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Culture, Cooperation and Child Development Research Group

Our research group takes an interdisciplinary and multi-scale approach to studying child development in specific ecological and cultural contexts.

We are particularly interested in the way that people cooperate in caring for children and the role of culture in shaping norms of cooperation and conceptions of children’s development. Our group includes specialists in the anthropology of childhood, evolutionary anthropology, developmental psychology, primatology, and tropical forest conservation, and we collaborate closely with biological anthropologists. We bring together our combined specializations to comprehensively examine how interactions between people and their environments effect children’s development and well-being.

At one scale, we are interested in the social-psychological processes that influence how children develop, and the role of cultural models of child development in shaping these processes. In parallel, through collaboration with biological anthropologists, we study the interplay of culture and human physiology (hormones, sleep, energetic status) in shaping variation in family and child health. At a higher scale of interaction, we also examine how socio-cultural and ecological contexts impact variation in people’s economic and reproductive decisions.

We conduct our research among multi-ethnic communities in the tropical forests of the northern Republic of the Congo. One of the primary reasons we have chosen this region is because of the BaYaka people. The BaYaka are an egalitarian society of tropical forest specialists. Considered the largest population of traditional foragers or hunter-gatherers on Earth, the BaYaka today subsist using a variety of means that draw on their cultural knowledge of the forest and its social and economic resources.

While they travel regularly throughout the forest, most BaYaka communities have economic and familial ties with groups of non-BaYaka, typically peoples who subsist on tropical forest agriculture and fishing. We also work with these groups, as neither BaYaka society nor that of their neighbors can be understood without understanding their inter-relationships. Additionally, these fisher-farmer groups have norms of cooperation and cultural models of child development different than those of the BaYaka, so working with both groups offers us the opportunity to use informed comparisons in our investigations.


Adam H. Boyette (Senior Researcher; Team leader) is trained as an evolutionary cultural anthropologist with a specialization in cultural learning and evolution, and the anthropology of childhood. He has worked with Congo Basin peoples since 2008, in the Central African Republic until 2012 and subsequently in the Republic of the Congo.

Haneul Jang (Postdoctoral Researcher) has worked with the BaYaka foragers in the Republic of Congo since 2015. Her PhD focused on their subsistence strategies in a tropical forest. Currently, she is working closely with Dr. Adam Boyette to investigate the linkage between cooperative foraging, food sharing and cooperative childcare in human subsistence decision making.

Senay Cebioğlu (Postdoctoral Researcher) is a developmental psychologist. Her work focuses on cross-cultural variation in self-developmental outcomes and the socialization of cultural selves. During her PhD, she conducted fieldwork in Tanna, Vanuatu. Currently, with the guidance of Dr. Adam Boyette, she investigates the social-psychological processes that influence children’s development among foragers and subsistence fisher-farmers in the tropical forests of Congo-Brazzaville.

Sheina Lew-Levy (Postdoctoral researcher) has joined our team for one-year as a Humboldt Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow. She has worked with BaYaka in the Republic of the Congo since 2016. Using methods from anthropology and psychology, she is interested in the cultural diversity in, and evolution of, social learning in childhood. Her Humboldt project is primarily focused on children's foraging, though she is working closely with Dr. Boyette and other members of the group on a variety of projects. More on her research can be found here.

Vidrige Kandza (PhD Student) has more than ten years’ field work experience working in the tropical forests of the northern Republic of Congo, including habituating gorillas, conducting systematic surveys among national park employees, and studying ethnobotany and resource use among the BaYaka. For his PhD he is studying the dynamics of inter-ethnic cooperation in for-hire shotgun hunting between BaYaka hunters and non-BaYaka gun owners

Major Collaborators

Lee T. Gettler (University of Notre dame)

Representative Recent Publications

Gettler, L., Lew-Levy, S., Sarma, M., Miegakanda, V., Doxsey, M., Meyer, J., & Boyette, A. H. (in press). Children’s cortisol among BaYaka foragers: Associations with fathers’ roles and parental physiology. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Jang, H., & Boyette, A. H. (in press). Observations of cooperative pond fishing by BaYaka and Bantu people in the Flooded Forest of the Northern Republic of Congo. African Study Monographs.

McClay, E. K., Cebioglu, S., Broesch, T., & Yeung, H. H. (2021). Rethinking the phonetics of baby-talk: Differences across Canada and Vanuatu in the articulation of mothers' speech to infants (advance online). Developmental Science, e13180.
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Jang, H., Oktaviani, R., Kim, S., Mardiastutie, A., & Choe, J. (2021). Do Javan gibbons (Hylobates moloch) use fruiting synchrony as a foraging strategy? American Journal of Primatology, 83(10): e23319.
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Janmaat, K. R., de Guinea, M., Collet, J., Byrne, R. W., Robira, B., van Loon, E., Jang, H., Biro, D., Ramos-Fernández, G., Ross, C., Presotto, A., Allritz, M., Alavi, S., & Van Belle, S. (2021). Using natural travel paths to infer and compare primate cognition in the wild. iScience, 24: 102343.
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Boyette, A. H., & Lew‐Levy, S. (2021). Socialization, autonomy, and cooperation: Insights from task assignment among the egalitarian BaYaka. Ethos, 48(3): etho.12284, pp. 400-418.
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Kilius, E., Samson, D. R., Lew-Levy, S., Sarma, M. S., Patel, U. A., Ouamba, Y. R., Miegakanda, V., Gettler, L. T., & Boyette, A. H. (2021). Gender differences in BaYaka forager sleep-wake patterns in forest and village contexts. Scientific Reports, 11: 13658.
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Gettler, L. T., Boyette, A. H., & Rosenbaum, S. (2020). Broadening perspectives on the evolution of human paternal care and fathers’ effects on children. Annual Review of Anthropology, 49, 141-160.
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Gettler, L. T., Lew-Levy, S., Sarma, M. S., Miegakanda, V., & Boyette, A. H. (2020). Sharing and caring: Testosterone, fathering, and generosity among BaYaka foragers of the Congo Basin. Scientific Reports, 10(1): 15422.
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Boyette, A. H., Lew-Levy, S., Sarma, M. S., Valchy, M., & Gettler, L. T. (2020). Fatherhood, egalitarianism, and child health in two small-scale societies in the Republic of the Congo. American Journal of Human Biology, 32(4): e23342.
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Lew-Levy, S., Kissler, S. M., Boyette, A. H., Crittenden, A. N., Mabulla, I. A., & Hewlett, B. S. (2020). Who teaches children to forage? Exploring the primacy of child-to-child teaching among Hadza and BaYaka Hunter-Gatherers of Tanzania and Congo. Evolution and Human Behavior, 41(1), 12-22.
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