Olivier Morin How Does Writing Reflect Deep Human Preferences for Certain Shapes?

Olivier Morin is Leader of the Minds and Traditions Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. He received his Ph.D. from the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris. His research focus is on cultural transmission and touches on the relations between anthropology, psychology and the philosophy of social science. He is a journal referee for a wide variety of publications, such as Nature Human Behaviour, Biological Theory or the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.

Area of Research

Cognitive Anthropology

since 2016

Leader of Minds and Traditions Research Group

Max Planck Society (more details)

Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History


Post-doctoral Researcher

Central European University, Budapest

Department of Cognitive Science


Research Fellow

Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research



Institut Jean Nicod

- Plos One

- Review of Philosophy and Psychology

- British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

- Biological Theory

- Biology & Philosophy

- Nature Human Behaviour

- et. al.

© Maximilian Dörrbecker

Max Planck Society

"The Max Planck Society is Germany's most successful research organization. Since its establishment in 1948, no fewer than 18 Nobel laureates have emerged from the ranks of its scientists, putting it on a par with the best and most prestigious research institutions worldwide. The more than 15,000 publications each year in internationally renowned scientific journals are proof of the outstanding research work conducted at Max Planck Institutes – and many of those articles are among the most-cited publications in the relevant field." (Source)


Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

The Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History conducts basic research using modern analytical methods with the aim of a multidisciplinary and integrated science of human history. It seeks to bridge the gap between historical disciplines and the natural sciences. Scientists from a range of fields, such as biology, linguistics, archaeology, anthropology and history jointly work on innovative methods, in particular in the fields of cutting-edge genetic and proteomic sequencing, bioinformatics, archaeological science, computational modeling, language databases, and phylogeography. This thoroughly integrated, interdisciplinary approach will address long-standing questions about human history – including some previously deemed difficult, or even completely intractable – as well as novel questions inspired by the new horizons that cutting edge methods open up. (Source)


Human development is determined by biology and culture. Biologically seen, the history of evolution has brought us certain cognitive biases, whereas our cultural legacy is built through interactions with other people. OLIVIER MORIN pursues research at the intersection of these two legacies and his particular area of interest is cultural transmission. As he explains in this video, one thing we inherit from evolutionary history is a preference for certain kinds of lines. His research aims at finding out how writing expresses and reflects these deep preferences that come from our evolutionary history. A second question of interest, for him, is the timescale in which cultural evolution manages to invent new shapes. Morin has examined the letters of 116 writing systems from all over the world and found that, indeed, the deep cognitive bias for certain lines and shapes is expressed everywhere. More surprisingly, he could also establish that these ideal shapes do not underlie a very long timescale of cultural evolution.

LT Video Publication DOI: https://doi.org/10.21036/LTPUB10570

Spontaneous Emergence of Legibility in Writing Systems: The Case of Orientation Anisotropy

  • Olivier Morin
  • Cognitive Science
  • Published in 2017
Olivier Morin. "Spontaneous Emergence of Legibility in Writing Systems: The Case of Orientation Anisotropy." Cognitive Science (2017): 1-14.