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Professor in the Department of Anthropology +44 (0) 191 33 41631
Member of the Durham Cultural Evolution Research Centre  
Fellow of the Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing +44 (0) 191 33 41631


My research focuses on how culture evolves as it gets transmitted from person to person and from generation to generation. I am interested in understanding what makes some things catch on, others die out, and how these processes shape patterns of cultural diversity within and across populations. I was trained in social anthropology at the London School of Economics and gained a Master's degree in Human Evolution and Behaviour at University College London. I remained at UCL to study for a PhD in Anthropology (2005), writing my thesis on the transmission of craft traditions in Iranian tribal groups. In 2006 I took up a postdoctoral research fellowship at the AHRC Centre for the Evolution of Cultural Diversity (CECD) at University College London, before joining Durham in 2007 as a RCUK Fellow. I was appointed as a Lecturer in Anthropology at Durham in 2012 and made a Chair in 2020. My current work focuses mainly on the transmission of popular narratives, such as traditional folktales, urban legends and modern day conspiracy theories.

Research interests

  • Cultural evolution
  • Phylogenetic analysis of culture
  • Social learning
  • Cognitive anthropology
  • Oral traditions
  • Fairy tales

Research groups

Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

  • Anthropology: The evolution of cultural diversity
  • Anthropology: Cultural transmission
  • Anthropology: The evolution of fairy tales and folk stories
  • Anthropology: History of anthropological thought


Book review

Chapter in book

Edited Journal

  • Tehrani, J.J. (2018). Cultural Evolution Research Collection. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications.
  • Kendal, J., Tehrani, J. & Odling-Smee, J. (2011). Human Niche Construction. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 366 (1566).

Journal Article

Newspaper/Magazine Article

  • Tehrani, J.J. (2013). As they spread, folktales evolve like biological species. The Conversation
  • Tehrani, J. (2013). Viewpoint: Did our brains evolve to foolishly follow celebrities? BBC News Magazine

Supervision students