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Durham University

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Staff Profile

Professor Jamie Tehrani

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 41631

(email at


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 Groups

Department of Anthropology

Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing

Research Interests

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

Selected Publications

Edited Journal

  • Kendal, J., Tehrani, J. & Odling-Smee, J. (2011). Human Niche Construction. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 366 (1566).

Chapter in book

  • Tehrani, Jamshid J. (2020). Descent with Imagination: Oral Traditions as Evolutionary Lineages. In Evolutionary Perspectives on Imaginative Culture. Carroll, J., Clasen, M. & Jonsson, E. Springer. 273-289.
  • Tehrani, J. J. & d'Huy, J. (2017). Phylogenetics meets folklore: bioinformatics approaches to the study of international folktales. In Maths Meets Myths: Quantitative Approaches to Ancient Narratives. Kenna, R., McCarron, M. & McCarron, P. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. 91-114.
  • Tehrani, J. & Collard, M. (2013). Do Transmission Isolating Mechanisms (TRIMS) influence cultural evolution? Evidence from patterns of textile diversity within and between Iranian tribal groups. In Understanding Cultural Transmission in Anthropology: A Critical Synthesis. Ellen, R., Lycett, S. & Johns, S. Berghahn. 26: 148-164.
  • Tehrani, J. (2011). Missing links: species, artefacts and the cladistic reconstruction of prehistory. In Evolutionary and Interpretive Archaeologies - A Dialogue. Cochrane, E. & Gardner, A. Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press. 245 - 263.
  • Tehrani, J. & Layton, R. (2009). Genes versus culture. In Thinking About Almost Everything. Amin, A. & O'Neill, M. Profile Books. 54 - 57.
  • Tehrani, J. & Collard, M. (2009). The evolution of material culture diversity among Iranian tribal populations. In Pattern and Process in Cultural Evolution. Shennan, S. University of California Press. 99-111.
  • Collard, M., Shennan, S. & Tehrani, J. (2006). Branching versus blending in macroscale cultural evolution: a comparative study. In Mapping Our Ancestors. Lipo, C., O'Brien, M., Collard, M. & Shennan, S. New Brunswick: Aldine Transaction. 53-63.
  • Collard, M. & Tehrani, J. (2005). Phylogenesis versus ethnogenesis in Turkmen cultural evolution. In The Evolution of Cultural Diversity: A Phylogenetic Approach. Mace, R., Holden, C. & Shennan, S. London: UCL Press. 109-132.

Journal Article

  • Sykes, Naomi, Beirne, Piers, Horowitz, Alexandra, Jones, Ione, Kalof, Linda, Karlsson, Elinor, King, Tammie, Litwak, Howard, McDonald, Robbie A., Murphy, Luke John, Pemberton, Neil, Promislow, Daniel, Rowan, Andrew, Stahl, Peter W., Tehrani, Jamshid, Tourigny, Eric, Wynne, Clive D. L., Strauss, Eric & Larson, Greger (2020). Humanity’s Best Friend: A Dog-Centric Approach to Addressing Global Challenges. Animals 10(3): 502.
  • Jiménez, Ángel V. Mesoudi, Alex & Tehrani, Jamshid J. (2020). No Evidence that Omission and Confirmation Biases Affect the Perception and Recall of Vaccine-related Information. PLoS ONE 15(3): e0228898.
  • Granito, C., Tehrani, J., Kendal, J. & Scott-Phillips, T. (2019). Style of pictorial representation is shaped by intergroup contact. Evolutionary Human Sciences 1: e8.
  • Scanlon, Lauren, Lobb, Andrew, Tehrani, Jamshid J. & Kendal, Jeremy R. (2019). Unknotting the interactive effects of learning processes on cultural evolutionary dynamics. Evolutionary Human Sciences 1: e17.
  • Jiménez, Ángel V., Stubbersfield, Joseph M. & Tehrani, Jamshid J. (2018). An experimental investigation into the transmission of antivax attitudes using a fictional health controversy. Social Science & Medicine 215: 23-27.
  • Acerbi, A. & Tehrani, J. (2018). Did Einstein Really Say that? Testing Content Versus Context in the Cultural Selection of Quotations. Journal of Cognition and Culture 18(3-4): 293-311.
  • Stubbersfield, Joseph, Tehrani, Jamshid & Flynn, Emma (2018). Faking the News: Intentional Guided Variation Reflects Cognitive Biases in Transmission Chains Without Recall. Cultural Science Journal 10(1): 54-65.
  • Stubbersfield, J., Tehrani, J. & Flynn, E. (2017). Chicken tumours and fishy revenge: Evidence for emotional content bias in the cumulative recall of urban legends. Journal of Cognition and Culture 17(1-2): 12-26.
  • Stubbersfield, J., Flynn, E. & Tehrani, J. (2017). Cognitive Evolution and the Transmission of Popular Narratives: A Literature Review and Application to Urban Legends. Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture 1(1): 121-136.
  • Acerbi, A., Kendal, J. & Tehrani, J.J. (2017). Cultural complexity and demography: The case of folktales. Evolution and Human Behavior 38(4): 474-480.
  • Bortolini, Eugenio, Pagani, Luca, Crema, Enrico R., Sarno, Stefania, Barbieri, Chiara, Boattini, Alessio, Sazzini, Marco, da Silva, Sara Graça, Martini, Gessica, Metspalu, Mait, Pettener, Davide, Luiselli, Donata & Tehrani, Jamshid J. (2017). Inferring patterns of folktale diffusion using genomic data. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114(34): 9140-9145.
  • Graça da Silva, S. & Tehrani, J. J. (2016). Comparative phylogenetic analyses uncover the ancient roots of Indo-European folktales. Royal Society Open Science 3(1): 150645.
  • Tehrani, J. J., Nguyen, Q. & Roos, T. (2016). Oral Fairy Tale or Literary Fake? Investigating the Origins of Little Red Riding Hood Using Phylogenetic Network Analysis. Digital Scholarship in the Humanities 31(3): 611-636.
  • Stubbersfield, J.M., Tehrani, J.J. & Flynn, E.G. (2015). Serial killers, spiders and cybersex social and survival information bias in the transmission of urban legends. British Journal of Psychology 106(2): 288-307.
  • Larson, G., Stephens, P.A., Tehrani, J. & Layton, R.H. (2013). Exapting exaptation. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 28(9): 497-498.
  • Stubbersfield, J. & Tehrani, J. (2013). Expect the Unexpected? Testing for Minimally Counterintuitive (MCI) Bias in the Transmission of Contemporary Legends: A Computational Phylogenetic Approach. Social Science Computer Review 31(1): 90-102.
  • Tehrani, J.J. (2013). The Phylogeny of Little Red Riding Hood. PLoS ONE 8(11): e78871.
  • Layton, R., Tehrani, J., Tian, Y., Du, X. & Yi, G. (2012). The transmission of culture in weaving and woodblock printing, Shandong Province. Humanities and Social Sciences Journal of Jiangnan University 5: 93-99.
  • Kendal, J.R., Tehrani, J.J. & Odling-Smee, J. (2011). Human Niche Construction in Interdisciplinary Focus. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. Biological Sciences 366(1566): 785-792.
  • Tehrani, J. (2011). Patterns of evolution in Iranian tribal textiles. Evolution: Education and Outreach 4(3): 390-396.
  • Matthews, L. J., Tehrani, J. J., Jordan, F. M., Collard, M. & Nunn, C.L. (2011). Testing for divergent transmission histories among cultural characters: a study using Bayesian phylogenetic methods and Iranian tribal textile data. PLoS One 6(4): e14810.
  • Tehrani, J.J., Collard, M. & Shennan, S.J. (2010). The cophylogeny of populations and cultures: reconstructing the evolution of Iranian tribal craft traditions using trees and jungles. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 365(1559): 3865-3874.
  • Tehrani, J. J. (2010). The past and future of the evolutionary taxonomy of cultures. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 8(2): 169-182.
  • Bentley, R.A., R.L. Layton & J. Tehrani (2009). Kinship, marriage, and the genetics of past human dispersals. Human Biology 81(2-3): 159-179.
  • Tehrani, J. & Collard, M. (2009). On the relationship between interindividual cultural transmission and population-level cultural diversity: a case study of weaving in Iranian tribal populations. Evolution and Human Behavior 30(4): 286–300.e2.
  • Tehrani, J. J., Bentley, R. A. & O'Brien, M. J. (2008). Language is nothing special: Response to "Across the curious parallel of language and species evolution" by J. Whitfield. PLoS Biology 6(e186).
  • Tehrani, J. & Riede, F. (2008). Towards an archaeology of pedagogy: learning, teaching and the generation of material culture traditions. World Archaeology 40(3): 316-331.
  • Collard, M, Shennan, SJ & Tehrani, JJ (2006). Branching, blending, and the evolution of cultural similarities and differences among human populations. Evolution And Human Behavior 27(3): 169-184.
  • Tehrani, J. (2006). The role of ethnography in the science of cultural evolution (Comment on Mesoudi, Whiten and Laland). Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29: 363-364.
  • Tehrani, J. & Collard, M. (2002). Investigating cultural evolution through biological phylogenetic analyses of Turkmen textiles. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 21(4): 443-463.

Book review

  • Tehrani, J. J. & Carrithers, M. (2015). Perspectives on the intersection of biology and society. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21(2): 470–472.

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

Show all publications

Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

  • Anthropology: The evolution of cultural diversity
  • Anthropology: Tribal rugs and the origins of weaving
  • Anthropology: Cultural transmission
  • Anthropology: The evolution of fairy tales and folk stories
  • Anthropology: History of anthropological thought