I’m an interdisciplinary social and behavioral scientist based in the Department of Anthropology Boston University. I have two overarching research interests—I’m fascinated by understanding how human produce complex social systems. How did we go from small hunter-gatherer groups to the large-scale societies that we have today? Secondly, I study the evolution of war and peace in our evolutionary history. When and why do intergroup relationships break down, and how do societies prevent that?
I view behavior as the product of psychological and biological processes shaped by the social environment. I generally think of human societies as being much more similar than different—the dynamics of a group of hunter-gatherers are not necessary so different than those in industrial societies. I am motivated by a deep desire to understand the diversity of human experiences and the range of phenomenology we're capable of. This is in part because phenomenology is the stuff of our existence but also provides the fuel for cultural evolution. Thus, I put a heavy emphasis on fieldwork with diverse populations, and much of my own has been in the Omo Valley of Ethiopia.
Click the image for fieldwork photos
My scientific publications have appeared in leading journals including Science, Nature Human Behaviour, Current Biology, and elsewhere. I have written popular pieces for the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times, among others. Prominent media outlets including Scientific American, The Wall Street Journal, the BBC, and the New York Times have covered my research.
After finishing my PhD and postdoc at Harvard in Human Evolutionary Biology in 2016, I was a Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, France. I then came back to the US as professor of anthropology at Pennsylvania State University from 2018-2021 before coming to BU in 2021. I also founded and co-direct the Omo Valley Research Project, a non-profit scientific and philanthropic organization focused on education, health, and research in the Omo Valley of Ethiopia.
You can read a bit more about my background in this interview here. My Google Scholar page is here, and a copy of my CV here. I’m always interested in talking to curious and motivated persons interested in these issues, so please feel free to get in touch.
William Buckner has written for Quillette and Nautilus and blogs at traditionsofconflict.com. William is interested in studying factors that promote or inhibit conflict and cooperation across cultures. He spends most of his time reading ethnographies, and he can play the flute...poorly.
Navdeep is a Ph.D. student at the University of Otago studying the interaction of culture and social cognition focusing on how social and environmental changes transform religious beliefs. She is also interested in understanding the causes and consequences of gender inequality. Navdeep’s interest in psychological research took shape while building forts with her father, negotiating over french fries with her brother, and listening to the ‘stories of gods’ by her mother.
Penn State University
Penn State University
Manvir Singh, Institute for
Advanced Study in Toulouse
University of Tennessee
Alice Baniel, Stony Brook University
Zach Garfield, Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse