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Durham University

Email and Telephone Directory

Staff Profile

Prof Robert A. Barton, BSc, M.Sc, PhD

Acting Executive Director in the Institute of Advanced Study

Contact Prof Robert A. Barton


Evolutionary biologist/anthropologist interested in brains, behaviour and cognition, using phylogenetoic comparative methods to study how these traits evolved. Developed and tested the 'Visual brain hypothesis' for primate brain size evolution. Currently interested in the underestimated role of the cerebellum in brain evolution and cognition. Also works on the evolutionary and cultural significance of the colour red.

Recent projects include: 'The Phylogeny of Sleep' (funded by NIH, $1m); 'Evolutionary architecture of reproduction in female mammals' (funded by BBSRC/NERC, £248k); 'Cognitive Evolution and the brain' (Funded by a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship, £38k).


  • PhD in Primate Behavioural Ecology (1990)
  • Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology (2005-)
  • President, Primate Society of Great Britain (2001-2005)
  • President, European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association (2010-2013)
  • Leverhulme Research Fellow (2012-13) - Cognitive evolution and the brain
  • Visting Research Fellow, All Souls Collge Oxford (2011) - Evolution of human cognition

Research Groups

Department of Anthropology

Research Projects

Department of Anthropology

Research Interests

  • Behavioural ecology and sociobiology
  • Comparative studies of brain size and structure in relation to behavioural ecology
  • Evolution of mamalian reproductive traits
  • Primate evolution and behaviour

Selected Publications

  • 1: Powell, Lauren E., Isler, Karin & Barton, Robert A. (2017). Re-evaluating the link between brain size and behavioural ecology in primates. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 284(1865): 20171765.
  • 2: Shimoda, R., Campbell, A. & Barton, R.A. (2018). Women’s emotional and sexual attraction to men across the menstrual cycle. Behavioral Ecology 29(1): 51-59.
  • 3: Shuker, David M., Barrett, Louise, Dickins, Thomas E., Scott-Phillips, Thom C. & Barton, Robert A. (2017). General intelligence does not help us understand cognitive evolution. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 40: e218.
  • 4: Montgomery, S., Mundy, N. & Barton, R.A. (2016). Brain evolution and development: adaptation, allometry and constraint. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 283(1838): 20160433.
  • 5: Barton, R. & Cappellini, I. (2016). Sleep, Evolution and Brains. Brain, Behaviour & Evolution 87(2): 65-68.
  • 5: Borries, C., Sandel, A., Koenig, A., Fernandez-Duque, E., Kamilar, J., Amoroso, C., Barton, R., Bray, J., Di Fiore, A., Gilby, I., Gordon, A., Mundry, R., Port, M., Powell, L., Pusey, A., Spriggs, A. & Nunn, C. (2016). Transparency, Usability, and Reproducibility: Guiding Principles for Improving Comparative Databases Using Primates as Examples. Evolutionary Anthropology 25(5): 232-238.
  • 5: Capellini, Isabella, Nunn, Charles L. & Barton, Robert A. (2015). Microparasites and placental invasiveness in eutherian mammals. PLoS One 10(7): e0132563.
  • 6: Jucker, J. L., Thornborrow, T., Beierholm, U., Burt, D. M., Barton, R. A., Evans, E. H., Jamieson, M. & Boothroyd, L. G. (2017). Nutritional status and the influence of TV consumption on female body size ideals in populations recently exposed to the media. Scientific Reports 7(1): 8438.
  • 6: Wiedemann, D., Burt, D.M., Hill, R.A. & Barton, R.A. (2015). Red clothing increases perceived dominance, aggression and anger. Biology Letters 11(5): 20150166.
  • 7: Howlett, C., Setchell, J.M., Hill, R.A. & Barton, R.A. (2015). The 2D:4D digit ratio and social behaviour in wild female chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) in relation to dominance, aggression, interest in infants, affiliation and heritability. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 69(1): 61-74.
  • 8: Barton, R.A. & Venditti, C. (2014). Rapid Evolution of the Cerebellum in Humans and Other Great Apes. Current Biology 24(20): 2440-2444.
  • 9: Montgomery, S., Barton, R. & Mundy, N. (2014). ASPM and mammalian brain evolution: A case study in the difficulty in making macroevolutionary inferences about gene-phenotype associations. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 281(1778): 20131743.
  • 10: Mars, Rogier, Neubert, Franz-Xaver, Verhagen, Lennart, Sallet, Jérôme, Miller, Karla, Dunbar, Robin & Barton, Robert (2014). Primate comparative neuroscience using magnetic resonance imaging: promises and challenges. Frontiers in Neuroscience 8: 298.
  • 11: Barton, R.A. & Venditti, C. (2013). Human frontal lobes are not relatively large. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 110(22): 9001–9006.
  • 12: Dickins, T. & Barton, RA. (2013). Reciprocal causation and the proximate-ultimate distinction. Biology & Philosophy 28(5): 747-756.
  • 13: Barton, Robert A. (2012). Embodied cognitive evolution and the cerebellum. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 367(1599): 2097-2107.
  • 14: Stephen, ID. Oldham, FH., Perrett, DI. & Barton, RA. (2012). Redness Enhances Perceived Aggression, Dominance and Attractiveness in Men’s Faces. Evolutionary Psychology 10(3): 562-572.
  • 15: Montgomery, Stephen., Capellini, Isabella., Venditti, Chris., Barton, Robert. & Mundy, Nick. (2011). Adaptive Evolution of Four Microcephaly Genes and the Evolution of Brain Size in Anthropoid Primates. Molecular Biology and Evolution 28(1): 625-638.
  • 16: Barton, R. A. & Capellini, I. (2011). Maternal investment, life histories and the costs of brain growth in mammals. PNAS 108(15): 6169-6174.
  • 17: Capellini, Isabella., Venditti, Chris. & Barton, R.A. (2011). Placentation and maternal investment in mammals. American Naturalist 177(1): 86-98.
  • 18: Capellini, I., Venditti, C. & Barton, R.A. (2010). Phylogeny and metabolic scaling in mammals. Ecology 91(9): 2783–2793.
  • 19: Montgomery, S.H. Capellini, I. , Barton, R.A. & Mundy, N.I. (2010). Reconstructing the ups and downs of primate brain evolution: implications for adaptive hypotheses and Homo floresiensis. BMC Biology 8(9).
  • 20: Capellini, I., McNamara, P., Preston, B., Nunn, C.L. & Barton, R.A. (2009). Does sleep play a role in memory consolidation? A comparative test. PLoS One 4(2): e4609.
  • 21: Capellini, I., McNamara, P., Preston, B., Barton, R.A. & Nunn, C.L. (2009). Ecological constraints on mammalian sleep architecture. In Evolution of sleep. McNamara, P., Barton, R.A. & Nunn, C.L. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 12-34.
  • 22: McNamara, P., Barton, R.A. & Nunn, C.L. (2009). Evolution of Sleep: Phylogenetic and Functional Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • 23: Swann, J., Fabre-Nys, C. & Barton, R.A. (2009). Hormonal and pheromonal modulation of the extended amygdala: implications for social behaviour. In Hormones, Brain and Behavior. Pfaff, D.W., Arnold, A.P., Etgen, A.M., Fahrbach, S.E. & Rubin, R.T. New York: Academic Press. 1.
  • 24: McNamara, P., Barton, R.A. & Nunn, C.L. (2009). Introduction. In Evolution of sleep. McNamara, P., Barton, R.A. & Nunn, C.L. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • 25: Preston, Brian, T., Capellini, Isabella., McNamara, Patrick., Barton, Robert A. & Nunn, Charles, L. (2009). Parasite resistance and the adaptive significance of sleep. BMC Evolutionary Biology 9(7).
  • 26: Nunn, C.L., McNamara, P., Capellini, I., Preston, B.T. & Barton, R.A. (2009). Primate sleep in phylogenetic perspective. In Evolution of sleep. McNamara, P., Barton, R.A. & Nunn, C.L. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • 27: Willems, E.P., Barton, R.A. & Hill, R.A. (2009). Remotely sensed productivity, home range selection and local range use by an omnivorous primate. Behavioral Ecology 20(5): 985-992.
  • 28: Lemaître, J-F., Ramm, S.A., Barton, R.A. & Stockley, P. (2009). Sperm competition and brain size evolution in mammals. Journal of Evolutionary Biology
  • 29: Barton, R.A. (2008). Brain Modules: Mosaic Evolution. In Encyclopedia of Neuroscience. Squire, L. Oxford: Academic Press. 2: 389-394.
  • 30: Capellini, I., Nunn, C.L., McNamara, P., Preston, B.T. & Barton, R.A (2008). Energetic constraints, not predation, influence the evolution of sleep patterning in mammals. Functional ecology 22(5): 847-853.
  • 31: Capellini, I., Barton, R.A., McNamara, P., Preston, B.T. & Nunn, C.L. (2008). Phylogenetic analysis of the ecology and evolution of mammalian Sleep. Evolution 62(7): 1764-1776.
  • 32: Atrill, M., Gresty, K., Hill R.A. & Barton, R.A. (2008). Red shirt colour is associated with long-term team success in English football. Journal of Sports Sciences 26(6): 577-582.
  • 33: McNamara, P., Capellini I., Harris, E., Nunn, C.L.,, Barton, R.A. & Preston, B. (2008). The Phylogeny of Sleep Database: A New Resource for Sleep Scientists. The Open Sleep Journal 1: 11-14.
  • 34: Barton, R.A. (2007). Evolution of the social brain as a distributed neural system. In Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology. Dunbar, R.I.M. & Barrett, L.E. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 129-144.
  • 35: Barton, R.A. (2007). Evolutionary specialization of mammalian cortical structure. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 20(4): 1504-1511.
  • 36: McNamara, P., Nunn, C., Barton, R.A., Harris, E. & Capellini, I. (2007). Phylogeny of sleep and dreams. In The New Science of Dreaming. Barrett, D. & McNamara, P. Wesport, Connecticut.: Praeger. I: 53-70.
  • 37: Lindenfors, P., Nunn, C.L. & Barton, R.A. (2007). Primate brain architecture and selection in relation to sex. BMC Biology 5(20).
  • 38: Lewis, K. & Barton, R.A. (2006). Amygdala size and hypothalamus size predict social play frequency in non-human primates: a comparative analysis using independent contrasts. Journal of Comparative Psychology
  • 39: Barton, R.A. (2006). Mosaic evolution of brain structure in mammals. In Evolution of nervous systems. U.K.: Elsevier.
  • 40: Barton, R.A. (2006). Olfactory evolution and behavioral ecology in primates. American Journal of Primatology 68: 545-558.
  • 41: Barton, R.A. (2006). Primate brain evolution: integrating comparative, neurophysiological and ethological data. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews 15(6): 224-236.
  • 42: Barton, R.A. (2005). Neuroscientists need to be evolutionarily challenged. Behavioral and Brain Sciences
  • 43: Hill, R.A. & Barton, R.A. (2005). Red enhances human performance in contests. Nature 435(7040): 293.
  • 44: Barton, R.A. & Hill, R.A. (2005). Seeing red? Reply to Rowe et al. Nature 437: E10-E11.
  • 45: Barton, R.A. (2004). Binocularity and brain evolution in primates. Proceeedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 101(27): 10113-10115.
  • 46: Nunn, C.L., Altizer, S., Sechrest, W., Jones, K., Barton, R.A. & Gittleman, J. (2004). Parasite Pressure and Evolutionary Diversification in Primates. American Naturalist 162: 597-614.
  • 47: Barton, R.A., Aggleton J. & Grenyer, R. (2003). Evolutionary coherence of the mammalian amygdala. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 270(1514): 539-543.
  • 48: Lewis, K. & Barton, R.A. (2003). Playing for keeps: evolutionary relationships between social play and the cerebellum in non-human primates. Human Nature 15: 5-21.
  • 49: Whiting, B. & Barton R.A. (2003). The evolution of the cortico-cerebellar complex in primates: anatomical connections predict patterns of correlated evolution. Journal of Human Evolution 44(1): 3-10.
  • 50: Barton, R.A. (2002). How did brains evolve? Nature 415: 134-135.
  • 51: Deaner, R., Barton, R.A. & van Schaik, C.P. (2002). Primate brains and life histories. In The evolution of primate life histories. Kappeler, P. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 233-265.
  • 52: Nunn, C.L. & Barton, R.A. (2001). Comparative methods for studying primate adaptation. Evolutionary Anthropology 10: 81-98.
  • 53: Arnold, K. & Barton, R.A. (2001). Post-conflict behaviour of spectacled leaf monkeys (Trachypithecus obscurus) I: Reconciliation. International Journal of Primatology 22: 243-266.
  • 54: Arnold, K. & Barton, R.A. (2001). Post-conflict behaviour of spectacled leaf monkeys (Trachypithecus obscurus) II: involvement of third parties. International Journal of Primatology 22: 267-286.
  • 55: Barton, R.A. (2001). The coordinated structure of mosaic brain evolution. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 24: 282-282.
  • 56: Nunn, C.L. & Barton, R.A. (2000). Allometric Slopes and Independent Contrasts: A Comparative Test of Kleiber's Law in Primate Ranging Patterns. American Naturalist 156: 519-533.
  • 57: Barton, R.A. (2000). Ecological and social factors in primate brain evolution. In On the move: how and why animals travel in groups. Boinski, S. & Garber, P. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
  • 58: Barton, R.A. & Harvey, P.H. (2000). Mosaic Evolution of brain structure in mammals. Nature 405: 1055-1058.
  • 59: Barton, R.A. & Aggleton, J. (2000). Primate evolution and the amygdala. In The amygdala: a functional analysis. Aggleton, J. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 480-508.
  • 60: Barton, R.A. (2000). Socioecology of baboons: the interaction of male and female strategies. In Primate males. Kappeler, P. Cambridge: ambridge University Press. 167-203.
  • 61: Barton, R.A. (1999). The evolutionary ecology of the primate brain. In Comparative Primate Socioecology. Lee, P. Cambridge University Press. 167-203.
  • 62: Barton, R.A. (1998). Visual specialisation and brain evolution in primates. Proceedings of the Royal Society (Biological Sciences) 265: 1933-1937.
  • Barton, Robert A. & Montgomery, Stephen H. (2018). Proportional versus relative size as metrics in human brain evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116(1): 3.
  • Barton, Robert A (2017). How to get all your eggs in one basket? Science 356(6344): 1249-1254.

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Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

  • Human biology and development: animal behaviour
  • Human biology and development: evolutionary theory
  • Human biology and development: the brain
  • People: Evolution and Biology: animal behaviour
  • People: Evolution and Biology: evolutionary theory
  • People: Evolution and Biology: the brain