PhD Studentship: Banking on Cooperation: Testing Evolutionary Theories of Human Cooperation via Microfinance Loans

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Science

The University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences is inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship to commence on 1 February 2018 or as soon as possible thereafter.  For eligible students the studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £14,553  for 4 years full-time. The student would be based in Dr Shakti Lamba’s research group  in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

Academic Supervisors:

Dr Shakti Lamba, University of Exeter

Dr Alex Mesoudi, University of Exeter

The student will test hypotheses on the evolution of cooperation in humans using the vast, worldwide, long term datasets available on microfinance.

Microfinance refers to informal and formal arrangements offering financial services, mainly loans, to those who are otherwise excluded from mainstream banking services. Microfinance institutions (MFIs) cater to people who cannot generate collaterals necessary to obtain credit from mainstream banks. They do so by offering loans to groups of individuals who are jointly liable for their repayment. This model of ‘group lending with joint liability’ creates a high stakes cooperative dilemma because if any member of a loan group defects and does not repay her/his share of the loan, the other members of the group are liable to repay it for her/him. Thus, successful repayment of a loan is contingent upon at least some members of the loan group cooperating to repay it.

This project builds on a book chapter by Dr. Lamba which qualitatively compares drivers of MFI loan repayment as per the economics literature to hypothesised drivers of cooperation in the equally prolific evolutionary literature. The student will extend this comparison quantitatively via a combination of meta-analyses of the economic literature on loan repayment, analyses of raw datasets obtained from MFIs and experimental testing via randomised control trials.

This PhD involves large-scale data analyses working with several partners including microfinance institutions and economists. The student is expected to develop considerable statistical and analytical expertise including meta-analyses, multilevel modeling and possibly social network analyses.

Over 190 million families across the world are served by microfinance which is considered a major tool of poverty alleviation. Hence, this project will help us understand how we can improve cooperation between people around very high-value resources and will contribute towards a rigorous evolutionary applied science of contemporary human behaviour that speaks to society and to policy makers. The work contributes to Dr Lamba’s long-term interests in the evolution of large-scale cooperation in humans.

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South West England