Professor Robin DunbarBack to People

Subjects: Anthropology, Archaeology and Anthropology, Experimental Psychology
Department: Experimental Psychology


I attended Magdalen College School, Brackley, and then went to Magdalen College to read PPP (Psychology & Philosophy), graduating in 1969. After completing a PhD on the behavioural ecology of primates at Bristol University, I went to Cambridge on a SERC Advanced Research Fellowship (URF). I subsequently held research and teaching posts at Stockholm University (Zoology), University College London (Anthropology) and Liverpool University (Psychology and then Biology) before returning to Oxford in 2007.  I became Emeritus Fellow in 2017.  In 2021, I was elected a Foreign Member of the Finnish Academy of Science & Letters.

Research Interests

My research focuses on the evolution of sociality in primates and other mammals (in particular, feral goats and klipspringer antelope). This has involved understanding the constraints on social group size, and the strategies that different species exploit to break through the glass ceilings these impose. This brings together understanding brain evolution, the relationship between brain regions, cognition and behaviour, the role of the neuroendocrines (in particular, endorphins) in social bonding, and the role of time as a climatically-driven constraint on grouping.

Selected Publications

• Dunbar, R. (1996). Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language. Faber & Faber.
• Dunbar, R. (1996). The Trouble With Science. Harvard University Press.
• Dunbar, R. et al. (2005). Evolutionary Psychology. OneWorld.
• Dunbar, R. (2010). How Many Friends Does One Person Need? Dunbar’s Number and Other Evolutionary Quirks. Faber & Faber.
• Dunbar, R. (2012). The Science of Love and Betrayal. Faber & Faber.
• Dunbar, R. (2014). Human Evolution (Pelican and Oxford University Press).
• Dunbar, R. (2020). Evolution: What Everyone Needs To Know. (Oxford University Press).
• Dunbar, R. (2021). Friends: Understanding the Power of Our Most Important Relationships. (Little Brown).
• Pearce,E., Stringer,C. & Dunbar, R. (2013). New insights into differences in brain organisation between Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. 280B: 0000-0000.
• Powell, J. et al. (2012). Orbital prefrontal cortex volume predicts social network size: an imaging study of individual differences in humans. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. 279B: 2157-2162.
• Sutcliffe, A., Dunbar, R., Binder, J. & Arrow, H. (2012). Relationships and the social brain: integrating psychological and evolutionary perspectives. Brit. J. Psychol. 103: 149-168.
• Machin, A. & Dunbar, R. (2011). The brain opioid theory of social attachment: a review of the evidence. Behaviour 148: 985-1025.
• Dunbar, R. & Shultz, S. (2011). Bondedness and sociality. Behaviour 147: 775-803.
• Shultz, S. & Dunbar, R. (2010). Species differences in executive function correlate with hippocampus volume and neocortex ratio across non-human primates. J. Comp. Psychol. 124: 252-260.
• Shultz, S. & Dunbar, R. (2010). Encephalisation is not a universal macroevolutionary phenomenon in mammals but is associated with sociality. PNAS 107: 21582-21586.
• Gessey-Jones, T., Connaughton, C., Dunbar, R.,et al. (2020). Narrative structure of “A Song of Ice and Fire” creates a fictional world with realistic measures of social complexity. PNAS 117: 28582-28588.
• Dunbar, R. (2020). Structure and function in human and primate social networks: Implications for diffusion, network stability and health. Proceedings of the Royal Society, London, 476A: 20200446.
• Kiesow, H., Dunbar, R., et al. (2020). 10,000 social brains: sex differentiation in human brain anatomy. Science Advances 6: eeaz1170.
• Spreng, R., Dimas, E., Mwilambwe-Tshilobo, L., Dagher, A., Koellinger, P., Nave, G., Ong, A., Kernbach, J., Wiecki, T., Ge, T., Li, Y., Holmes, A., Yeo, B., Turner, G., Dunbar, R. & Bzdok, D. (2020). The default network of the human brain underlies perceived social isolation. Nature Communications 11: 6393.
• West, B., Massari, G.F., Culbreth, G., Failla, R., Bologna, M., Dunbar, R. & Grigolini, P.(2020). Relating size and functionality in human social networks through complexity. PNAS 117: 18355-18358.
• Dunbar, R. (2018). The anatomy of friendship. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 22: 32-51.