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Robin Dunbar

British academic
The basics
Occupation Biologist Anthropologist Linguist Psychologist Educator
Country United Kingdom
AKA Robin Ian MacDonald Dunbar
Date of birth Liverpool
Education Magdalen College
Authority VIAF id ISNI id Library of congress id
The details

Robin Ian MacDonald Dunbar (born 28 June 1947) is a British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist and a specialist in primate behaviour. He is currently head of the Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford, and a visiting professor at Aalto University. He is best known for formulating Dunbar's number, a measurement of the "cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships".


Dunbar, son of an engineer, was educated at Magdalen College School, Brackley. He then went on to Magdalen College, Oxford, where his teachers included Nico Tinbergen and completed his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Philosophy in 1969. Dunbar then went on to the Department of Psychology of the University of Bristol and completed his PhD in 1974 on the social organisation of the gelada baboon Theropithecus gelada.

He spent two years as a freelance science writer.

Academic career

Dunbar's academic and research career includes the University of Bristol, University of Cambridge from 1977 until 1982, and University College London from 1987 until 1994. In 1994, Dunbar became Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at University of Liverpool, but he left Liverpool in 2007 to take up the post of Director of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford.

Dunbar was formerly co-director of the British Academy Centenary Research Project (BACRP) "From Lucy to Language: The Archaeology of the Social Brain" and was involved in the BACRP "Identifying the Universal Religious Repertoire".

Digital versions of selected published articles authored or co-authored by him are available from the University of Liverpool Evolutionary Psychology and Behavioural Ecology Research Group.

In 2014, Dunbar was awarded the Huxley Memorial Medal—established in 1900 in memory of Thomas Henry Huxley—for services to anthropology by the Council of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, the highest honour at the disposal of the RAI. Dunbar is also a British Humanist Association Distinguished Supporter of Humanism.

Awards and honours

  • 2014, Huxley Memorial Medal, Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland
  • 1998, Elected Fellow of the British Academy (FBA)
  • 1994, ad hominem Chair, Psychology, University of Liverpool

Published books

  • Dunbar. 1984. Reproductive Decisions: An Economic Analysis of Gelada Baboon Social Strategies. Princeton University Press ISBN 0-691-08360-6
  • Dunbar. 1987. Demography and Reproduction. In Primate Societies. Smuts, B.B., Cheney, D.L., Seyfarth, R.M., Wrangham, R.W., Struhsaker, T.T. (eds). Chicago & London:University of Chicago Press. pp. 240–249 ISBN 0-226-76715-9
  • Dunbar. 1988. Primate Social Systems. Chapman Hall and Yale University Press ISBN 0-8014-2087-3
  • Foley, Robert & Dunbar, Robin (14 October 1989). "Beyond the bones of contention". New Scientist Vol.124 (No.1686) pp. 21–25.
  • Dunbar. 1996. The Trouble with Science. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-91019-2
  • Dunbar (ed.). 1995. Human Reproductive Decisions. Macmillan ISBN 0-333-62051-8
  • Dunbar. 1997. Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-36334-5
  • Runciman, Maynard Smith, & Dunbar (eds.). 1997. Evolution of Culture and Language in Primates and Humans. Oxford University Press.
  • Dunbar, Knight, & Power (eds.). 1999. The Evolution of Culture. Edinburgh University Press ISBN 0-8135-2730-9
  • Dunbar & Barrett. 2000. Cousins. BBC Worldwide: London ISBN 0-7894-7155-8
  • Cowlishaw & Dunbar. 2000. Primate Conservation Biology. University of Chicago Press ISBN 0-226-11636-0
  • Barrett, Dunbar & Lycett. 2002. Human Evolutionary Psychology. London: Palgrave ISBN 0-691-09621-X
  • Dunbar, Barrett & Lycett. 2005. Evolutionary Psychology, a Beginner's Guide. Oxford: One World Books ISBN 1-85168-356-9
  • Dunbar. 2004. The Human Story. London: Faber and Faber ISBN 0-571-19133-9
  • Dunbar. 2010. How Many Friends Does One Person Need?: Dunbar's Number and Other Evolutionary Quirks. London: Faber & Faber ISBN 978-0571253432 (paper)
  • Dunbar. 2014. Human Evolution. Pelican Books ISBN 978-0141975313
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