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We explore the evolution of human sociality and the mechanisms of large-scale community bonding. Our multi-disciplinary approach comprises comparative analyses, experimentation, genetics, neuroendocrinology, neuroimaging and agent based modelling.

Social and evolutionary neuroscience research group senrg Browyn Tarr & Rafael Wlodarksi
“The Social Brain”, drawn by Bronwyn Tarr and designed in collaboration with Rafael Wlodarski.

For the past two decades, we have been engaged in a series of projects designed to understand, within a broad psychological and evolutionary perspective, the evolution of sociality in primates (including humans). These have focussed on understanding both the constraints on social group size (the Social Brain Hypothesis and the time budget models) and the structure and dynamics of contemporary human social networks. In the process, we have begun to understand the nature of dyadic relationships and the cognitive and time constraints that limit the number of relationships we can have.

There are two major issues that arise out of this work that we are now investigating. One is the cognitive and neurophysiological underpinnings of social bonding (based on the dual process cognition-plus-endorphins model of primate social bonding); the other is the implications these have for large scale social cohesion at the community level and above. We continue to explore the evolution of the primate (and human) brain and the selection factors that have acted on it through geological time, seeking to understand both how human sociality arose historically in terms of the ecological selection pressures and what constraints have acted on it. At the same time, we seek to determine the behavioural, cognitive and neurobiological mechanisms that underpin human sociality.

 “While Dunbar has long been an influential scholar, today he is enjoying new found popularity with a particular crowd: the Silicon Valley programmers who build on-line social networks.”  - Drake Bennett, Blomberg Business Week

We have collaborations with computer scientists working on Big Data projects (e.g. phone call databases), as well as with Palaeolithic archaeologists (on human social evolution), historians (on the Icelandic Vikings) and literary theorists (experimental studies on cognitive aspects of drama and storytelling). We combine insights from these studies with a variety of mathematical modelling approaches to explore social evolution in primates and humans. Our findings are being used in the design of on-line networking software, and they have implications for how businesses and other public organisations are structured.

We are funded by a European Research Council Advanced Research Grant awarded to Professor Robin Dunbar.





Our team

  • Robin Dunbar
    Robin Dunbar

    Emeritus Professor of Evolutionary Psychology

  • Jackie Thompson
    Jackie Thompson

    Postdoctoral Research Fellow

  • Cole Robertson
    Cole Robertson

    Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group (SENRG)

  • Amy Orben
    Amy Orben

    DPhil Candidate and College Lecturer

  • Katerina Johnson
    Katerina Johnson

    Social & Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group (Dunbar Lab)

  • Maria Kempnich
    Maria Kempnich

    Oxford Centre for the Study of Intergroup Conflict (Prof. Miles Hewstone)

  • Tamas David-Barrett
    Tamas David-Barrett

    Behavioural Scientist in the Social & Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group

  • Bronwyn Tarr
    Bronwyn Tarr

    Postdoctoral Research Fellow

  • Isabel Behncke Izquierdo
    Isabel Behncke Izquierdo

    Visiting Researcher in the Social & Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group

  • Anna Machin
    Anna Machin

    Academic Visitor

  • Joseph Watts
    Joseph Watts

    Postdoctoral Research Fellow

  • Eiluned Pearce
    Eiluned Pearce

    Visiting Researcher in the Social & Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group

Selected publications

Related research themes