Elena Zwirner

Postdoctoral Researcher
Université Clermont Auvergne (UCA)


I am a behavioural ecologist interested in the hows and whys of social behaviour. In particular, I study how the social and physical environments shape individuals' behaviour, using approaches from biology, psychology and anthropology. I worked with a range of different study systems, most recently with humans and wild mice (Apodemus spp.).

Postdoctoral research
In January 2021, I joined the LAboratoire de Psychologie Sociale et COgnitive (LAPSCO), at the Université Clermont Auvergne as a postdoctoral researcher. The project aims to understand if and how life near active volcanoes affects interpersonal trust. I work with Guillaume Dezecache to develop a comprehensive battery of measures of trust and prosociality which we will use to test the impact of living under environmental hazards in populations from two separate sites located in proximity of an active volcano (the Italian regions of Sicily & Campania and the France Overseas departments of La Guadeloupe & La Réunion).

Recently I have expanded upon my postdoctoral research and began data collection on flood risk perception and pro-social tendencies in the Italian region of Friuli Venezia Giulia. This case study additionally measures institutional trust and community engagement to understand their influence as motivational factors promoting conservation efforts of the river Tagliamento. Along the same river, I have also set up a new field site to study the cognitive and behavioural responses to environmental adversity in three Apodemus spp. that inhabit the flood-prone river's islands.

PhD research
During my PhD at the University College London, supervised by Nichola Raihani, designed and run a set of real-world experiments and online economic games to test whether city-dwellers are less prosocial than town-dwellers. Specifically, with the real-world experiments we showed that city-dwellers are as likely as town-dwellers help to a stranger, and that prosociality decreases in low-wealth areas, independently of the urbanicity level. As for the economic games, we found no difference in generosity between city-dwellers and town-dwellers in a dictator game, supporting the results from the field. Nevertheless, city-dwellers were significantly less trusting, but not less trustworthy, than town-dwellers in a trust game.

Dr. Guillaume Dezecache, Université Clermont Auvergne
Prof. Daniel Nettle, Newcastle University
Dr. Gillian Pepper, Northumbria University
Dr. Anna Scaini, Stockholm University
Dr. Chiara Scaini, National Institute of Oceanography and Applied Geophysics
Dr. Susie Lee, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research
Dr. Juan Du, University College London
Luca Lapini, Natural History Museum Udine
Prof. Alessio Mortelliti, University of Maine


Peer-reviewed publications
Zwirner E & Raihani N. 2020. Neighbourhood wealth, not urbanicity, predicts prosociality towards strangers. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 287:20201359, https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2020.1359. [PDF]

Zwirner E & Thornton A. 2015. Cognitive requirements of cumulative culture: teaching is useful but not essential. Scientific Reports, 5:16781, https://doi.org/10.1038/srep16781. [PDF]

In the pipeline
Zwirner E & Raihani N. Urban-rural variation in economic game strategies. Manuscript in preparation for: Evolution & Human Behaviour.

Nugent D, Zwirner E, Strickland K, Piza-Roca C, Thornton A and Frere CH. Training and long-term memory of a novel food acquisition task in a social reptile (Intellagama lesueurii). Manuscript in preparation for: Animal Cognition.

Zwirner E & Raihani N. Protocol for a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the relationship between measures of socio-economic status and pro-sociality. Psyarxiv.

Zwirner E Nettle D. and Dezecache G. Systematic Review of the effects of resource scarcity on social behaviour. Manuscript in preparation.

    Laboratoire de Psychologie Sociale et Cognitive
    Université Clermont Auvergne
    63 037 Clermont-Ferrand, France