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Edgar Dubourg

I am doing my PhD in cognitive science at the Département d’études cognitives of the Ecole normale supérieure (ENS-PSL). I am working within the Evolution and Social Cognition Group at the Institut Jean Nicod, under the supervision of Nicolas Baumard.

Research questions


Why are humans fascinated by fictions, such as novels, TV series, movies, and why do they differ in their tastes?


What drives the evolution of other entertainment devices, such as sport rules, music,
and video games?


What is the evolutionary origin of curiosity, and what explains the variability of curiosity across individuals?


I use insights from both the natural sciences (behavioral ecology, evolutionary psychology, cognitive neuroscience) and the humanities (literary theory, literary history, cultural studies), and both computational and experimental methods, to explain the psychological foundations and the cultural evolution of fictions.​

In all, I take an interdisciplinary evolutionary approach to the study of fictions. I am interested in how cognitive adaptations and adaptive sources of variability impact both the universality and the variability of cultural preferences for fictions.

Latest Publications

Why Imaginary Worlds? The psychological foundations and cultural evolution of fictions with imaginary worlds.

Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Abstract: Imaginary worlds are extremely successful. The most popular fictions produced in the last few decades contain such a fictional world. They can be found in all fictional media, from novels (e.g., Lord of The Rings and Harry Potter) to films (e.g., Star Wars and Avatar), video games (e.g., The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy), graphic novels (e.g., One Piece and Naruto), and TV series (e.g., Star Trek and Game of Thrones), and they date as far back as ancient literature (e.g., the Cyclops Islands in The Odyssey, 850 BCE). Why such a success? Why so much atten- tion devoted to non-existent worlds? In this paper, we propose that imaginary worlds co-opt our preferences for exploration, which have evolved in humans and nonhuman animals alike, to propel individuals toward new environments and new sources of reward. Humans would find imaginary worlds very attractive for the very same reasons, and under the same circum- stances, as they are lured by unfamiliar environments in real life. After reviewing research on exploratory preferences in behavioral ecology, environmental esthetics, neuroscience, and evo- lutionary and developmental psychology, we focus on the sources of their variability across time and space, which we argue can account for the variability of the cultural preference for imaginary worlds. This hypothesis can, therefore, explain the way imaginary worlds evolved culturally, their shape and content, their recent striking success, and their distribution across time and populations.

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