General scientific interests
Broadly, and like my fellow researchers at the Institute of Human Sciences, I am interested in using evolutionary theory to understand the human experience. Generally, my research has used methods from the psychological, computer, and network sciences to understand how social relationships affect human behaviour, health, and well-being.
Specifically, I have conducted observational, experimental, and survey-based studies to interrogate the effects of social environments on experiences and outcomes during physical exercise. The results of these studies suggest that feelings of social inclusion and support can reduce perceptions of fatigue, increase feelings of energy, and enhance outputs during physical exercise. We situate these findings within a broad evolutionary framework that views humans as a socially interdependent species in which fitness-relevant homeostatic functions, including the buffering of pain and stress, are functionally tied to social integration and support.
I am currently working as a Postdoctoral Researcher on a James S. McDonnell Foundation funded project that will investigate how early life social adversity influences the buffering effects of perceived social support on fatigue. In addition to this research, I am working on a ‘big data’ study that examines the effects of social integration on physical exercise adherence and performance at parkrun; a free, weekly, community-based 5 km run that occurs at over 700 different locations across the UK. I am also working on a research collaboration that uses machine learning methods to predict disease outbreaks using Twitter data. We are aiming to create a tool that identifies when Twitter users are mentioning illness symptoms at abnormally high rates; this tool could be used to identify outbreaks of novel diseases with unknown symptom profiles.
My academic interests in the relationships amongst sociality, physical activity, and public health are informed by my experiences as a student-athlete. I competed in track and field (javelin throw) for both the University of Oxford and South Dakota State University, where I was an NCAA Division I Track & Field Academic All-American.
DPhil (PhD) in Anthropology, University of Oxford (2019)
Master of Science (MSc) in Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford (2014) with Distinction
Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in global studies and Spanish, South Dakota State University (2012) with Honors College Distinction.
Winona Cotter High School (2007) with Honors
Full Blue in the javelin throw – Oxford University Blues Varsity Athletics (2016)
Clarendon Scholarship for DPhil Studies - University of Oxford (2014)
Dr. Nicola Knight Dissertation Prize in Quantitative Methods - Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford (2014)
NCAA Division I Track & Field Academic All-American (javelin throw - 3rd team) - Capital One Academic All-America (2012)
Schultz-Werth Award for outstanding undergraduate research - South Dakota State University (2012)
Cohen E., Davis, A.J., Taylor, J. (in press). Interdependence, Bonding and Support Are Associated With Improved Mental Well-being Following an Outdoor Team Challenge. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.
Davis, A. J., MacCarron, P., Cohen, E. (2021). Social reward and support effects on exercise experiences and performance: Evidence from parkrun. PLoS ONE, 16(9), e0256546.
Davis, A. J., B. Crittenden and E. Cohen (2021). "Effects of social support on performance outputs and
perceived difficulty during physical exercise." Physiology & Behavior, 239, 113490.
Davis, A. J., F. Hettinga and C. Beedie (2020). "You don't need to administer a placebo to elicit a
placebo effect: Social factors trigger neurobiological pathways to enhance sports performance."
European Journal of Sport Science, 20(3): 302-312.
Davis, A. J. (2019). Robin Dunbar, Human Evolution: Our Brains and Behavior (New York: Oxford
University Press, 2016), 415 pages. ISBN: 9780190616786. Politics and the Life Sciences, 1-3.
Beedie, C., Benedetti, F., Barbiani, D., Camerone, E., Cohen, E., Coleman, D., Davis, A . . . Szabo, A.
(2018). Consensus statement on placebo effects in sports and exercise: The need for conceptual
clarity, methodological rigour, and the elucidation of neurobiological mechanisms. European
Journal of Sport Science, 18(10), 1383-1389. doi:10.1080/17461391.2018.1496144
Davis, A., & Cohen, E. (2018). The Effects of Social Support on Strenuous Physical Exercise. Adaptive
Human Behavior and Physiology, 4(2), 171-187.
Davis, A. and Taylor, J. (2018). Social Cohesion. International Encyclopedia of Anthropology.
Davis, A., Taylor, J. & Cohen, E. (2016). How the buzz of dancing and sports bond us together. Aeon.
Davis, A., Taylor, J., & Cohen, E. (2015). Social Bonds and Exercise: Evidence for a Reciprocal
Relationship. PLoS ONE, 10(8), e0136705.
Davis, A. (2017, November). Faster with friends: a ‘big data’ and observational study of parkrun. Poster presented at the Human Diversity and Adaptation Meeting. Oxford, United Kingdom.
Davis, A., Mac Carron, P., Cohen, E. (2017, April). Buffering effects of social cohesion and support during exercise. Plenary talk presented at the European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association Conference. Paris, France.
Taylor, J. and Davis, A. (2016, June). Social Bonds and Exercise: Evidence for a Reciprocal Relationship. Talk presented at the Human Behavior and Evolution Society Annual Meeting, Vancouver, Canada.
Davis, A., Taylor, J., & Cohen E. (2015, March). Bonds, sweat and peers: the effects of group exercise on cooperation and performance. Poster presented at the European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association Conference. Helsinki, Finland.