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Human Behaviour and Cultural Evolution Group

Researchers in the Human Behaviour and Cultural Evolution Group (HuBCEG) investigate human behaviour, life-history and cultural diversity from the perspective of modern evolutionary theory, as well as the evolution of cognition, social information use and the cultural transmission of information in non-human animals. Our group uses a range of approaches to tackle these issues, including field studies, laboratory experiments, phylogenetic comparative analyses, mathematical models, computer simulations, and other quantitative techniques.

We are based at the University’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, and work at field sites in the UK and worldwide, including India, Uganda, South Africa, Australia, Spain and northwestern USA.

Please visit our dedicated HuBCEG website for more details of people, research and events, or follow us on twitter @HuBCEG.


There are often PhD studentships with members of our group. See our studentships page for details of individual projects. Please email individual researchers with enquiries about these or other potential opportunities


Staff in Cornwall

NameResearch Interests
Mike Cant Evolution of animal and human societies
Life history
Cognitive evolution
Tom Currie Cultural evolution
Evolution of social and political complexity
Sasha Dall Adaptation under risk and uncertainty
Social information use
Personality variation
Kimberley Hockings Human-wildlife interactions and conservation conflicts
Great ape behaviour, ecology, and cognition
Primate conservation
Bram Kuijper

Nonparental effects
Nongenetic inheritance

Alex Mesoudi Cultural evolution
Social learning
Shakti Lamba Cooperation
Cultural evolution
Behavioural economics
Self deception
Erik Postma Human life history
Evolutionary genetics
Selection pressures on physical fitness
Andy Russell Cooperative breeding
Life-history evolution
Animal language
Alex Thornton Comparative cognition
Cultural evolution 

Post doctoral researchers and fellows

  • Dr Charlotte Brand - human cultural evolution, sex differences, prestige
  • Dr Maxime Derex (Marie Curie Fellow) - cumulative cultural evolution
  • Dr Amanda Lucas - social learning and cultural cognition in infants and children

PhD Students

  • Adam Flitton – cultural evolution of economic growth and money
  • Ángel V. Jiménez - cultural evolution of prestige, transmission biases
  • Alice Williams - Evolution of socio-political complexity

MRes Students

  • John McKeown - cultural evolution of fertility


We have received funding to conduct our research from a variety of sources

  • ESRC
  • NERC
  • European Research Council
  • John Templeton Foundation
  • Tricoastal Foundation
  • British Academy
  • Leverhulme Trust
  • Royal Society
  • NSF
  • ASAB
  • European Social Fund
  • British Ecological Society

Study with us


Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going?

Our BSc Human Sciences degree is designed to enable you to address these big questions through examining the past and present of humans from the perspectives of both social and biological sciences.

This unique, interdisciplinary programme covers a broad range of topics, from human evolution and genetics, to the evolution of human cultures and cultural diversity, all the way through to sustainability and the interactions between human societies and their environments. It is designed for those interested in human biology, the environment, social policy, politics, economics and society.



Find out about our Masters degrees including our taught programme in Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology (MSc) and the Masters by Research (MRes) programme.


Find out about the opportunities for studying for a PhD with us including the application process.

There are several sources of funding available and anybody interested in studying for a PhD is encouraged to send an email to a suitable academic staff member with a CV and a clear statement of their research interests.

Current funded PhD positions in University of Exeter (including the Penryn Campus) can be found on our studentships page.

Research highlights

Here is a selection of publications by members of our group. You can find further publications on individual members' personal websites.


Whiten A, Caldwell CA, Mesoudi A (2016). Cultural diffusion in humans and other animals. Current Opinion in Psychology, 8, 15-21. Full text

Engesser S, Crane JMS, Savage JL, Russell AF, Townsend SW (2015). Experimental Evidence for Phonemic Contrasts in a Nonhuman Vocal System. Plos Biol, 13(6). Author URL

Savage PE, Brown S, Sakai E, Currie TE (2015). Statistical universals reveal the structures and functions of human music. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 112(29), 8987-8992. Author URL 

Croft DP, Brent LJ, Franks DW, Cant MA (2015). The evolution of prolonged life after reproduction. Trends Ecol Evol, 30(7), 407-416. Author URL  

Mesoudi A (2015). Cultural Evolution: a Review of Theory, Findings and Controversies. Evolutionary Biology. Full text

Thornton A, Mcauliffe K (2015). Cognitive consequences of cooperative breeding? a critical appraisal. Journal of Zoology, 295(1), 12-22. Full text 

Watts J, Greenhill SJ, Atkinson QD, Currie TE, Bulbulia J, Gray RD (2015). Broad supernatural punishment but not moralizing high gods precede the evolution of political complexity in Austronesia. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-biological Sciences, 282(1804). Author URL

Kramer KL, Russell AF (2015). Was monogamy a key step on the hominin road? Reevaluating the monogamy hypothesis in the evolution of cooperative breeding. Evolutionary Anthropology, 24(2), 73-83

Acerbi A, Mesoudi A (2015). If we are all cultural Darwinians what's the fuss about? Clarifying recent disagreements in the field of cultural evolution. Biology and Philosophy, 30(4), 481-503. Full text

McAuliffe K, Wrangham R, Glowacki L, Russell AF (2015). When cooperation begets cooperation: the role of key individuals in galvanizing support. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 370(1683). Author URL

Aplin, L.M., Farine, D.R., Morand-Ferron, J., Cockburn, A., Thornton, A. & Sheldon, B.C. (2015) Experimentally induced innovations lead to persistent culture via conformity in wild birds. Nature.

Opie, C., Shultz, S. Atkinson, Q.D., Currie, T. & Mace, R. (2014) Phylogenetic reconstruction of Bantu kinship challenges Main Sequence Theory of human social evolution. PNAS 111(49): 17414-17419 doi:10.1073/pnas.1415744111

Kramer, K.L., Russell, A.F. (2014). Kin-selected cooperation without lifetime monogamy: human insights and animal implications. Trends Ecol Evol.  Author URL

Currie TE, Mace R (2014). Evolution of cultural traits occurs at similar relative rates in different world regions. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 281(1795). Author URL

Lamba, S. (2014). Social learning in cooperative dilemmas. Proc Biol Sci,281(1787). Author URL

Turchin, P., Currie, T.E., Turner, E.A.L., Gavrilets, S. (2013). War, space, and the evolution of Old World complex societies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America110(41), 16384-16389.

Gillespie, D.O.S., Russell, A.F., Lummaa, V. (2013). The effect of maternal age and reproductive history on offspring survival and lifetime reproduction in preindustrial humans. Evolution, 67, 1964-1974.

Cant, M.A., Young, A.J. (2013) Resolving social conflict among females without overt aggression. Phil Trans R Soc B 368: 20130076

Lahdenperä, M., Gillespie, D.O.S., Lummaa, V., Russell, A.F.(2012). Severe intergenerational reproductive conflict and the evolution of menopause. Ecology Letters15(11), 1283-1293.

Thornton, A., Lukas, D. (2012). Individual variation in cognitive performance: developmental and evolutionary perspectives. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci367(1603), 2773-2783. Author URL

Raihani, N. J., Thornton, A. & Bshary, R. 2012. Punishment and cooperation in nature. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 27, 288-295

Dall, S.R.X., Bell, A.M., Bolnick, D.I., Ratnieks, F.L.W. (2012). An evolutionary ecology of individual differences. Ecology Letters15(10), 1189-1198

Lamba, S., Mace, R. (2011). Demography and ecology drive variation in cooperation across human populations. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A,108(35), 14426-14430. Author URL

Thornton, A., Clutton-Brock, T. (2011). Social learning and the development of individual and group behaviour in mammal societies. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci366(1567), 978-987. Author URL

Lahdenperä, M., Russell, A.F., Tremblay, M., Lummaa, V. (2011). Selection on menopause in two premodern human populations: no evidence for the Mother Hypothesis. Evolution, 65, 476-489. 

Currie, T.E., Greenhill, S.J., Gray, R.D., Hasegawa, T., Mace, R. (2010). Rise and fall of political complexity in island South-East Asia and the Pacific. Nature467(7317), 801-804. Author URL

Thornton, A., Samson, J. & Clutton-Brock, T. 2010. Multi-generational persistence of traditions in neighbouring meerkat groups. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 277, 3623-3629

Johnstone, R.A., Cant, M.A. (2010). The evolution of menopause in cetaceans and humans: the role of demography. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences277(1701), 3765-3771.

Currie, T.E., Mace, R. (2009). Political complexity predicts the spread of ethnolinguistic groups. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A106(18), 7339-7344. Abstract.  Author URL

Russell, A.F., Lummaa, V. (2009). Maternal effects in cooperative breeders: from hymenopterans to humans. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci364(1520), 1143-1167. Author URL

Cant, M.A., Johnstone, R.A. (2008). Reproductive conflict and the separation of reproductive generations in humans.Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A105(14), 5332-5336. Author URL

Lummaa, V., Pettay, J.E., Russell, A.F. (2007). Male twins reduce fitness of female co-twins in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, USA, 104, 10915-10920. 

Thornton, A., McAuliffe, K. (2006). Teaching in wild meerkats. Science, 313(5784), 227-229. Author URL

Lahdenperä, M., Lummaa, V., Tremblay, M., Helle, S., Russell, A.F. (2004). Fitness benefits of prolonged post-reproductive lifespan in women. Nature, 428, 178-181.

Media coverage

Research by Shakti Lamba and Vivek Nityananda on the evolution of self deception recently featured in several media outlets including:

Research by Andy Russell on the evolution of human menopause published recently in Ecology Letters was featured in a number of places:

Tom Currie’s work on the evolution of empires was covered by several outlets, including: