Department of Anthropology

Adam Boyette

PhD Candidate
Advisor: Barry Hewlett
Position: PhD student
Office: VMMC 207

Curriculum vitae: PDF

Biographical sketch

I received my BA (2002) in psychobiology from UC Santa Cruz. While pursuing my degree I spent one year studying abroad at Flinders University in South Australia where I focused my studies on animal behavioral ecology, briefly working with social insects (gall-forming thrips) under Professor Mike Schwarz. After my BA I worked for one year at a biotech firm in Santa Cruz, and one year in the molecular biology lab of Lindsay Hinck at UCSC. These experiences taught me that I appreciate laboratory biology but that I needed to work at the intersection of the social and natural sciences. I began the anthropology graduate program at WSU in 2004, receiving my MA in 2006 under Robert Quinlan. I then continued in the PhD program at WSU and was chosen for funding by the IGERT Program in Evolutionary Modeling. As an IPEM fellow, I spent one semester at the University of Washington before finishing coursework at WSU, Pullman. I am now in the final stages of completing my degree at WSU, Vancouver under the supervision of Barry Hewlett (PhD chair) and Ed Hagen. I have spent a total of 12 months among the Aka forest foragers and Ngandu farmers of the Central African Republic. My research has been funded by the NSF IPEM program and the Wenner-Gren Foundation. I have also done some brief research on social learning among wild capuchin monkeys (Cebus albifrons cuscinus and Cebus capucinus) under Jessica Lynch Alfaro, now at UCLA Center for Society and Genetics. Funded through a Fulbright scholarship awarded to Barry Hewlett, I have also taught biological anthropology for a semester at Hawassa University in southern Ethiopia.


Abstract The integrating theme of my research is the role of childhood in human adaptation. I am especially interested in adaptations for culture learning during childhood; that is, I explore how children learn the social norms, technical skills, values, and beliefs of their social groups during everyday life from the perspective that humans have evolved to seek out cultural information during childhood. I apply method and theory from behavioral ecology and cultural transmission research to address these and other outstanding issues in the anthropology of childhood.

Social Learning and Cultural Transmission The study of children's social learning outside of anthropology has been dominated by studies using samples of majority-culture, middle-class children from post-industrial nations with formalized education systems. This research is important but tells us little about how generalizable the results are to children living in different contexts. Anthropologists interested in so-called "traditional education" have demonstrated that children's social learning in small-scale societies with subsistence-based economies and no formalized education systems occurs through "informal" means: by observation, imitation, and participation in daily life. This model suggests that formal teaching is limited if present at all in the majority of human cultures, in contrast to previous models of education.

These models may present a false dichotomy. It is likely that observation, imitation, and participation in daily life are critical aspects of social learning in societies with formalized education, even if they are not how skills such as reading and mathematics are learned. Similarly, teaching likely has a place in certain contexts in those societies where it is generally rare.

I see cultural transmission theory as a useful way of linking developmental psychology and the anthropology of childhood. By identifying specific cultural and ecological variables and modes of transmission, we can begin to understand the settings in which formal or informal models of social learning are most useful for the transmission of culture. This requires systematic data collection and observation, but also a sense for the culture that can only be achieved by participant observation and extensive anthropological fieldwork.

Play Play is a multifaceted set of behaviors common to numerous animal species, but, for humans, lies at the intersection between developmental biology and culture. Little is known about physical play cross-culturally in terms of age trends or stereotyped behaviors, but it is known to be necessary for proper neuromuscular development. Other types of play are more likely adaptive for "practicing culture", or developing social and technical skills, as well as innovating new ones. Consistent types of social play (e.g. fantasy, ruled-games, song and dance) appear across cultures, but in myriad forms, suggesting both universal and culture-specific aspects of play among human children.

Among the Aka and Ngandu, play forms vary substantially. I collected time allocation data and cultural model data on children's play in both societies and found that, compared to the Ngandu and most other cultures on record, Aka children have nearly no competitive game play nor rough-and-tumble play. I argue that this variation can be linked to the process of learning egalitarian behavior and prestige avoidance among the Aka, which would lead to the avoidance of activities in which individuals are ranked or have the opportunity to display physical dominance.

Here is a short film I've made about the Aka, children's play and cultural transmission.


Anth 260 Introduction to Physical Anthropology
Anth 309 Cultural Ecology
Anth 316 Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective
Anth 468 Sex, Evolution, and Human Nature
Anth 469 Genes, Culture and Human Diversity

Research projects

Selected publications


PDF Boyette A 2010. Middle Childhood among Aka Forest Foragers of the Central African Republic: A Comparative Perspective.

Articles and Chapters

PDF Hewlett BS, Boyette AH 2013. Play in hunter-gatherers, In Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development Narvaez, D., Panksepp, J., Schore, A., & Gleason, T. (eds.). 388-393.
PDF Hewlett BS, Fouts HN, Boyette AH, Hewlett BL 2011. Social learning among Congo Basin hunter-gatherers. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, B, 366, 1168-1178.
PDF Lynch Alfaro JW, Matthews L, Boyette AH, Macfarlan SJ, Phillips KA, Falotico T, Ottoni E, Verderane M, Izar P, Schulte M, Melin A, Fedigan L, Janson C, Alfaro ME 2011. Anointing Variation Across Wild Capuching Populations: A Review of Material Preferences, Bout Frequency and Anointing Sociality in *Cebus* and *Sapajus*. American Journal of Primatology, 73, 1-16.


PDF Boyette AH 2012. The Nature of Play Among Aka Forest Foragers and Ngandu Farmers of the Central African Republic. A02-Team Research Report, RNMH Project (Japan).