David Samson is an Associate Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Toronto, Mississauga, and Director of the Sleep and Human Evolution Lab (SHEL). He is the author of “Our Tribal Future: How to channel our foundational human instincts into a force for good”. Prior to joining the University of Toronto, David completed his PhD at Indiana University and a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Duke University.
David’s research directly addresses the central anthropological question of human uniqueness. In other words, the question that drives his work is what is it about our species that has made us the most successful animal on the planet? In the quest to understand what makes humans special, he’s comparatively worked with human and non-human primates (and wolves and dogs) around the globe to better understand the behavioral, physiological, and cognitive suite of traits that likely played a crucial role in our success. Specifically, his research investigates the link between sleep and human evolution through revolutionary new approaches, recording sleep data sets and sleep architecture for a range of primates including lemurs, zoo orangutans, wild chimpanzees, and humans living in different types and scales of societies. His research has probed sleep’s role in cognition, sociality, and group dynamics throughout human evolution.
David’s high-profile research program has been featured in such venues as BBC, Time, The New York Times, New Scientist, The National Geographic Society and The Atlantic. He is seen as an exceptional and energetic interdisciplinary scholar using broad, sophisticated research strategies to investigate major behavioral and physiological transitions in human evolution, with results that have significant implications for modern human medical, occupational and life-style issues. David brings a strong teaching and research program for both evolutionary anthropology and primatology for the University of Toronto.
David has been an invited guest speaker at organizations around the world, including National Geographic Society and The World Sleep Society. He has made guest appearances on CBC's The Nature of Things, narrated by David Suzuki. CBC Radio-Quirks & Quarks. BBC's Chris Packham's Animal Einsteins and TVOL's The Agenda with Steve Paikin. He's given talk at Anthropology and Psychology departments throughout North America and Europe.
Time: Humans sleep less than closely-ralated mammals ~ By Victor Luckerson
BBC News: Lark or night owl? Blame your ancestors ~ By Helen Briggs
New York Times: Down from the trees, humans finally got a decent night's sleep ~ By Carl Zimmer
2023 Abbas, N., and D.R. Samson. Dreaming during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Support for the threat simulation function of dreams. Frontiers in Psychology. Accepted: In Press.
2022 McKinnon, L. Shattuck, E. and D.R. Samson. Sound reasons for unsound sleep: Comparative support for the sentinel hypothesis in industrial and nonindustrial groups. Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health.
2022 Li, Ming Fei, Nagendran, Lavania, Schroeder, Lauren, Samson, D.R. The activity patterns of nonworking and working sled dogs. Scientific Report: Nature Research.
2021 Samson, D.R. The human sleep paradox: the unexpected sleeping habits of Homo sapiens. Annual Review of Anthropology.
2021 Kilius, E., Samson, D.R, Lew-Levy, S., Sarma, M.S., Ouamba, Y.R., Miegakanda, V., Patel, U.A., Gettler, L.T., and A. Boyette. Gender differences in BaYaka forager sleep-wake patterns in forest and village contexts. Scientific Report: Nature Research. 11: 13658.
2021 Reyes, K.R., Patel, U.A., Nunn, C.L., and D.R. Samson. Gibbon sleep quantified: the influences of lunar phase and meteorological variables on activity in Hylobates moloch and Hylobates pileatus. Primates.
2020 Samson, D.R. Taking the sleep lab to the field: Biometric techniques for quantifying sleep and circadian rhythms in humans. American Journal of Human Biology.
2019 Samson, D. R., Louden, L. A., Gerstner, K., Wiley, S., Lake, B. White, B. J., Nunn, C. L., and K.D. Hunt. Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) group sleep and pathogen-vector avoidance: experimental support for the encounter-dilution effect. International Journal of Primatology.
2019 Samson, D.R., Vining, A., and C.L. Nunn. Sleep influences cognitive performance in lemurs. Animal Cognition. 22: 697-708.
2018 Samson, D.R., Crittenden, A.N., Mabulla, I.A., Mabulla, A.Z.P. and C.L. Nunn. Does the moon influence sleep in small-scale societies? Sleep Health. 4: 509-514.
2017 Samson, D.R., A.N. Crittenden, I.A. Mabulla, A.Z.P. Mabulla, and C.L. Nunn. Evidence that humans evolved to be natural, nighttime sleep sentinels. Proceedings B: The Royal Society. 284: 20170967.
2015 Samson, D.R. and C.L. Nunn. Sleep intensity and the evolution of human cognition. Evolutionary Anthropology. 24(6): 225-237.
~ Paul Atkins, David Sloan Wilson, and Steven Hayes (2019)
Propaganda and disinformation, divisive ideologies, and political extremism: these account for a sizable portion of human misery. But how do we keep these "mind parasites" from proliferating? In fact, a developing science can help us study mental immune systems, work out how to strengthen them, and together inoculate willing minds. This new science is Cognitive immunology and is the study of mental immunity – a mind's resistance to bad ideas, misinformation and divisive ideologies. I believe my role as an academic striving towards excellence in teaching goes beyond simple knowledge transfer. The role of an excellent teacher is to enhance the cognitive immune system of their students. The new approach centers on an unnerving idea: bad ideas act like mind parasites – literal pathogens that infect our mind and its ability to discriminate ideas that are good from bad. Mental immunity functions to ask questions, test ideas, harbor reservations and revise opinions. When an entire society has compromised mental immune systems, it results in a cultural immune disorder. Applying cognitive immunology in the classroom may be one of the greatest responsibilities of 21st century teachers.
Reading a book is a commitment for a reader. In case you’re deciding whether to make that commitment, here's a minimum description summary of the key concepts behind OUR TRIBAL FUTURE: How to channel our foundational human instincts into a force for good. Here, I provide a one sentence, one page, and one thousand word version. For the ten page version, I recommend reading the book’s prologue. This should be more than enough to know whether or not you want to understand more about how the Tribe Drive -- our instinct to form coalitions with other human beings -- could be one of the most important and underrated factors shaping the future of our species.
The key to uncovering the mystery at the center of Our Tribal Future is the resolution to the Trust Paradox -- which is the ultimate moral quest to understand how a human mind, that was crafted to work with people we know, evolved the instinct to work with people we don’t.
In whom do you put your trust? Evolution has crafted several answers, yet one solution to the problem is completely unique in humans. We innovated tribes. A tribe is a meta-group – an intersubjective belief network – that uses symbols as tokens of identity signaling membership. It serves the function of bootstrapping cooperation amongst strangers within the shared mythology of a beyond face-to-face social network. It is a type of secret society, where the signals of coalitionary alliance serve as the ‘secret password’ to gain the rights, responsibilities, and benefits of the collective “imagined order.” No other species on the planet has this amazing capacity at their disposal. The first part of the book is a description of the science of the Tribe Drive (a term I coined in the book), which is the expression of this uniquely human coalitionary instinct. The second part of the book is an exploration of the ways in which we can leverage this drive to increase human wellness, all while warding off the negative byproducts of “us” versus “them” kinds of thinking. If successful, we can strengthen our face-to-face communities as well as at scale within and among societies.