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.