Commencement

TriversCommencement 2004: Honorands

Robert Trivers
Doctor of Science

Robert Trivers has been described as one of evolutionary biology’s most important thinkers. In a burst of creative intellectual output during just a few years in the early 1970s, he wrote a series of papers that have re­defined the fields of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. These extensions of the theory of natural selection have explored the major types of human relationships, including reciprocal altruism; parental investment and sexual selection; and parent-offspring conflict. His work has provided a scientific explanation for nothing less than the human condition, the intricate and fascinating relationships that bind us to one another.

Professor of anthropology and biological sciences at Rutgers University and adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Trivers has described his own interests as en­compassing social evolution, natural selection and social theory, and the evolution of “selfish” genetic elements.

The author of many books and articles, including the important Social Evolution(1985), Trivers has been interested in questions such as human beauty and the double self, with its capacity for self-deception. He has examined aspects of human nature pondered by poets, philosophers, and historians, and has explained how those aspects have evolved.

His theories have inspired a great volume of research and commentary in both psychology and biology. But his teaching has been no less important. He has been an exceptional lecturer and inspiring teacher to thousands of students at Harvard, the University of California at Santa Cruz, and, since 1994, at Rutgers. He has come to the Amherst campus some twenty times to give seminars and lectures, providing Amherst students with the unusual opportunity to speak with the person who originated many of the ideas they are studying.

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Photo: Michael Zide