognition, and Culture: Laboratories

Exp Anthro
The Experimental Anthropology Lab at the Anthropology Department of the University of Connecticut is directed by Dr. Dimitris Xygalatas. It is dedicated to developing a paradigm for studying human culture scientifically in real-life settings. It promotes methodological innovation and integration in the study of human behavior through a combination of in-depth qualitative field research with experimental methods and advanced technological tools.

Our lab space at UConn’s main campus in Storrs is equipped with state-of-the-art technology for conducting controlled experiments as well as developing and scrutinizing tools and methods to be used in the field. Our field site in Mauritius, called the Mauritian Laboratory for Experimental Anthropology (MALEXA), provides an extensive network of local assistants, collaborators, gatekeepers and field sites, and an ideal setting for naturalistic studies, which in turn generate new questions and a need for new methodological tools. The relationship between our lab and field work is thus dynamic and continuous.

As experimental anthropologists, we view experimentation as a method, as an object of study, and as a research aesthetic. Rather than taking subjects out of context and moving them into sterilized laboratory settings where they become “objects” of experimentation, we seek to take the laboratory into context by moving it into the field. Through this combination of anthropological and experimental techniques, experiments become for anthropologists a new form of obtaining data as well as a new way of being in the field, while at the same time allowing them to problematize some of the standard methods used to study behaviour and reflect on their merits, limitations, and ultimately contribute to their refinement and improvement.

Our main areas of focus include human cooperation, religion, ritual, and music.

Core Staff


  1. Dimitris XygalatasDimitrisXygalatasAssistant Professor
    Ph.D. Queen’s U. Belfast, 2007
    +1 860 486 4514xygalatas@uconn.eduhttp://www.xygalatas.com




    Anika Obasiolu
    Undergraduate Student
    Emily Post
    Undergraduate Student



    Physical and Psychological Health Consequences of Extreme Rituals
    This project investigates the effects of extreme rituals on physical and psychological health. While some evidence suggests that engaging in religious activities may have beneficial health outcomes, this body of research has almost exclusively focused on mundane religious congregations, and not extreme practices that might ostensibly put participants’ health at risk. As an exception to this trend, research conducted in India by Dr. Khan and his colleagues found that pilgrims’ psychological health improved after a large-scale pilgrimage which posed a number of significant health risks. This project builds upon that study in two important ways: it examines not only psychological but also physical health consequences of participation in an extreme ritual; and does so both in the short- and long-term.
    International research partnerships
    The Evolution of Religion and Morality is a $3-million grant from the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) awarded to UBC-SFU’s Centre for the Study of Human Evolution, Cognition and Culture (PI: Edward Slingerland). This six-year project (2012-2018) brings together the expertise of over 50 scientists, social scientists and humanities scholars from around the world into a research network called the Cultural Evolution of Religion Research Consortium (CERC).
    Ritual, Community, and Conflict is a $5.5-million grant awarded to the University of Oxford (PI: Harvey Whitehouse) by the Economic and Social Research Council of the UK. This 5-year research programme uses a variety of lab, field, and computer methods to examine the role of ritual in child development, in social behaviour, and in the evolution of political systems.
    Ritual’s Impact on the Contemporary World is a $500.000 research project awarded to Oxford’s Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology (PI: Harvey Whitehouse) by the John Templeton Foundation. This grant aims not only to fund research projects of limited duration, but also to establish long-term collaborative relationships between international scholars and field sites around the world.


    Interacting Minds Centre
    Aarhus University, Denmark


    The Belief, Learning, & Memory Lab
    Yale School of Medicine


    Laboratory for the Experimental Research of Religion
    Masaryk University, Czech Republic


    Centre for Human Evolution, Cognition, and Culture
    University of British Columbia & Simon Frazer University, Canada



    Center for Advanced Hindsight
    Duke University



    Identity Fusion Lab
    Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, UNED, Spain


    For more information visit www.experimentalanthropology.com