Welcome! I'm a Senior Lecturer in Psychology in the Centre for Culture and Evolution at Brunel University London. My PhD is in Anthropology, from the University of California, Los Angeles. I study human behavior and development through the lens of cultural evolutionary theory. My research focuses primarily on social learning, in places and communities beyond Western societies. My current field site is in the Yasawa Islands, Fiji. I am also starting projects working with parents and immigrants in the UK .
I am recruiting graduate students, please email me directly (michelle.kline [at] brunel.ac.uk ) if you are considering applying!
You can download my most recent CV here.
Evolution of Teaching
More than other species, humans depend upon socially learned information -- culture -- for our survival and adaptation to novel environments. What we learn varies across sociocultural contexts, but with this project I investigate variation in how humans learn. Teaching plays a major role in this story.
Through cumulative culture, humans create, use, modify, and pass on technologies that are too complex for any one person to have invented in a single lifetime. This applies equally from smartphones to traditional medicine. Through this project, I ask how learners balance new ideas with old, and their own insights with what they learn from others.
Community-based Research in the UK
I am beginning a new research endeavor working in UK communities with parents and families. This project will look at parental learning. If you are a prospective student interested in "local" field research in the London area more broadly, please contact me! Please note that I've temporarily adapted this project to run online during the COVID-19 era.
Cultural Evolution & Sustainability
Consumption is easy to understand: consuming more means we're more likely to survive and reproduce. Less intuitive is an understanding of why and how humans might manage resources for sustainable consumption. This project leverages cultural evolutionary theory to talk about how human groups may be able to solve sustainability problems.
Yasawa Island, Fiji
I conduct field work in villages on Yasawa Island, the last in the Yasawan archipelago in the Northwestern region of the Fijian Islands.
Horticultural & fishing villages, in a tourism-based national economy
Villages on Yasawa Island are typically composed of around 200 people, subsisting on horticulture and fishing. This matters for studies of learning because it means that village residents need to master traditional subsistence skills to be successful in the community. Daily social life is structured largely by kinship relationships, and kinship is organized by patrilineal clans.
Collaborators, Research Assistants, and Village Residents all play roles in the research.
I began work on Yasawa Island in 2008, and have been lucky to work with a great combination of academic researchers, as well as Indigenous Fijian (iTaukei) research assistants from mainland Fiji and from Yasawa Island itself. During research, all members of the team live and work in the village (see our lab photo, left), and eat meals with a host family - so the village residents are more than just research participants, they are a part of the field team's support system and crucial to making the research possible.
Kline, M. A., Shamsudheen, R., & Broesch, T. 2018. Variation is the universal: making cultural evolution work in developmental psychology. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 373(1743), 20170059.
Grunspan, D. Z., Kline, M. A., & Brownell, S. E. (2018). The Lecture Machine: A Cultural Evolutionary Model of Pedagogy in Higher Education. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 17(3), es6.
Kline, M. A., Waring, T. M., & Salerno, J. (2018). Designing cultural multilevel selection research for sustainability science. Sustainability science, 13(1), 9-19.
Kline, M.A. 2016. TEACH: An Ethogram-based Method to Observe and Record Teaching Behavior. Field Methods. doi: 10.1177/1525822X16669282
Henrich, J., R. Boyd, M. Derex, M.A. Kline, A. Mesoudi, M. Muthukrishna, A. Powell, S. Shennan, M. Thomas. 2016. Understanding Cumulative Cultural Evolution: A Reply to Vaesen, Collard, et al. [Letter to the Editor]. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(44): E6724-E6725. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1610005113
Kline, M.A. 2015. How to learn about teaching: An evolutionary framework for the study of teaching behavior in humans and other animals. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 38, epub, 1-71. doi: 10.1017/S0140525X14000090
Waring, T., M.A. Kline, J. Brooks, S. Goff, J. Gowdy, P. Smaldino, J. Jacquet, M. Janssen. 2015. A multilevel cultural evolutionary theory of sustainability. Ecology and Society, 20(2): 569-58. doi: 10.5751/ES-07634-200234
Manson, J., M.M. Gervais, D.M.T. Fessler, M.A. Kline. 2014. Subclinical primary psychopathy, but not physical formidability or attractiveness, predicts conversational dominance in a zero-acquaintance situation. PLOS ONE, 9(11): e113135. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0113135
Kline, M.A., R. Boyd, J. Henrich. 2013. Teaching and the life history of cultural transmission in Fijian villages. Human Nature, 24(4): 351-374. doi: 10.1007/s12110-013-9180-1
Manson, J.H., G.A. Bryant, M.M. Gervais, M.A. Kline. 2013. Convergence of speech rate in conversation predicts cooperation. Evolution and Human Behavior, 34(6): 419-426. doi: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2013.08.001
Kline, M.A., R. Boyd. 2010. Population size predicts technological complexity in Oceania. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 277: 2559–2564. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.0452
Kline, M.A., M.M. Gervais, C. Moya, R. Boyd. (Under review). Irrelevant-action imitation is short-term and contextual: Evidence from two under-studied populations.
Kline, M.A. (In preparation). Forms and functions of teaching in early childhood: Evidence from focal follows in Fijian villages.
Scelza, B., S.P Prall, T. Blumenfield, A.N. Crittenden, M. Gurven, M.A. Kline, J. Koster, G. Kushnick, S.M. Mattison, E. Pillsworth, M.K. Shenk, K. Starkweather, J. Stieglitz, C. Sum, K. Yamaguchi, R. McElreath. (Submitted). Patterns of paternal investment predict cross-cultural variation in jealous response.
C. Moya, M. Borgerhoff Mulder, H. Colleran, D. Gerkey, M.A. Gibson, M. Gurven, J. Henrich, P. Hooper, H.S. Kaplan, M.A. Kline, J.M. Koster, K.L. Kramer, D. Leonetti, S. Mattison, D. Nath, C. Sanders, B.A. Scelza, M.K. Shenk, K. Snopkowski, J. Stieglitz, M.C. Towner, C.R. von Rueden, J. Ziker, R. Sear. (Submitted). Intergenerational conflict may explain why parents delay the onset of their children’s reproduction: A cross-cultural analysis. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 1-21.
Upper Level Courses
Graduate Level Courses
Evolution and Human Development
The Evolution of Cultural Evolution
A note on "decolonizing" teaching
I am continuously working to "decolonize" my syllabi and teaching techniques. What "decolonizing" means to me as an instructor is working to include voices of Indigenous and minoritized people within the courses I teach. This means cultivating course content and promoting classroom interactions that treat these voices not as a "yes, but..." style addendum, but as a foundational part of the content, period. As faculty at Simon Fraser University, I have previously focused on educating students about Indigenous populations in Canada, in the past and present, with respect to child development and inequality. In my role at Brunel University, I am beginning to learn about anti-Black racism and other types of racism in the UK context.
This is very much a work in progress, because I am still learning and working on my own understanding.
If this is of interest to you, please feel free to contact me (michelle.kline [at] brunel.ac.uk). I am happy to share my course materials, to recommend readings that I have found helpful, or to receive critiques or input about those materials.
Please stay tuned.
I am moving to Brunel University London as of Fall 2020. I will post new opportunities as they arise. Until then I encourage students to find out about the graduate program at Brunel and pursue applications to the program. I especially encourage students from under-represented groups to reach out to me and apply.