A Storied Past: Storytelling and the Emergence of Cumulative Culture

Michelle Scalise Sugiyama

Director of the Human Animal Lab
University of Oregon, USA


Michelle Scalise Sugiyama is the founder and director of the Human Animal Lab at the University of Oregon. Trained in literary study, evolutionary psychology, and evolutionary anthropology, she teaches courses on the origin and function of pan-human forms of cultural expression, such as storytelling, visual art, song, dance, and games. Her research focuses on the logistics of cultural transmission in hunter-gatherer societies: she examines symbolic and aesthetic behaviors as instances of developmental niche construction–strategies for building, storing, retrieving, and transmitting cumulative cultural knowledge–that emerged in response to the information demands of the foraging niche. Her work explores these behaviors as some of humanity’s earliest information technologies: she has published extensively on the use of myth to transmit traditional ecological knowledge, and the use of play to develop skills related to hunting and warfare.