Robin Ian MacDonald Dunbar
28 June 1947
|Known for||Dunbar's number|
Eva Patricia Melvin
|Awards||Huxley Memorial Medal (2015)|
|Institutions||University of Bristol |
University of Cambridge
University of Oxford
University College London
University of Liverpool
|Thesis||The social organisation of the gelada baboon (Theropithecus gelada) (1974)|
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. 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, the son of an engineer, was educated at Magdalen College School, Brackley. He went on to study at Magdalen College, Oxford, where his teachers included Niko Tinbergen; he 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, Theropithecus gelada, a monkey that is a close relative to baboons.
He spent two years as a freelance science writer. Dunbar told BBC Radio interviewer Jim Al-Khalili in The Life Scientific in 2019 that he "got his first real job" only at the age of 40.
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 2015, 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 Humanists UK Distinguished Supporter of Humanism.
Dunbar is a featured character in the adaptation of Yuval Noah Harari's book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind into graphic novel (2020).
Dunbar's work is described in the epilogue of Blake Crouch's novel Upgrade (2022).