UCL Anthropology


Sarah Peacey

Sarah Peacey

Email: sarah.peacey.13@ucl.ac.uk
Year of start: 2015
Subject: Biological Anthropology

Research Topic/ Provisional Dissertation Title

Cooperation, reputation and belief


Ruth Mace (Anthropology, UCL)
Nichola Raihani (Experimental Psychology, UCL)


Cooperation is ubiquitous in the natural world. But the expansion of human prosociality beyond the small-scale bands that characterised the majority of human evolutionary history to large-scale societies of unrelated individuals is unusual and requires explanation. Reputation and supernatural beliefs are two possible mechanisms for this. Reputation is a unique human feature that is thought to be crucial in underpinning cooperative systems. Supernatural and religious beliefs are widely distributed among human societies, although their role in the evolution of human prosociality remains under debate. My project tests hypotheses relating to the role of reputation and supernatural beliefs as mechanisms for cooperation. It uses cultural phylogenetics and other quantitative methods to analyse reputational punishment, in the form of witchcraft accusations, among Bantu tribes in Africa. It investigates the evolution and ecology of such beliefs. I have also undertaken fieldwork in Northern Ireland, using economic games to examine how reputation, religious belief and cooperation interact. 

Research interests

  • Cooperation
  • Reputation
  • Witchcraft
  • Human Behavioural Ecology
  • Cultural phylogenetics

Academic Background/Education

MSc in Human Evolution and Behaviour, University College London

BA in History, University of York

Teaching Experience

Teaching Assistant for UCL Anthropology course ANTH1014: Introduction to Biological Anthropology


PhD funding awarded by the London NERC DTP

Additional Information

Coordinator of the Human Evolution and Ecology reading group, Department of Anthropology, UCL