Taking a break between interviews in Vava’u, Tonga

The spread of the human species is largely due to the development of complex culture early in our evolutionary history. Culture, like genes, is inherited, exhibits variation, and can be favored by selection and influenced by other evolutionary forces. Unlike genes the transmission of culture can come from many individuals and occurs magnitudes faster. To fully understand human evolution and behavior, culture alongside genes must be a part of the same formula. My mathematical modeling, ethnographic fieldwork, empirical studies, and experiments are motivated by cultural evolutionary theory to answer two major questions:

  1. How do migration patterns and learning strategies influence cultural variation?
  2. How is cultural complexity influenced by the same (migration, learning) as well as the specific role of group learning?

Migration and Tongan Culture
Our long, successful, and continuing story of migration across the globe attests to the extraordinary adaptability of humans. Part of our success likely lies in learning adaptive strategies. Adopting majority behavior, developing ethnic markers,  and other similar strategies are broadly favored by evolutionary models, though the empirical program is lagging. To fill the gap, I conduct ethnographic fieldwork among the people of Tonga in the Tongan islands and the Tonga diaspora. My objective is to explore evolutionary explanations of the cultural variation I see among Tongan migrants in Utah, the Western U.S., and other parts of the world.

Other projects
While the cause and effects of migration are my main focus, I really enjoy collaboration on interesting problems. See my publication list to check out where I have been in other exciting areas.