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Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology +44 (0) 191 33 41630
DRMC Co-Director (Research & Professional Development) in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Health  
Co-Director (Research & Professional Development) in the Durham Research Methods Centre  
Member of the Durham Cultural Evolution Research Centre  


BSc (Hons) in Biology, University of Nottingham (1997)

MSc in Biological Computation, University of York (1998).

PhD entitled Social Learning: Mechanisms, Functions and Evolutionary Consequences (2003), Sub-Dept. of Animal Behaviour, Dept. of Zoology, University of Cambridge, supervised by Kevin Laland.

Postdoc, Feldman lab, Stanford University (2003-5), developing mathematical models of cultural evolution in humans.

Postdoc, Laland Lab, University of St. Andrews (2005-7), using behaviour experiments and mathematical models to investigate the evolution of social learning strategies.

RCUK Research Fellowship, Durham University (2007-12).

Assistant Prof. (2012-14) then Associate Prof. (2014-).

Research Interests

My research concerns the development of cultural evolutionary theory and social science research methods. Most of my research involves cross-disciplinary collaborations.

Details of recent and new research projects will be added here soon! 


Undergraduate Teaching

I teach modules concerning: evolutionary approaches to the study of culture; scientific methods; statistics. I supervise a wide range of final-year research dissertations, most relating to the field of cultural evolution.

Masters in Social Research Methods

In 2022-23, I'll be running a new module, Simulating Data in R.

Masters in Data Science

I supervise projects that relate data science methods to cultural evolution theory. The following is an indicative list of topics that can be tailored to the student's interests - contact me if you'd like to find out more:

  • Examining cultural etymology and over/under-specificity of assumptions used in machine learning algorithms 
  • The cultural evolution of problem solving and causal understanding in variable environments: a comparison of human and machine learning systems.
  • The effects of antibiotic prescribing practices (published data) on resistant strain evolution.
  • The coevolution of machine-learned and human-learned classification of objects and people: implications for social inequality and the construction of group identity
  • Scraping online text and examining the coevolution of conceptual metaphor and zeitgeist
  • The evolution of online symbols and slang
  • Using citation data to examine the ecology and evolution of academic disciplines 
  • The evolution of social norms in gaming communities
  • The online proliferation of misinformation 
  • Identifying factors affecting human disease emergence by training machine learning algorithms on published texts.

MSc in Biological Anthropology by Research

In 2022-23, I'm offering the following research projects. These projects can also be developed as part of a PhD proposal. Prospective students are welcome to contact me to discuss these ideas. 

The Cultural Evolution of Training Strategies among Elite Athletes

Athletics/track-and-field is typically an individual-based sport with only one race winner, yet training to race is often a collective activity involving cooperation between potential race competitors. The stakes for winning and loosing are particularly high for elite athletes from low-income countries capable of running close to the current limits of human performance. Serving as a case study to examine the evolution of cooperative norms, this project will integrate ethnographic reports of training strategies among groups of Ethiopian elite athletes with game theory and cultural evolution modelling to explore how normative training roles evolve. The student does not necessarily require computer programming or mathematical modelling experience, but they must have quantitative methods training and be motivated to learn how to write computer simulations and conduct qualitative text analysis. This project will suit a student who is keen to engage in interdisciplinary research, engaging with literature from social and evolutionary anthropology as well as sport science. 

Supervisors: Jeremy Kendal & Mike Crawley

The Cultural Evolution of Climbing Grades

Following the recent summer Olympics, climbing is undergoing a massive increase in popularity and commercialisationthat will likely lead to homogenization of practices and standards. Over the past century, climbing as a past-time or sport has evolved independently across different regions of the world, including a wide range of climbing styles, carried out on a variety of surfaces and using distinct local grading systems that indicate properties of the climb such as difficulty. Grading a climb is typically a subjective and iterative process that often involves consensus being reached within the climbing community. Serving as a case study to examine the evolution of quantitative scales, this project will examine how grading systems and perceptions of climbing grades evolve within the socio-material environments inhabited by climbers. The project can combine a range of methods from interviews to experiments and simulation modelling. Prior experience in all these areas is not expected, but some background in quantitative analysis is essential as well as enthusiasm to learn new methods and conduct research in an interdisciplinary context.

Supervisors: Jeremy Kendal & Amanda Tan

Evolving Memory Representations

Following the cross-disciplinary Representing Memory project at the Institute of Advanced Study, Durham, this project will take up one line of enquiry investigating the cultural evolution of memory representations. The project concerns 4E cognition (embodied, embedded, enacted, extended cognition) and will use transmission chain experiments developed in the field of cultural evolution to investigate how graphical, oral and embodied forms of memory representation for navigation tasks co-evolve over cycles of social transmission. The experiments will be conducted in the field, locally in the Durham area, and will be analysed using both qualitative and statistical techniques. The student must be competent at statistical analysis and be keen to learn both quantitative and qualitative methods.

Supervisors: Jeremy Kendal, Alex Easton and John Sutton

Research interests

  • Social transmission and population dynamics

Research groups

Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

  • Evolution: Social Learning - examining how animals and humans learn from one another.
  • Evolution: niche construction - examining the evolutionary consequences of organisms modifying their environment
  • Evolution: gene-culture coevolution - examining the interaction between the evolution of genetic traits and cultural traits.
  • Evolution: Cultural evolution - examining the spread of cultural traits.


Chapter in book

Journal Article


  • Kendal, J.R., Tehrani, J.J. & Kendal, R.L. (2009). The Evolution of Human Behaviour. Learning and Skills Network.

Working Paper

Supervision students