Robin Dunbar
Dunbar at Festival della Scienza
in Italy, 2011
Robin Ian MacDonald Dunbar

(1947-06-28) 28 June 1947 (age 76)[2]
Alma mater
Known forDunbar's number[3][4][5]

social brain hypothesis gossip hypothesis

Baboon research[6][7][8]
Eva Patricia Melvin
(m. 1971)
AwardsForeign Member of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters (2021)
Huxley Memorial Medal (2015)
Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute (FRAI) (2015)
Fellow of the British Academy (FBA) (1998)
Scientific career
Evolutionary Psychology[1]
InstitutionsUniversity of Bristol
Stockholm University
University of Cambridge
University of Oxford
University College London
University of Liverpool
ThesisThe social organisation of the gelada baboon (Theropithecus gelada) (1974)

Robin Ian MacDonald Dunbar FBA FRAI (born 28 June 1947)[9][10] is a British biological anthropologist, evolutionary psychologist, and specialist in primate behaviour.[11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19] Dunbar is professor emeritus of evolutionary psychology 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,[5] a measurement of the "cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships".[20][21]


Dunbar, the son of an engineer, was educated at Magdalen College School, Brackley.[2] He went on to study at Magdalen College, Oxford,[2] where his teachers included Niko Tinbergen; he completed his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Philosophy in 1969.[2] 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.[22]

He spent two years as a freelance science writer.[10] 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.[23]

Academic career

Dunbar's academic and research career includes the University of Bristol,[8] University of Cambridge from 1977 until 1982, and University College London from 1987 until 1994. In 1994, Dunbar became Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at the University of Liverpool, but left Liverpool in 2007, to take up the post of Director of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Oxford.[9][24] In 2012, Dunbar migrated over to the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford, after receiving a competitive research grant from the European Research Council.

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.

Awards and honours

In popular culture

Dunbar's work is mentioned in The Big Bang Theory, Season 4, Episode 20 ("The Herb Garden Germination"), when Amy Farrah Fowler is talking with Sheldon Cooper while listening to a lecture by Brian Greene (2011).

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).

Published books


  1. ^ Opie, C.; Atkinson, Q. D.; Dunbar, R. I. M.; Shultz, S. (2013). "Male infanticide leads to social monogamy in primates". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 110 (33): 13328–13332. Bibcode:2013PNAS..11013328O. doi:10.1073/pnas.1307903110. PMC 3746880. PMID 23898180.
  2. ^ a b c d e "DUNBAR, Prof. Robin Ian MacDonald". Who's Who 2013, A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc, 2013; online edn, Oxford University Press.
  3. ^ Dunbar, R. I. M. (1992). "Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates". Journal of Human Evolution. 22 (6): 469–493. doi:10.1016/0047-2484(92)90081-J.
  4. ^ Hill, R. A.; Dunbar, R. I. M. (2003). "Social network size in humans". Human Nature. 14 (1): 53–72. CiteSeerX doi:10.1007/s12110-003-1016-y. PMID 26189988. S2CID 11036621.
  5. ^ a b Dunbar, Robin I. M. (2010). How many friends does one person need?: Dunbar's number and other evolutionary quirks. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-25342-5.
  6. ^ Barrett, L.; Dunbar, R. I. M.; Dunbar, P. (1995). "Mother-infant contact as contingent behaviour in gelada baboons". Animal Behaviour. 49 (3): 805–810. doi:10.1016/0003-3472(95)80211-8. S2CID 53152282.
  7. ^ Dunbar, R. I. M. (1980). "Determinants and evolutionary consequences of dominance among female gelada baboons". Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 7 (4): 253–265. doi:10.1007/BF00300665. S2CID 28369135.
  8. ^ a b c Dunbar, R. I. M.; Dunbar, E. P. (1977). "Dominance and reproductive success among female gelada baboons". Nature. 266 (5600): 351–352. Bibcode:1977Natur.266..351D. doi:10.1038/266351a0. PMID 404565. S2CID 4159540.
  9. ^ a b "British Academy Fellows Archive". British Academy. Archived from the original on 2 February 2008. Retrieved 2 December 2007.
  10. ^ a b c "Professor Robin Dunbar FBA". British Humanist Association. Archived from the original on 17 July 2012. Retrieved 2 December 2007.
  11. ^ Shultz, S.; Dunbar, R. (2010). "Encephalization is not a universal macroevolutionary phenomenon in mammals but is associated with sociality". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 107 (50): 21582–21586. Bibcode:2010PNAS..10721582S. doi:10.1073/pnas.1005246107. PMC 3003036. PMID 21098277.
  12. ^ Hill, R. A.; Bentley, R. A.; Dunbar, R. I. M. (2008). "Network scaling reveals consistent fractal pattern in hierarchical mammalian societies". Biology Letters. 4 (6): 748–751. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2008.0393. PMC 2614163. PMID 18765349.
  13. ^ Dunbar, R. I. M. (2007). "Male and female brain evolution is subject to contrasting selection pressures in primates". BMC Biology. 5: 21. doi:10.1186/1741-7007-5-21. PMC 1876205. PMID 17493267.
  14. ^ Dunbar, R. I. M. (1995). "The price of being at the top". Nature. 373 (6509): 22–23. Bibcode:1995Natur.373...22D. doi:10.1038/373022a0. PMID 7800033. S2CID 4310682.
  15. ^ Dunbar, R. (1997). "The monkeys' defence alliance". Nature. 386 (6625): 555–7. Bibcode:1997Natur.386..555D. doi:10.1038/386555a0. PMID 9121575. S2CID 2064690.
  16. ^ Dunbar, R. I. M.; Pawlowski, B.; Lipowicz, A. (2000). "Tall men have more reproductive success". Nature. 403 (6766): 156. Bibcode:2000Natur.403..156P. doi:10.1038/35003107. PMID 10646589. S2CID 7722496.
  17. ^ Dunbar, R. I. M. (2001). "Evolutionary biology: What's in a baboon's behind?". Nature. 410 (6825): 158. doi:10.1038/35065773. PMID 11258375. S2CID 31256568.
  18. ^ Dunbar, R. (2003). "PSYCHOLOGY: Evolution of the Social Brain". Science. 302 (5648): 1160–1161. doi:10.1126/science.1092116. PMID 14615522. S2CID 144329128.
  19. ^ Dunbar, R. I. M.; Shultz, S. (2007). "Evolution in the Social Brain". Science. 317 (5843): 1344–1347. Bibcode:2007Sci...317.1344D. doi:10.1126/science.1145463. PMID 17823343. S2CID 1516792.
  20. ^ Dávid-Barrett, T.; Dunbar, R. I. M. (22 August 2013). "Processing power limits social group size: computational evidence for the cognitive costs of sociality". Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences. 280 (1765): 20131151. doi:10.1098/rspb.2013.1151. ISSN 0962-8452. PMC 3712454. PMID 23804623.
  21. ^ Dunbar, Robin I. M. (30 September 2014). "How conversations around campfires came to be". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 111 (39): 14013–14014. Bibcode:2014PNAS..11114013D. doi:10.1073/pnas.1416382111. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 4191795. PMID 25246572.
  22. ^ Dunbar, Robin Ian MacDonald (1974). The social organisation of the gelada monkey (Theropithecus gelada) (PhD thesis). University of Bristol.
  23. ^ "The Life Scientific" interview, BBC Radio Four, 23 July 2019.
  24. ^ "Prof. Robin Dunbar FBA". Archived from the original on 4 November 2007. Retrieved 2 December 2007.
  25. ^ "Faculty of Science". Retrieved 2 December 2007.[permanent dead link]