Carolyn Cortes ’20

80,000 years of family connections

As early as the Middle Paleolithic period, groups of human hunter-gatherers traveled in bands, no large than extended family units.

And over time, specifically more than 80,000 years, “it appears that there would have been selection pressures to cause the evolution of psychological tendencies to maintain and rely on the extended family social unit,” says Albright senior Carolyn Cortes ’20.

Combining evolutionary and psychological concepts from her anthropology and sociology majors, Cortes explored the idea that societal changes starting during the industrial revolution may contradict this ingrained human psychological instinct.  

 Carolyn Cortes ’20
Carolyn Cortes ’20, anthropology and sociology major

“Modernity and economic pressures during the course of the industrial revolution have made it harder to maintain the extended family,” explains Cortes. “The strained family unit would likely result in uncomfortable and dissatisfying psychological feelings due to the expected rich social connections to members of the extended family failing to materialize.

Hypothesizing that individuals with less connection with their extended family experience greater feelings of loss, insecurity and loneliness, Cortes set out to assess satisfaction of social connections among students for her independent research project, “Modernity’s Effect on Human Social Connections from an Evolutionary Perspective.”

“This project takes on an evolutionary psychology approach to understanding how and why there are tendencies to maintain the extended family unit, which proves evolutionarily advantageous,” she says.

Cortes worked one-on-one throughout her independent study with Associate Professor of Sociology, Barton Thompson, Ph.D., eventually earning anthropology senior seminar credit for the project.

“It was an enlightening experience to be able to be in control of the research project and be supported by a professor,” said Cortes. “It showed me how much I am capable of, outside of the traditional classroom setting.”

“Conducting research allows one to use skills learned throughout college and apply them to an idea that they find interesting,” she says. “It can sometimes be a tedious and frustrating process, but it is very fulfilling to see your once abstract concept come to life through the process and results.”

> Read more about learning through experiences at Albright College.

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