I'm Professor of Cognitive Anthropology at the Institute of Human Sciences, University of Oxford and a Fellow in Human Sciences at Wadham College, Oxford. Following my PhD in Anthropology (Queen's University Belfast) I held positions at the Institute of Cognition and Culture (Queen’s), the Centre for Anthropology and Mind and the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology (Oxford), and the Research Group in Comparative Cognitive Anthropology at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig, Germany) and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics (Nijmegen, Netherlands), taking up my current post in 2012. My research interests have spanned a wide range of topics in the interdisciplinary evolutionary-developmental-cognitive science of social behaviour and culture.
Post-doctoral Researchers and Research Affiliates
Broadly, I am interested in using evolutionary theory to understand human behaviour. In the past I have studied the cultural activities that lead to bonded, cooperative relationships among humans using conducted experimental, observational, and 'big data' studies. Specifically, I have focused on how social support and cohesion can reduce perceptions of pain and fatigue while enhancing performance during exercise. In the private sector, I am the Chief Data Scientist at Texture AI, a start-up which uses natural language processing, inferential statistics, and machine learning to measure and predict behaviour and public health outcomes using web-based content. Outside of academia, sports are an important part of my life; I competed in track and field (javelin throw) for both Oxford University and South Dakota State University, where I was an NCAA Division I Track & Field Academic All-American.
I am Honorary Professor in Cognition and Neuroscience at the University of Kent, and Chief Scientific Officer at CorLife. My research focuses on interoceptive processes in human performance and health, specifically those resulting from interactions with social and environmental factors (for example emotions, moods and placebo effects).
My research combines my passion for dance and music with my curiosity about human nature and evolution of social behaviours. I am interested in why humans have such a longstanding love-affair with music, and the nuts and bolts behind the social benefits of taking part in musical activities.
My research aims to elucidate how children and adults form social bonds with each other. In particular, I examine the positive social impact of inter-personal coordination and matching movements with others (e.g., when we mimic others). Broadly, my research has shown that moving in rhythmic synchrony with others facilitates affiliation in as young as 12-month-old infants, and encourages cooperative behaviour in older ages. My ongoing research investigates these questions also in autistic populations in hopes to understand the condition better and provide insights for interventions as necessary.
Having studied the psychology of music, I'm now interested in why humans invest so much time and energy into music and dance. My research investigates the social bonding effects of synchronised action, and tries to pick apart the mechanisms that underpin these effects. It uses a range of methods, from motion capture to eye-tracking, and draws upon general principles in cognition and perception. I've previously worked on community music and theatre projects around Europe and Australia, and am currently a Graduate Choral Scholar at St Peter's College.
I am a DPhil student under the supervision of Dr Emma Cohen and Dr Susana Carvalho. Broadly, I am interested in the factors mediating the frequency and efficiency of tool-use in chimpanzees. I will be undertaking a longitudinal analysis and taking an evolutionary-developmental approach to investigate the role of environmental and social stressors on maternal investment, and to explore the potential subsequent transgenerational effects of maternal style on infant nut-cracking behaviour.
My interests focus on children who grow up under difficult circumstances and the skills they develop as an adaptation to the challenging surrounding environment. After studying the plight of child soldiers in Africa, I spent 6 months in a Rio de Janeiro favela investigating how the martial art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu helps local children to stay away from the criminal life that is widespread in the community. In this context I was surprised by some skills displayed by the children, who are instead commonly considered impaired precisely because of the exposure to early life adversities. My research aims to identify the stress-adapted skills that children may develop as an adaptation to harsh environments. The aim is to contribute theoretically and empirically, while also opening avenues for future intervention and education programmes.
I research the bi-directional relationship between on-field coordination and psychological affiliation in interactive team sports. For my doctoral research, I conducted ethnographic and experimental studies with professional rugby players in China. I'm interested in the cognitive and evolutionary mechanisms that can account for the often mystecised "click" or "flow" of joint action, and the possibility that basal human capacities for coordinating movement enable or disable cooperation within groups. I am particularly interested in the ability of dynamical, hierarchical and predictive frameworks from theoretical neuroscience to explain multi-scale coordination dynamics of human cognitive systems, from brain cells to communities. I have a backgroun in professional sport, representing my home country of Australia in rugby sevens. I also have several years of experience studying and working in China.
Broadly, I take an interdisciplinary approach to the study of social bonding. In the past, I’ve completed ethnographic fieldwork at an archaeological dig in Italy, where I used participant-observation and semi-structured interviews to explore social bonding among students. For my DPhil, I used naturalistic observations and controlled experiments to scientifically explore the effects of physical exertion (intensity) and touch on social bonding among children engaged in physically active play.
In my research, I try to understand how different contexts influence children’s social behaviors. In particular, I explore how cooperation and competition shape preschoolers’ sharing and social inclusion. Since 2016, I have been a doctoral student at the Leipzig Research Center for Early Child Development (Leipzig University) and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Department of Comparative Cultural Psychology). Currently, I am visiting the Social Body Lab and finalizing my PhD thesis.