While working towards a social science degree, I became interested in the origin and evolution of language and its relationship with human cognitive processes; a relationship that I believed to be symbiotic in nature.
Upon completion of my undergraduate degree, I decided to undertake an MSc in social research methods at Brunel University. I did this in order to better develop my understanding of the tools that are available to those in my field. This led me to the conclusion that computer-based modelling, specifically agent-based modelling (ABM), was the best option available for exploring the phenomena that interest me. It was during this time that I also became interested in the ideas of complexity theory and self-organisation, due to the way in which they correspond, in an ontological fashion, to the social-cognitive dynamics that underpin my work.
It was this combination of interests that led to my applying to the Institute for Complex Systems Simulation (ICSS), where I am currently working towards my PhD.
My primary research interest is the origin and evolution of human language; a communicative system that is thought to be unique within the natural world due to the way in which it exhibits three distinct characteristics; namely, syntactic structure, symbolic representation, and the fact that it is learned by language users. Although, the communicative systems of many other species may possess one or more of these features, language is the only one to be characterised by all three; this is what makes it a special case, and a challenging phenomenon to investigate.
Currently, my work is focusing upon the concept of ‘iterated learning’. This is a cultural-evolutionary process whereby the social behaviours exhibited by a particular individual is the result of induction based upon that individual’s observations of the behaviour of others. In other words, the input into this individual’s learning process, is itself, the output of another’s learning process.
In short, those working within the iterated learning framework seek to understand the relationship between the properties of individuals and the population-level behaviour that they exhibit; and in doing so, they have produced a large body of work that offers a particularly interesting way of looking at why cultural behaviours, and human language in particular, can be incredibly diverse due to individual learner biases.
My primary mode of investigation involves computational modelling; in particular, agent-based models. Such a methodology enables me to explore how the interactions between individual, autonomous computer-based agents, can give rise to system-wide behaviours. It also makes it possible to explore how these behaviours can, in turn, influence said individual interactions, through a kind of social-cognitive feedback loop.
Lecturer, Humanities (FH)
Research Fellow, Electronics and Computer Science (FPAS)
Excitable Boys: An Exploration of the Role of Social Groups in the Self-radicalisation Process Using Agent-based Modelling.
With Jason Noble (Investigator)