Robert Trivers

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Robert Trivers
Born (1943-02-19) February 19, 1943 (age 71)
Washington, D.C.
Nationality American
Fields Biology
Institutions Rutgers University
Alma mater Harvard University
Thesis Natural Selection and Social Behavior (1972)
Doctoral advisor Ernst Mayr
Known for Research on sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, Darwinian social science, and behavioral ecology
Influences Charles Darwin, W. D. Hamilton
Influenced Steven Pinker, E. O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins
Notable awards 2007 Crafoord Prize in Biosciences
Spouse Lorna Staples (1974-1988); Debra Dixon (1997-2004)
Children three daughters with Staples: Natasha and Natalia (twins), Alelia, one son with Staples: Jonathan; one daughter with Dixon: Aubrey

Robert Ludlow "Bob" Trivers (/ˈtrɪvərz/; born February 19, 1943) is an American evolutionary biologist and sociobiologist, who is a Professor of Anthropology and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University. Trivers proposed the theories of reciprocal altruism (1971), parental investment (1972), facultative sex ratio determination (1973), and parent–offspring conflict (1974). He has also contributed by explaining self-deception as an adaptive evolutionary strategy (first described in 1976) and discussing intragenomic conflict.


Trivers studied evolutionary theory with Ernst Mayr at Harvard from 1968 to 1972, when he earned his Ph.D. in biology. The second half of his first major paper, "The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism" was published in 1971.[1]


Trivers was on the faculty at Harvard University from 1973 to 1978, and then moved to the University of California, Santa Cruz where he was a faculty member 1978 to 1994. He is currently a Rutgers University notable faculty member. In the 2008–09 academic year, he was a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin (Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin).

Trivers was awarded the 2007 Crafoord Prize in Biosciences for "his fundamental analysis of social evolution, conflict and cooperation".[2][3]

Trivers wrote the original foreword to Richard Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene in which Trivers first proposed his adaptive theory of self-deception.

Trivers met Huey P. Newton, Chairman of the Black Panther Party, in 1978 when Newton applied while in prison to do a reading course with Trivers as part of a graduate degree in History of Consciousness at UC Santa Cruz.[4] Trivers and Newton became close friends: Newton was godfather to one of Trivers' daughters.[5] Trivers joined the Black Panther Party in 1979.[6] Trivers and Newton published an analysis of the role of self-deception by the flight crew in the crash of Air Florida Flight 90.[7]


Trivers is arguably one of the most influential evolutionary theorists alive today.[8] Steven Pinker considers Trivers to be "one of the great thinkers in the history of Western thought", who has:[9]

inspired an astonishing amount of research and commentary in psychology and biology—the fields of sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, Darwinian social science, and behavioral ecology are in large part attempt to test and flesh out Trivers' ideas. It is no coincidence that E. O. Wilson's Sociobiology and Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene were published in 1975 and 1976 respectively, just a few years after Trivers' seminal papers. Both bestselling authors openly acknowledged that they were popularizing Trivers' ideas and the research they spawned. Likewise for the much-talked-about books on evolutionary psychology in the 1990s—The Adapted Mind, The Red Queen, Born to Rebel, The Origins of Virtue, The Moral Animal, and my own How the Mind Works. Each of these books is based in large part on Trivers' ideas and the explosion of research they inspired (involving dozens of animal species, mathematical and computer modeling, and human social and cognitive psychology).


Significant papers[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Evolutionary Revolutionary
  2. ^ "The Crafoord Prize in Biosciences 2007". The Crafoord Prize (website). 2007-01-18. Archived from the original on 2007-01-27. Retrieved 2007-01-29. 
  3. ^ "Jamaican-born (sic) scientist gets top award". Jamaica Gleaner. 2007-01-29. Retrieved 2007-01-29. 
  4. ^ "Newton, Huey". African American Registry. 
  5. ^ The Evolutionary Revolutionary, The Boston Globe, 27 March 2005
  6. ^ Rosenberg,, Scott (July 6, 1979). "Sociobiology Pioneer Joins Black Panthers". The Harvard Crimson. The Harvard Crimson, Inc. 
  7. ^ Trivers, R.L. & Newton, H.P. Science Digest 'The crash of flight 90: doomed by self-deception?' November 1982, pp 66,67,111.
  8. ^ Kai Kupferschmidt (4 November 2011). "Sharp Insights and a Sharp Toungue". Science 334: 589. Bibcode:2011Sci...334..589K. doi:10.1126/science.334.6056.589. 
  9. ^ A Full-Force Storm with Gale Winds Blowing

External links[edit]