Evolutionary and comparative psychology
We study the evolution of human and animal minds and what it tells us about psychology, from processing social information to the origins of human culture.
Languages evolve in ways that parallel biological evolution. Language diversity around the globe provides a window into human prehistory and the workings of the human mind. By combining large databases of linguistic diversity with computer models of language evolution inspired by biology, we test theories about ancient human population migrations and the mode and tempo of language evolution.
Our research in this area seeks to characterise patterns of recurrence and variation in religious beliefs and practices in cultures around the world. We explore the link between features of these beliefs and practices and the evolution of large-scale cooperation. We also investigate what it is about the human mind that makes certain types of religious beliefs and practices particularly appealing. This work uses a variety of approaches, from cross-cultural data to lab-based studies, online experiments and field research on Tanna Island in Vanuatu.
What determines our views on taxation and crime, healthcare and climate change, welfare and gender roles? And why do opinions about these seemingly disparate aspects of our social lives coalesce the way they do? We use survey and experimental data, together with evidence from psychology, behavioural genetics, behavioural economics and primatology to gain novel insight into the biological and cultural basis of political ideologies.
The Animal minds lab focuses on trying to understand how animals think. Our lab has two main goals. The first is to identify what aspects of thought are unique to humans and which are shared with other animals. The second is to reveal whether there is an optimal mind that evolves again and again in response to certain selection pressures.
To answer these questions, we work with three different animal species: kea, dogs and New Caledonian crows.