Pascal Boyer

Department of Anthropology Washington University in St. Louis


Henry Luce Professor of Collective and Individual Memory, Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology and Psychology, Department of Anthropology, Arts & Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis

Pascal Boyer Webpage

ABSTRACT | What Coalitional Psychology Can Tell Us about Populism and National Memory

Recent studies in evolutionary psychology provide insight into the dynamics of national memory and how they reflect populist pressures.  In particular, the role of group coalitions is important in this regard. Coalitions are found in many species, specifically primates, but what makes human coalitions special is their stability and their pervasiveness in social life, including the social life of ethnic and national communities.  Unconscious tendencies to form coalitions, both large and small groups, and to resist the challenges of those outside one’s own coalition provide the underpinning for the shifting alliances that have emerged in the context of today’s populism.  From this perspective, national memory can be just as much a reflection of coalitional tendencies as a tool for the creation of a group.  Experimental and naturalistic studies point to deep-seated, unconscious decisions that shape alliances and how they affect the dissemination of information, including conspiracies that play a part in populism and national identity in general.  These studies provide insight into how we can understand, and in some cases manage, coalitional dynamics and their impact on humans’ account of the past.