Groups, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language

  • R. I. M. Dunbar


No one doubts that language is the single most important evolutionary development in our history as a species. So much flows from it in terms of our culture that it is difficult to imagine what a languageless human society would really be like. However, the very fact that language is so important in our daily lives raises questions about its function and origin. Just what does language do for us? Why did it evolve? And why did language evolve in our lineage but not in any of our sibling species such as chimpanzees?


Group Size Brain Size Speech Sound Social Grooming Ambient Noise Level 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Aiello, L.C. & Dunbar, R.I.M. (1993). Neocortex size, group size and the evolution of language. Current Anthropology 34: 184–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Astington, J.W. (1995). The Child’s Discovery of the Mind. Fontana, London.Google Scholar
  3. Barton, R. (1996). Neocortex size and behavioural ecology in primates. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B, 263: 173–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barton, R. & Dunbar, R.I.M. (1996). Evolution of the social brain. In: R. Byrne & A. Whiten (eds) Machiavellian Intelligence, Vol. 2. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  5. Barton, R. & Purvis, A. (1994). Primate brains and ecology: looking below the surface. In: J. Anderson, B. Theirry & N. Herrenschmidt (eds) Current Primatology: Proceedings of XIVth Congress of the International Primatological Society, pp. 1–11. University of Strasbourg Press, Strasbourg.Google Scholar
  6. Brothers, L. (1990). The social brain: a project for integrating primate behaviour and neuropsychology in a new domain. Concepts in Neuroscience 1:27–51.Google Scholar
  7. Byrne, R. (1995). The Thinking Ape: Evolutionary Origins of Intelligence. Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  8. Byrne, R. & Whiten, A. (eds) (1988). Machiavellian Intelligence. Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  9. Cheney, D. & Seyfarth, R. (1990). How Monkeys See the World. Chicago University Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  10. Clutton-Brock, T.H. & Harvey, P.H. (1980). Primates, brains and ecology. Journal of Zoology, London, 190: 309–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cohen, J.E. (1971). Casual Groups of Monkeys, Apes and Men. Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Mass.).Google Scholar
  12. Dunbar, R.I.M. (1988). Primate Social Systems. Chapman & Hall, London.Google Scholar
  13. Dunbar, R.I.M. (1991). Functional significance of social grooming in primates. Folia primatologica 57: 121–131.Google Scholar
  14. Dunbar, R.I.M. (1992). Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates. Journal of Human Evolution 20: 469–493.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dunbar, R.I.M. (1993). Coevolution of neocortical size, group size and language in humans. Behavioural & Brain Sciences 16: 681–735.Google Scholar
  16. Dunbar, R.I.M. (1995). Neocortex size and group size in primates: a test of the hypothesis. Journal of Human Evolution 28: 287–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Dunbar, R.I.M. & Bever, J. (submitted). Neocortex size determines group size in insectivores and carnivores. Ethology Google Scholar
  18. Dunbar, R.I.M., Duncan, N. & Marriot, A. (submitted). Human conversational behaviour: a functional approach. Ethology & Sociobiology.Google Scholar
  19. Dunbar, R.I.M., Duncan, N. & Nettle, D. (1995). Size and structure of freely-forming conversational groups. Human Nature 6: 67–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Enquist, M. & Leimar, O. (1993). The evolution of cooperation in mobile organisms. Animal Behaviour 45: 747–757.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Happe, F. (1994). Autism: An Introduction to Psychological Theory. University College London Press, London.Google Scholar
  22. Harcourt, A.H. (1992). Coalitions and alliances: are primates more complex than non-primates? In: A.H. Harcourt & F. de Waal (eds) Coalitions and Alliances in Humans and Other Animals, pp. 000-000. Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  23. Jerison, H. (1973). Evolution of Brain and Intelligence. Academic Press, New York.Google Scholar
  24. Keverne, E.B., N.D. Martinez & B. Tuite (1989). Beta-endorphin concentrations in cerebrospinal fluid of monkeys are influenced by grooming relationships. Psychoneuroendocrinology 14: 155–161.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kinderman, P., Dunbar, R. & Bentall, R. (in press). Theory of mind deficits and causal attributions. British Journal of Psychology.Google Scholar
  26. Koyama, N. & Dunbar, R.I.M. (1996). Anticipation of conflict by chimpanzees. Primates 37:79–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kudo, H., Lowen, S. & Dunbar, R. (submitted). Neocortex size as a constraint on grooming clique size in primates. Behaviour.Google Scholar
  28. Leslie, A. M. (1987). Pretense and representation: the origins of “theory of mind.” Psychological Review 94: 412–426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Miller, G. Evolution of the Human Brain Through Runaway Sexual Selection: The Mind as a Protean Courtship Device. PhD thesis, University of California.Google Scholar
  30. O’Connell, S. (1996). Theory of Mind in Chimpanzees. PhD thesis, University of Liverpool.Google Scholar
  31. O’Keefe, J. & Nadel, L. (1978). The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map. Clarendon Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  32. Pawlowski, B., Dunbar, R. & Lowen, C. (submitted). Neocortex size, social skill and mating success in male primates. Behaviour.Google Scholar
  33. Povinelli, D., Nelson, K.E. & Boysen, S.T. (1990). Inferences about guessing and knowing by chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Journal of Comparative Psychology 104: 203–210.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Premack, D., & Woodruff, G. (1978). Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind? Behavioural & Brain Sciences 4: 515–526.Google Scholar
  35. Provine, R.R. (1993). Laughter punctuates speech. Ethology 95: 291–298.Google Scholar
  36. Provine, R.R. & Fischer, K.R. (1989). Laughing, smiling and talking: relation to sleeping and social contexts in humans. Ethology 83: 295–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Provine, R.R. & Yong, E. (1991). Laughter: a stereotyped human vocalisation. Ethology 89: 115–124.Google Scholar
  38. Sawaguchi & Kudo, H. (1990). Neocortical development and social structure in primates. Primates 31: 283–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. van Schaik, C.P. (1983). Why are diurnal primates living in groups? Behaviour 87: 120–144.Google Scholar
  40. Stephan, H., Frahm, H., & Baron, G. (1981). New and revised data on the volumes of brain structures in insectivores and primates. Folia primatologica 35: 1–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Whiten, A. & Byrne, R. (1988). Tactical deception in primates. Behavioural & Brain Sciences 11: 233–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. I. M. Dunbar
    • 1
  1. 1.ESRC Research Centre for Economic Learning and Social Evolution Department of PsychologyUniversity of LiverpoolLiverpoolEngland

Personalised recommendations