At the beginning of April I attended the 2016 conference of the European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association, hosted by Rebecca Sear and her evolutionary demography research group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. This year marked the 10th anniversary of the conference and also its return to London, having first been hosted by LSE. The hallmark of the conference is subject diversity, priding itself on the forging of collaborative links between the wide array of disciplines that make up the study of human evolution, and this was amply illustrated by the plenary speakers. The conference kicked off with a talk by the ever entertaining and insightful Louise Barrett entitled ‘Blank slates, straw men and sacred cows: some (possibly heretical) views on evolution and human behviour’, followed by Jonathan Wells on the application of evolutionary theory in the prevention of chronic disease, the mathematics of collective behaviour and cognition with Jens Krause (whose hilarious descriptions of experiments with robotic fish proved to be a highlight for many), Olivier Morin on cultural evolution, Ron Lee on evolutionary demography, Grazyna Jasienska on women’s reproductive health, and finally Jay Stock on human adaptability in response to cultural change in the last 10,000 years.
I was lucky enough to have the chance to present two elements of my PhD research. I gave a poster with Sarah Johns illustrating my findings that the birth of male infants increases the likelihood of postnatal depression. I also gave a talk titled ‘Postnatal depression – weighing the evolutionary evidence’ in which I presented the results of my research with Sarah Johns and Oskar Burger into the effects of postnatal depression on women’s reproductive decision making and the relationships they have with their children. I also introduced preliminary findings of my collaborative work with Jonathan Stieglitz at the University of Toulouse and Tsimane Life History Project, detailing the causes and consequences of postnatal depression in the Tsimane, a Bolivian forager-horticulturalist society.
After many fascinating conversations and many generously sponsored wine receptions, the conference ended on a high when I was awarded the honour of best student presentation!
– Sarah Meyer