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Study of human behavior takes ASU anthropology student across globe

Leonid Tiokhin
April 29, 2015

How do humans obtain and transmit information in their social environments? What are the evolutionary foundations of human deception? How does human behavior vary across cultures?

These are some of the questions Arizona State University doctoral anthropology student Leonid Tiokhin is attempting to answer.

Tiokhin’s research is strongly grounded in evolutionary theory. In particular, he is interested in the evolution of information transmission and the ways in which humans’ reliance on social information leaves them vulnerable to deception.

“For my master's thesis I am developing a new hypothesis for the evolution of symptom expression, grounded in evolutionary theories of communication,” he explained. “In the future, I hope to expand my work across cultures by establishing a long-term field site in Indonesia.”

Tiokhin has already conducted on-the-ground research in two diverse regions. In Indonesia, he worked with the Karo Batak of North Sumatra for two months and lived in different villages for the next four as he studied Bahasa Indonesia, the official language of Indonesia. After Southeast Asia, he traveled to Armenia and spent six months learning Armenian before returning later to do fieldwork.

This summer, he will revisit Indonesia as a Fulbright-Hays scholar. He plans to immerse himself in the study of Bahasa Indonesia by attending the Consortium for the Teaching of Indonesian advanced language program in Salatiga, Java.

Born in Russia, Tiokhin moved to the U.S. when he was three and grew up in California, graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles. While at UCLA, he worked at the Center for Behavior, Evolution and Culture, where he spent two years as its coordinator.

As an undergrad, he was part of a news-making research team led by evolutionary anthropologist Daniel Fessler, which introduced the “Crazy Bastard Hypothesis.” This research proposed an evolutionary basis for the typical risk-taking behavior of young men: it creates the image of a dangerous enemy and a powerful ally in the eye of the beholder.

At ASU, Tiokhin’s research is conducted as part of the Laboratory of Culture Change and Behavior, overseen by associate professor Daniel Hruschka in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Hruschka is excited about his advisee's recent Fulbright-Hays win, as well as his future. "This will be a great opportunity for Leo to grow his Indonesian skills as he prepares for a career in anthropology and evolutionary medicine," he said.

Tiokhin hopes to eventually obtain an academic post at a major research university.