Daniel Sznycer, PhD
Email: sznycer@psych.ucsb.edu 


Daniel Sznycer, Ph.D.
studies the emotion of shame, the psychology of welfare tradeoffs, and political attitudes.


Lic. Antropología, with honors. Universidad de Buenos Aires (2002).

MA in Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara (2007).

PhD Interdisciplinary program in Evolutionary Psychology
Department of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara (2010).

Selected Publications:

Sznycer, D., Schniter, E., Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (2014). Regulatory adaptations for delivering information: the case of confession. Evolution and Human Behavior, doi: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2014.08.008.

Petersen, M. B*, Sznycer, D.*, Sell, A., Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (2013). The ancestral logic of politics: Upper body strength regulates men’s assertion of self-interest over economic redistribution. Psychological Science, 24(7), 1098-1103.
* indicates joint first authorship

Schniter, E., Sheremeta, R. M., & Sznycer, D. (2012). Building and rebuilding trust with promises and apologies. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 94, 242-256.

Sznycer, D., Takemura, K., Delton, A. W., Sato, K., Robertson, T., Cosmides, L. & Tooby, J. (2012). Cross-cultural differences and similarities in proneness to shame: An adaptationist and ecological approachEvolutionary Psychology, 10(2), 352-370.

Petersen, M.B., Sznycer, D., Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (2012). Who Deserves Help? Evolutionary Psychology, Social Emotions, and Public Opinion about Welfare. Political Psychology, 33 (3), 395-418.

Sznycer, D., Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (2011). Evolutionary psychology. In P. C. Hogan (Ed.) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Language Sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sell, A., Bryant, G., Cosmides, L. Tooby, J., Sznycer, D., von Rueden, C., Krauss, A., & Gurven, M. (2010) Adaptations in humans for assessing physical strength from the voice, Proceedings of the Royal Society London, (Biological Sciences), 277, 3509-3518.

Sell, A., Cosmides, L., Tooby, J., Sznycer, D., von Rueden, C., & Gurven, M. (2009). Human adaptations for the visual assessment of strength and fighting ability from the body and face. Proceedings of the Royal Society London (Biological Sciences), 276, 575-584.

Tooby, J., Cosmides, L., Sell, A., Lieberman, D. & Sznycer, D.  (2008).  Internal regulatory variables and the design of human motivation: A computational and evolutionary approach.  In Andrew J. Elliot (Ed.) Handbook of approach and avoidance motivation.  pp. 251-271. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Research Interests:

I am currently a postdoctoral researcher with the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. My research explores the emotion of shame, the motivational architecture for welfare tradeoffs, and political attitudes.

My research includes:

(1) The psychology of shame.  

Ancestrally, the degree to which other people valued one’s welfare would have affected one’s access to resources such as food, mates, and support in times of conflict. Becoming less socially valuable would have entailed fitness costs. This adaptive problem is expected to have shaped adaptations for decreasing the likelihood and the costs of being socially devalued. We proposed that one such adaptation is the emotion of shame. Using this basic functional framework, and in collaboration with John Tooby and Leda Cosmides, I developed a theory of shame—the information threat theory of shame (ITTS)—and tested predictions derived from it.

Failing to deploy countermeasures against devaluation when one is devalued is a costly mistake. Deploying shame measures when one is not devalued is another type of mistake. Thus, effective shame countermeasures require an understanding of what does and does not elicit devaluation. In fact, we found a strong match between the extent to which a particular situation elicits devaluation on one hand (audience’s perspective) and shame on the other (discredited individual’s perspective).

According to the ITTS, what counts as socially valuable differs from domain to domain. For example, in the domain of cooperation, a track record of reciprocating is viewed favorably. In the domain of mating, value is indexed by things such as cues of fertility and pathogen-resistance. Consistent with this, we obtained evidence that both the elicitors and the motivational responses of shame vary across domains.

The more a discrediting piece of information becomes widely known, the stronger the shame response is expected to be. Supporting this ITTS prediction, we discovered that the extent of publicity of a discrediting behavior modulates the intensity of shame—but not the intensity of guilt.  

The ITTS was also instrumental in making functional sense of cultural differences in shame. The cost of being devalued by an existing relationship partner can be attenuated by forming alternative relationships. Therefore, cultures where opportunities to build new relationships are perceived as being scarce are expected to also display higher proneness to shame—and vice versa. In collaboration with Kosuke Takemura, Andy Delton, Kosuke Sato, Tess Robertson, Leda Cosmides, & John Tooby, we found evidence supporting this prediction among American, English, and Japanese subjects.

(2) Self-other welfare tradeoffs.

The adaptive problems of disease, chance variation in food supply, and social conflict exerted selection to associate with and invest in those who would procure social support in times of need and inability to reciprocate. Such discriminative social solicitude requires the ability to accurately represent the extent to which others are willing to sacrifice for one. I tested this prediction and found that people store accurate indices of how much others value them. Moreover, these indices track not just others’ generalized generosity but the extent to which they value oneself in particular.

I also explored people’s willingness to make sacrifices for others across different levels of resource value. The data showed that people place different weights on the welfare of different individuals and that those weights decrease as the monetary stakes of the interaction increase. Interestingly, those weights decrease at different rates for different relationships, suggesting that some factors of social value are more susceptible to the risks of non-reciprocation than others.

Imperfect information and noise may cause “mistakes” in the particular levels of social value assigned to others. Mistakes in social valuation would have been costly ancestrally. For that reason, the mind is hypothesized to include mechanisms for the recalibration of social valuation. I conducted work showing that guilt, gratitude and anger recalibrate social valuation in response to such mistakes, and that they do so in functionally distinct ways.

This research was in collaboration with Andy Delton, Tess Robertson, Julian Lim, Jade Price, John Tooby, and Leda Cosmides.

(3) Political attitudes.

The human cognitive architecture evolved in response to adaptive problems of ancestral small-scale populations rather than challenges posed by modern institutions or technologies. Therefore, current political attitudes must be generated by a psychology designed for ancestral politics.

One prediction from this theoretical framework is that the mind is designed to respond to variables that ancestrally were relevant even if they are not relevant in modern politics. One such variable is fighting ability in men. Consistent with this, we found that upper body strength, an index of personal fighting ability, modulates attitudes about wealth redistribution in what ancestrally would have been self-beneficial ways. Strength is correlated with support for redistribution among poor individuals and with opposition to redistribution among wealthy individuals. Strength is also correlated with supporting warfare as a means to resolve international conflict. These effects are specific only to males and replicated in three politically distinct societies (US, Argentina, and Denmark). Furthermore, the effects of personal strength appear functional in the context of small-scale societies but not large-scale ones. This research was in collaboration with Michael Bang Petersen, Aaron Sell, John Tooby and Leda Cosmides.

For physical strength to modulate political attitudes functionally, relative strength would have to be estimated accurately. Consistent with this prediction, we found that people can accurately estimate the strength of others from visual and auditory cues. These studies were in collaboration with Aaron Sell and others.

Page last updated:October 2012