He studied physics at the University of California, San Diego (Bachelor, 1970). In 1975 he completed a Doctor of Philosophy in ecology at the University of California, Davis.
He is Professor of the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles (University of California, Los Angeles). His research interests include evolutionary psychology and in particular the evolutionary roots of culture. Together with Joan B. Silk, he wrote the textbook How Humans Evolved.
From 1980 to 1984, he was Assistant Professor of the Department of Forestry and Environmental Science at Duke University.
Afterwards, he taught two years in the Department of Anthropology at Emory University. From 1988 to 2012, Boyd was on the faculty of the University of California, Los Angeles Department of Anthropology.
Boyd is currently a Professor at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University.