Adaptation, Behavior, Culture and Society Research Group



Photo of Robert Boyd
Robert Boyd, Professor
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.
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Ian Gilby, Associate Professor
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.
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Kim Hill, Professor
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.
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Daniel Hruschka, Professor
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.
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Kevin Langergraber, Associate Professor
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.
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Photo of Hillary Lenfesty
Hillary Lenfesty, Assistant Research Professor
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.
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Sarah Mathew, Associate Professor
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
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Thomas Morgan, Assistant Professor
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.
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Charles Perreault, Associate Professor
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.
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Joan Silk, Regents Professor
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.
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Scholars and Fellows

Photo of Elena MuiElena Miu, Postdoctoral Research Affiliate
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.
Veronika StaedeleVeronika Staedele, Visiting Researcher
I am currently a Feodor Lynen Research Fellow funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. I am most broadly interested in how evolutionary forces shape life on this planet. Most of my previous research has had a molecular ecological approach and concentrated on examining the kinship and genetic structure of various wild primate populations across Africa, often combining non-invasive genetic sampling and behavioural observations on habituated groups. Currently, my research focuses on how evolutionary forces might shape the behaviour of wild olive baboons and chimpanzees.

Graduate Students

Photo of Joel Bray
Joel Bray
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.
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Scott Collins
Scott graduated from Butler University with a B.S. in biology in 2016 before moving to Boston to help develop a non-profit STEM education program for public middle school students called BoSTEM. While in Boston, Scott also conducted cross-cultural research at Harvard on the Natural History of Song project, directed by Samuel Mehr. Scott began his PhD in anthropology in 2017 and is now focused on understanding mental health in remote subsistence societies.
Currently, Scott conducts fieldwork in the Ecuadorian Amazon with the Sápara people of Conambo, a dual-ethnic group of indigenous Quichua and Achuar speakers. Scott's research shows that this group has experienced high rates of potentially traumatic events, and many individuals express symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Through his research, Scott hopes to discover how socioecology impacts resilience to mental health problems.
Photo of Deanna Dytchkowskyj
Deanna Dytchkowskyj
My research interests center on using the archaeological record to explore rates and patterns of cultural evolution.
Melanie ForemanMelanie Foreman
Melanie graduated from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in 2019 with a B.S. in biology and a minor in anthropology. While at Rose-Hulman, she studied mate choice mechanisms and sexual selection in orb-weaver spiders, Zygiella x-notata. While doing so, she became interested in understanding mate choice mechanisms and sexual selection in humans. Melanie began her PhD in SHESC in the fall of 2019, where she built and online experiment to study the social influencing mate choice decision making, including prestige and conformity. Melanie is also continuing to research sexual behaviors in spiders, specifically how these behaviors change because of urbanization and climate change.
Photo of Lea Gleason
Liam Gleason
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).
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Caitlin HawleyCaitlin Hawley
Caitlin is a second year PhD student in evolutionary anthropology broadly interested in life history theory, reproductive investment, and the selection of hyper sociality, especially in baboons. She hopes to examine relevant hormone-behavior interactions related to mating and reproductive effort in adults and behavioral and physiological development in juveniles. She has previously worked in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Gabon on a variety of research projects but is excited to develop her own lines of academic inquiry as a graduate student.
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Kevin C. Lee
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
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.
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Sam Patterson
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
I am interested in the ecology and social behavior of primates that live in multimale-multifemale societies with a high degree of fission-fusion dynamics. Specifically, my research has taken me to work with wild spider monkeys in Colombia and Ecuador, and with wild chimpanzees in Tanzania and Uganda. My dissertation work explores the social relationships of male-female dyads, and how the affiliative and aggressive components of the social relationships can influence reproduction in the Ngogo groups of chimpanzees. I combine behavioral, genetic and physiological data to answer my research questions.
Shannon RoivasShannon Roivas
I'm broadly interested in understanding how chimpanzees navigate social decisions under energetically expensive circumstances. My research specifically focuses on the ramifications of habitat change on the chimpanzees of Gombe National Park, Tanzania via long-term variation in environmental energetic availability and the cascading consequences for behavior.
Savannah TrohaSavannah Troha
My research interests lie broadly in primate behavioral ecology, with a focus on social relationships, aggression, conflict, and conflict counterstrategies. As an undergraduate, I began researching reconciliation behaviors between chimpanzees at Gombe National Park in Tanzania. As a graduate student, I hope to expand on this topic through continued research as a part of the Gombe Chimpanzee Research Project.
Photo of Minhua Yan
Minhua Yan
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.
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James Zerbe
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.