Strategic Partnership

Call 2022

Selected projects

Analogy as a crucial cognitive mechanism supporting cultural evolution. An empirical study.

The unpreceded amount of tools and skills that humans have developed has been attributed to their ability to socially transmit and accumulate more and more complex knowledge across generations, known as “cumulative culture” (Boyd & Richerson, 1996). However, the cognitive mechanisms allowing this accumulation remain poorly understood. To bridge this gap, Brand et al. (2022) have suggested that analogy, which occupies a central place in human cognition (Hofstadter & Sander, 2013), is also a crucial mechanism underlying cultural evolution. The idea is that relying on analogies with familiar concepts to learn and teach novel ones facilitates the transmission of complex new behaviors that would otherwise be too cognitively demanding to communicate. The current project aims to build an experimental paradigm allowing us to empirically test this claim. By associating theories and methods developed by cultural evolutionists and cognitive psychologists, it will shed light on the mechanisms that have enabled humans to accumulate such a vast amount of cultural knowledge.

Our specific goal is to investigate whether analogies facilitate the transmission of complex tool-use. The design of our study will be based upon the experimental paradigm established by Bosch et al. (2018), where participants who had limited experience using chopsticks were trained with grasping marbles with chopsticks and dropping them in a cylindrical container. Tool use learning was assessed via behavioral performance regarding the number of successful marble drops and eye tracking measurements reflecting whether visual attention was restrictively focused on the chopsticks (i.e. confirmatory strategy) or could move away toward the goal (i.e. anticipatory strategy)

We will adopt a linear transmission chain experimental design (Mesoudi & Whitten, 2015), and constitute ten chains of five participants for each of the two experimental conditions. The first participant of each chain will be taught how to use chopsticks with either analogical explanations (i.e. “hold the second chopstick as you would hold a pen”) or only literal explanations (i.e. “hold one extremity of the chopstick between your thumb and pointer finger, and the other extremity with your middle finger”). She will subsequently accomplish the chopstick task and explain to the next participant how to perform it, and so on until the last participant of the chain. We predict that the last participant of the chains in the analogy condition will perform better and use more efficient visual strategies than participants in the literal condition.

By highlighting the role of analogies in cultural transmission, our interdisciplinary project would potentially add both to the cultural evolution field, by contributing to clarify the cognitive mechanisms involved in cultural transmission, and to cognitive science, by revealing the evolutionary origins of analogical thinking. It would also motivate future works exploring other ways in which analogies are guiding cultural evolution, such as when designing new technologies based on already familiar ones.

Lucas Raynal
Prof. Emmanuel Sander
Full Professor
Université de Genève - SSED
Pr. Alex Mesoudi
University of Exeter - Biosciences

Gerex 2: Types of Titus

‘Types of Titus’ will extend the earlier work of the Geneva-Exeter Renaissance Exchange (GEREx, University of Geneva/University of Exeter Strategic Partnership 2018) by strengthening the collaborative forum which this earlier programme initiated. It will focus on William Shakespeare’s play Titus Andronicus, examining how a play written in the late sixteenth century has had, and continues to carry, significant socio-political resonance. In particular, it will draw upon the specialities of both English departments in order to develop discussion surrounding gendered, racial, and eco-critical concerns in this play, with an emphasis upon its contemporary adaptations and afterlives.
Titus Andronicus is a text which has been translated and received in diverse linguistic and historical settings. In addition to an extensive history of the play in production in English, Botho Strauss’ play Viol (2005) is a French-language adaptation of Shakespeare’s work. In German, Titus has a reception history as early as the seventeenth century (an edition of an early modern German Tito Andronicus has recently been published by Prof Lukas Erne of UNIGE), yet also was adapted in the light of the collapse of the German Democratic Republic at the turn of the last century (an adaptation which Prof Pascale Aebischer has written about). The play is back in the repertoire of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (Shakespeare’s Globe) in London from January to April 2023 and it is against the backdrop of this important revival that the ‘Types of Titus’ exchange enabled by the collaboration between Geneva and Exeter will be an opportunity to reflect on the historical imbrication of this play in the nexus between racial discrimination, sexual violence and political division, and its critical role in opening up debates that centre on social justice. As such, it is topical for the continuation of GEREx in two senses: thematically important in this present moment, whilst also reflective of the linguistic and intellectual exchange which the Geneva-Exeter Strategic Partnership represents for Renaissance Studies.
The centre of the collaboration will be two knowledge exchange events open to students and faculty of all levels at both universities, alongside an online symposium hosted by the British Shakespeare Association that shares GEREx 1 and GEREx 2 research with a broader academic and theatregoing audience, to coincide with a revival of Titus Andronicus of international significance in 2023 (BSA support has been secured, following on from GEREx 1’s successful roundtable at the BSA 2021 conference). For the first phase of the collaboration, in January 2023 a delegation from Geneva will travel to Exeter via London, where they will be joined by Exeter colleagues to watch a performance of Titus Andronicus at the candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (Shakespeare’s Globe). In Exeter, the visitors will present their research in a seminar focused upon digital humanities approaches to early modern texts. In May 2023, a delegation from Exeter will, in return, visit Geneva to hold a workshop at which they will share their specialised knowledge in performance and adaptation studies.

Emily Smith
UNIGE - Littérature et langue anglaises
Prof. Lukas Erne
University of Geneva University of Neuchâtel
Prof. Pascale Aebischer
University of Exeter

The synergistic role of physical activity and nutrition in the prevention of musculoskeletal diseases in middle and old adulthood: A UK Biobank project

Chronic musculoskeletal conditions including osteoporosis and sarcopenia present major threats to healthy ageing (Xia et al., 2019, Briggs et al., 2016). Age-related musculoskeletal conditions are commonly characterized by pain and reduced physical function and lead to significant disability, functional and mental health declines, and increased mortality. In addition to non-modifiable genetic factors, nutrition (Ward et al., 2016) and physical activity (Laddu et al., 2017) are important lifestyle factors that can promote effectively the maintenance and increase of muscle and bone development during late adulthood. Although the beneficial impact of several key nutrients (protein, calcium, vitamin D) and exercise characteristics (weight-bearing exercise) on muscle and bone outcomes has been established previously (Rizzoli et al., 2021) much of the available literature has not considered a holistic dietary approach quantifying the dietary patterns to account for nutrient interaction or the complex interactions of diet and exercise, while the indirect effects of body composition are also less clear.

Epidemiological studies have historically played an essential role in identifying the causes and consequences of musculoskeletal disease and have resulted in improvements in prevention and treatment, however, they often lack statistical power to reliably identify risk factors which have small to moderate effects or to assess associations with disease across subgroups of the population. The UK Biobank is a unique large population-based prospective cohort study comprising >500,000 participants aged 40-69 years when recruited from 2006 to 2010 in the UK ( A large amount of available medical imaging data has direct relevance to musculoskeletal health including the assessment of diet and exercise, Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA), measures of heel bone mineral density, assessment of body composition (lean and fat) by DXA and assessment of physical performance. Giving its size, breadth, and depth for a prospective longitudinal cohort study, UK Biobank has the potential to generate meaningful findings and make important contributions towards the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases in middle and old age.

The aims of the proposed project are:

  1. To obtain full access to the unique and valuable medical imaging data of the UK Biobank for both institutions.
  2. Prepare and submit the application for the UK Biobank.
  3. Support research and education activities between the two institutions that would extend further a long-term collaboration and joint grant applications.
  4. Analyse the large UK Biobank dataset and produce high-impact publications including but not limited to the following research projects:
    i. The synergistic associations of physical activity intensities and nutrition in the prevention of musculoskeletal diseases in middle and old adulthood.
    ii. The associations of dietary patterns (vegetarian/vegan diet, adherence to the Mediterranean diet) on outcomes of musculoskeletal health.
    i. The contributions of lean and fat mass and importance of the lean mass/fat mass ratio) on outcomes of bone health.
    ii. The role of a healthy lifestyle (e.g. compliance with 24-hour movement guidelines and dietary guidelines, alcohol consumption, smoking) in the development of osteoporosis and sarcopenia in middle and old age.
  5. Joint grant applications planning to extend the established collaboration.
Dr Dimitris Vlachopoulos
Dr Maria Papageorgiou