Taking a break between interviews in Vava’u, Tonga

My General Research Framework
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 natural 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. Can evolutionary favored social learning strategies explain the cultural variation we see among today’s immigrant communities?
  2. Can we explain the degree of cultural complexity using demographic variables, such as group size and migration patterns?

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 adaptive learning strategies. Adopting majority behavior, maintaining 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 Polynesian people of Tonga in the Tongan islands and the Tonga diaspora. My objective is to test whether evolutionary-favored learning strategies can explain 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.

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