Adaptation, Behavior, Culture and Society



Photo of Robert Boyd
Robert Boyd, Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Unlike other organisms, humans acquire a rich body of information from others by teaching, imitation, and other forms of social learning, and this culturally transmitted information strongly influences human behavior. Culture is an essential part of the human adaptation, and as much a part of human biology as bipedal locomotion or thick enamel on our molars. My research is focused on the evolutionary psychology of the mechanisms that give rise to and shape human culture, and how these mechanisms interact with population dynamic processes to shape human cultural variation. I have done much of this work in collaboration with Peter J. Richerson.
View website
Photo of Ian Gilby
Ian Gilby, Assistant Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Research Affiliate, Institute of Human Origins
The broad goal of my research program is to inform our understanding of the evolution of human cooperation using primate behavioral ecology. Humans cooperate more often, in more contexts, and with more partners (including strangers) than any other vertebrate. Knowing how and why species similar to the last common ancestor of apes and humans cooperate helps to explain why human cooperation is so extreme. I use long-term data and field observations of wild chimpanzees to address questions in several areas, including cooperative hunting, territory defense, food sharing, coalitionary aggression and social bonds. I am particularly interested in how persistent individual differences in behavior affect collective action.

Together with Anne Pusey (Duke University), I am co-director of the Gombe chimpanzee database, which contains more than 53 years of detailed data on the daily lives of hundreds of chimpanzees living in Gombe National Park, Tanzania. Together, the behavioral, genetic, spatial and hormonal information contained in this database are an unparalleled resource for understanding the behavior and evolution of one of our closest living relatives.
View website
Photo of Kim Hill
Kim Hill, Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Research Associate, Institute of Human Origins
Kim Hill studied evolutionary biology and molecular genetics before shifting to anthropology. His Ph.D. research on the behavioral ecology of hunter-gatherers led to field studies in the Amazon basin stretching more than 35 years. He has spent 162 months doing fieldwork in Mexico, Paraguay, Venezuela, Peru, Panama, South Africa, and the Philippines. He has published more than 170 papers on foraging patterns, food sharing, life history evolution, and more recently on human social structure, social learning (culture) and exceptional cooperation between non-kin in foraging societies.
View website
Photo of Daniel Hruschka
Daniel Hruschka, Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Humans have a powerful capacity to build their social and physical environments in flexible ways. With this ability, Humans must also choose how to invest in building and protecting key parts of those environments. I ask how humans make decisions to build their social environment by cultivating relationships, like friendships, and forming boundaries between in-groups and out-groups. I also study when and how these constructed relationships and groups can promote cooperation and costly sacrifice. I investigate these questions with experimental and observational studies in rural Bangladesh and the U.S.
View website
Photo of Kevin Langergraber
Kevin Langergraber, Associate Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
As a primate molecular ecologist, I use molecular genetic techniques to investigate numerous features of primate social systems that are not easily observed in the field. I firmly believe that the best work in molecular ecology comes from a close integration of laboratory and field research. I am unusual among most molecular ecologists in that I maintain both an active field and laboratory research program. I am well versed in the theoretical and methodological underpinnings of both of these modes of inquiry, which all too often seem to operate in their own different worlds. I study the molecular ecology of chimpanzees, using two distinct but complementary levels of analysis. At the local scale, I combine field- and laboratory-based analyses to address questions about the behavioral ecology of chimpanzees, with a specific focus on the unusually large Ngogo community in Kibale National Park, Uganda. At the broader scale, I use samples collected from multiple chimpanzee communities to characterize patterns of chimpanzee genetic variation, and use these data to address the role of individual behavior in shaping patterns of genetic variation in humans and other taxa.
View Website | View Facebook
Photo of Sarah Mathew
Sarah Mathew, Assistant Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
I study the evolution of human ultra-sociality and the role of culture in enabling it. I am especially interested in how humans evolved the capacity to cooperate with millions of genetically unrelated individuals, and how this links to the origins of moral sentiments, prosocial behavior, norms, and large-scale warfare. To address these issues, I combine formal modeling of the evolution of cooperation with fieldwork among the Turkana. The Turkana are an egalitarian pastoral society in East Africa who cooperate, including in costly inter-ethnic raids, with hundreds of other Turkana who are not kin nor close friends. Through systematic empirical studies in this unique ethnographic context, my research project here aims to provide a detailed understanding of the mechanisms underpinning cooperation and moral origins
View website
Photo of Thomas Morgan
Thomas Morgan, Assistant Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Humans possess both uniquely complex cognition and uniquely complex culture. My goal is to explain the former, by integrating the latter into an evolutionary framework. As such, my work involves two major themes. The first is the nature and evolution of the psychological mechanisms that support culture. This combines lab studies of human behavior with evolutionary simulations and models of decision making to understand when, how and why individuals learn from each other, and the conditions under which complex forms of communication are expected to evolve. Secondly, I use evolutionary models to understand how culture changes the evolutionary process offering novel explanations for how humans came to be.
View website
Photo of Charles Perreault
Charles Perreault, Assistant Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
I am broadly interested in the origins of social learning and how the population-level dynamic of social learning shapes human behavior and societies. My main research goal is to better understand how archaeological data can contribute to cultural evolution theory, much in the same way that paleontology interacts with genetics theory. I am thus particularly interested in how cultural evolution processes unfold at both the micro and the macro scale, and how one can transit between these two different observational scales. My current research includes taking advantage of the large-scale nature of the archaeological record in order to parametrize our models of cultural evolution. Another major focus of my research is the nature of the archaeological record itself. What is the temporal scale of the archeological record? What processes affect the scale of archaeological data, and how does that scale restrict the kind of research questions we can ask? By better understanding the nature of archaeological data, we can unleash the full contributive value of archaeology to the sciences of human behavior and evolution.
Photo of Joan Silk
Joan Silk, Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
I am interested in how natural selection shapes the evolution of social behavior in primates. Most of my empirical work has focused on the behavioral and reproductive strategies of female baboons (Papio cynocephalus, P. ursinus). Recent work documents the adaptive benefits females derive from close social bonds. I am particularly interested in questions that explicitly link studies of nonhuman primates to humans. Experimental work conducted with chimpanzees and children focuses on the phylogenetic origins and ontogenetic development of prosocial preferences.
View website

Post-Doctoral Researchers

Photo of Hillary Lenfesty
Hillary Lenfesty, Post-Doctoral Scholar, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
I investigate the evolution of human cooperation with a focus on moral psychology and religion. In my work, I utilize a range of methods including experimental economic games, implicit cognitive measures, and physiological measures. I am particularly interested in the role of the evolution of the autonomic nervous system in human pro-sociality and cooperation.
View website
Photo of Elena MuiElena Miu, Post-Doctoral Scholar, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
I am interested in understanding human behavior, learning and culture from an evolutionary perspective using a broad set of methods. I have a background in linguistics, artificial intelligence and biology, and I have used theoretical and large-scale experimental approaches to study the dynamics of cumulative cultural evolution in my PhD with Luke Rendell at St. Andrews. I am currently working in the Ecco lab on questions related to cumulative improvement and innovation.

Graduate Students

Photo of Andrew Bishop
Andrew Bishop, Graduate Student, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
I am interested in developing methods and models to enhance our understanding of hominid/human foraging economies and their role in the evolution of modern human life history and behavior.
Photo of Joel Bray
Joel Bray, Graduate Student, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
I am broadly interested in primate behavioral ecology, with a specific focus on questions relating to chimpanzee development, social relationships and life history. I am also interested in social cognition, spanning lemurs to apes. For my dissertation, I am studying the form, function and development of male-male social relationships in wild chimpanzees at Gombe National Park, Tanzania. In particular, I am interested in how early social experiences influence individual variation in adult outcomes.
View website
Photo of Scott Collins
Scott Collins, Graduate Student, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
I am interested in evolutionary approaches to understanding psychopathological behavior in humans. By using predictions generated by mathematical models of social evolution, and an empirical cross-cultural approach to studying mental illness in non-Western societies, this research program aims to tease apart hypotheses (e.g. evolutionary mismatch, life history trade-offs or adaptive defense mechanisms) which seek to explain psychopathologies from PTSD to autism and depression.
Photo of Deanna Dytchkowskyj
Deanna Dytchkowskyj, Graduate Student, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
My research interests center on using the archaeological record to explore rates and patterns of cultural evolution.
Photo of Lea Gleason
Lea Gleason, Graduate Student, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
I am interested in human ultrasociality, gene-culture coevolution and large-scale cooperation. I examine these topics through the context of warfare. My research aims to understand how cooperation evolves and scales up in societies without formal institutions. I work with an acephalous egalitarian pastoralist group in Northwestern Kenya, known as the Turkana. I am also broadly interested in the origin of culture, moral sentiments and the evolution of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
View website
Photo of Kevin Lee
Kevin C. Lee, Graduate Student, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
I am broadly interested in various facets of sociality, with a current focus on the non-human great apes. What drives individuals to seek different forms of social contact? How are social bonds formed and maintained? To what extent do individuals understand their own and others' roles within a social group?
Photo of Jonathan Paige
Jonathan Paige, Graduate Student, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
I study global variation in litihic technologies from ~3 million years ago through the present, with a focus on records where we have prior knowledge of the relationships between populations: the Late Holocene American Southwest, and southern California. The goals of these studies are to identify broad patterns in the evolution of lithic technologies, and to assess the reliability of hominin cultural relationships, or population movements inferred from lithic variation.
Photo of Samantha Patterson
Sam Patterson, Graduate Student, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
I am broadly interested in behavioral ecology with a focus on sociality, development and endocrinology in primates. My current research investigates how maternal behavioral and physiological signals predict infant developmental trajectories in wild olive baboons.
Photo of Sebastian Ramirez Amaya
Sebastian Ramirez Amaya, Graduate Student, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
My research interest lies both in the biological and cultural evolution of primates. Using primate behavioral and molecular ecology I intend to explore the nature of social behavior and ultimately, to understand the relevance of fission-fusion dynamics in the evolution of human sociality. I aim to do so by studying a wild population of chimpanzees in Ngogo (Uganda).
Photo of Leonid Tiokhin
Leonid Tiokhin, Graduate Student, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
I am a PhD student in Anthropology at Arizona State University, advised by Daniel Hruschka. The goal of my research is to increase the efficiency and reliability of science. To this end, I study how various factors, such as competition between scientists and study-population diversity, affect scientific inference. I am especially interested in strategies for improving theoretical progress in the social sciences. My work is inherently interdisciplinary, drawing on research and methods from psychology, evolutionary biology and anthropology.
View website | Open Science Framework profile
Photo of Minhua Yan
Minhua Yan, Graduate Student, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
I am interested in human cooperation, human social structures, and the role of culture in shaping them. This includes topics like what cooperative strategies can evolve and persist in certain situations, whether and how different aspects of norms facilitated the evolution of large-scale cooperation in human, etc. I have mainly approached these questions with mathematical modeling, but hope to accompany it with field studies and lab experiments in the future.
Photo of James Zerbe
James Zerbe, Graduate Student, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
My broad research interest is in the evolution of cooperation. To this end, I'm interested in the confluence of leadership, coalitional competition, alliance formation, and social status accrual. Further, I'm interested in social network analysis as a means to illuminate patterns of interaction among individuals, especially longitudinally, and experimental economic games to better inform our view of human ultrasociality. I pursue these research interests and work with a community of approximately 200 forager-horticulturalists in the Ecuadorian Amazon.