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Durham University

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Staff Profile

Dr Sally Street, BA, MSc, PhD

Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology
Department Representative, Durham Research Methods Centre

(email at

Research profile

I am an inter-disciplinary researcher interested in understanding large-scale patterns and processes in the evolution of behaviour, cognition and culture. I am primarily a ‘macro-evolutionary anthropologist’, placing broad questions on the evolution of our species’ extraordinary cognitive and cultural abilities in the wider context of vertebrate evolution. I typically investigate such questions using phylogenetic comparative statistical methods, which model how characteristics of species or populations have evolved across large temporal and spatial scales. I have a particular interest in the evolution of technically skilled behaviour, especially musical ability, tool use and construction. Along with exceptional cognitive and cultural capabilities, our species is characterised by uniquely developed technical skill, allowing us to perform a huge range of behaviour in our daily lives: from making tools and handicrafts, using technology and preparing food to performing music and dance. I am interested in why highly developed technical abilities have evolved in humans, how we learn and pass on these skills to others, and what we can learn from relevant behaviour in non-human species, especially tool use and nest building in birds and mammals. I am also interested in questions about human perceptions of non-human species, particularly in why we ‘prefer’ some species over others as pets or food sources, and the consequences of these preferences for conservation.

Research opportunities

I welcome informal enquiries from potential undergraduate dissertation supervisees, postgraduate students and postdoctoral researchers with relevant research interests.


PhD in cultural evolution of music

I am particularly seeking a PhD student for a project on the cultural evolution of music. The PhD student would use music as a model system to investigate the cultural evolution of complex behavioural sequences, using experimental and/or phylogenetic statistical approaches. Please get in touch to discuss potential funding sources if you are interested and potentially suitable. 


Research groups

Evolutionary Anthropology 

Centre for the Coevolution of Biology and Culture


  • 2017-present: Assistant Professor in evolutionary approaches to cognition and culture, Durham University.
  • April-July 2017: Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the evolution of animal construction, University of St Andrews, supervised by Prof Kevin Laland.
  • 2014-2017: Postdoctoral Research Assistant in comparative analyses of vertebrate invasion success, University of Hull, supervised by Dr Isabella Capellini.
  • 2010-2014: PhD in primate brain evolution and sexual selection, University of St Andrews, supervised by Dr Gillian Brown and Prof Kevin Laland.
  • 2008-2010: MSc in Evolutionary Psychology, University of Liverpool.
  • 2005-2008: BA in Politics and Sociology, University of Leeds

Research Groups

Department of Anthropology

Research Interests

  • Macro-evolutionary anthropology
  • Phylogenetic comparative methods
  • Technical skill: music, tool use, construction
  • Human/animal interactions

Teaching Areas

  • Human Evolution & Diversity

  • Doing Anthropological Research
  • Specialised Aspects of Evolutionary Anthropology


Chapter in book

  • Street, S.E. & Laland, K.N. (2016). Social Learning, Intelligence, and Brain Evolution. In The Wiley Handbook of Evolutionary Neuroscience. Shepherd, Stephen V. Chichester: John Wiley. 495-513.

Journal Article

  • Powell, Lauren E, Barton, Robert A & Street, Sally E. (2019). Maternal investment, life histories, and the evolution of brain structure in primates. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 286(1911): 20191608.
  • Mainwaring, M. C. & Street, S.E. (2019). Preprint: Conformity to Bergmann’s rule in birds depends on nest design and migration.
  • Street, Sally E., Morgan, Thomas J. H., Thornton, Alex, Brown, Gillian R., Laland, Kevin N. & Cross, Catharine P. (2018). Human mate-choice copying is domain-general social learning. Scientific Reports 8(1): 1715.
  • Street, S.E., Navarrete, A.F., Reader, S.M. & Laland, K.N. (2017). Coevolution of cultural intelligence, extended life history, sociality, and brain size in primates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 114(30): 7908-7914.
  • Allen, W.L., Street, S.E. & Capellini, I. (2017). Fast life history traits promote invasion success in amphibians and reptiles. Ecology Letters 20(2): 222-230.
  • Street, S.E., Cross, C.P. & Brown, G.R. (2016). Exaggerated sexual swellings in female nonhuman primates are reliable signals of female fertility and body condition. Animal Behaviour 112: 203-212.
  • Navarrete, A.F., Reader, S.M., Street, S.E., Whalen, A. & Laland, K.N. (2016). The coevolution of innovation and technical intelligence in primates. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 371(1690): 20150186.
  • Morgan, T.J.H., Uomini, N.T., Rendell, L.E., Chouinard-Thuly, L., Street, S.E., Lewis, H.M., Cross, C.P., Evans, C., Kearney, R., de la Torre, I., Whiten, A. & Laland, K.N. (2015). Experimental evidence for the co-evolution of hominin tool-making teaching and language. Nature Communications 6: 6029.
  • Hall, Z.J., Street, S.E., Auty, S. & Healy, S.D. (2015). The coevolution of building nests on the ground and domed nests in Timaliidae. The Auk 132(3): 584-593.
  • Capellini, I., Baker, J., Allen, W.L., Street, S.E. & Venditti, C. (2015). The role of life history traits in mammalian invasion success. Ecology Letters 18(10): 1099-1107.
  • Brown, G.R., Cross, C.P., Street, S.E. & Brand, C.O. (2014). Comment: Beyond “Evolutionary versus Social” Moving the Cycle Shift Debate Forward. Emotion Review 6(3): 250-251.
  • Hall, Z.J., Street, S.E. & Healy, S.D. (2013). The evolution of cerebellum structure correlates with nest complexity. Biology Letters 9(6): 20130687.