My research interests can be broken up into three broad areas.
Broad questions: What explains human uniqueness? Why are humans so different to other animals?
This is the starting point for my research and a necessary question to derive a “Theory of Human Behavior” from first principles.
For a short summary of a compelling answer to this question, supported by a panoply of evidence from psychology, anthropology, biology, and archaeology, see “Cultural Evolution“, “The Secret of our Success“, and “Innovation in the Collective Brain“.
Key question: What evolutionary processes led to key unique features of our species?
Research topics include the evolution of our large brains; extended juvenile period; long lifespan; large, structured societies and social networks; large body of accumulated technology and knowledge; division of labor; dependence on social learning.
Foundations of Culture
Broad questions: What are the psychological and social foundations of culture? How does culture evolve?
The Ultimate-level theoretical models that emerge from the questions of human uniqueness lead to Proximate-level predictions about our psychology and societies. I test these predictions using experimental and data science methods from psychology and economics.
Key question: What features of our psychology and sociality underlie human culture and cumulative cultural evolution?
Research topics include the features of our social networks; social learning biases and strategies; cross-cultural differences in cultural learning, development, and cognition; the effect of exposure to multiple cultures (“panculturals”); and the evolution of language, teaching, and other mechanisms for cultural transmission.
Broad questions: How can a psychology built from first principles allow us to explain the modern world? How can this knowledge be applied to make the world a better place?
A relationship between science and technology has existed since at least the 19th century. For scientists focused on the social world, our technology are policies and interventions designed to address problems or increase human development.
Key question: Why do societies differ around the world and through history?
Research topics include corruption; innovation and cultural complexity; zero-sum perceptions; maladaptive cultural practices; IQ and formal education; types of leadership and governance; the role of inequality; the psychological foundations of democracy (i.e. the psychological pillars that uphold successful democratic institutions); and apparent directionality in cultural evolution (e.g. Singer’s expanding circle of moral concern.)
Ten Hundred Word Summary
Inspired by xkcd, here are my research interests explained using only the Ten Hundred most used words:
People are different to animals. They have stuff in their heads that they learn from other people that lets them do cool things, like build houses and cars and stuff like that. I want to know what things animals need to learn all that stuff and how those things work in the human animal.
Once I know what things people need to learn from other people, I want to know if you can use numbers and computers to see if those things lead to what humans and the human world look like today.
What would be even cooler is if we could use what we know about how people learn from other people, and the numbers and computers to help the people who lead us do their job better and make the world a better place.