Dr Lauren Brent
Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, Lecturer


I study the evolution of sociality and ask why social relationships are formed and how they are maintained. Within groups of animals, individuals differ in their tendency to interact with others and in how deeply embedded they are in their social network. Investigating these differences allows me to determine the genetic and physiological causes of sociality, as well as its impact on Darwinian fitness. My research is centred on wild or free-ranging populations with long-term datasets that permit me to quantify inter-individual differences in sociality, relatedness, survival and reproductive output.

I currently focus on two study systems - a highly gregarious primate, the rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta), and a cetacean with a kin-focused social structure, the resident killer whale (Orcinus orca). In killer whales my primary work tests the hypothesis that individuals gain inclusive fitness benefits by forming social relationships with their relatives. In rhesus macaques, my work has provided some of the first evidence of the fitness benefits of sociality, showing that the infants of individuals who are more deeply embedded in their social network are more likely to survive. I have also shown that an individual’s position in their social network is both stable across time and heritable, confirming that sociality is under genetic control and is a trait on which selection may act.

I am member of the Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour at Exeter, and was formally a postdoctoral fellow in Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University. Additional details about my research can be found at laurenbrent.com.

Latest news: Listen to me speak about my recent study on leadership in killer whales and its ties to the evolution of menopause on the CBC's Quirks and Quarks radio programme, and read about this work in Nature's Research Higlights. Read my New Scientist article about the biology of friendship, and watch my TED talk on the same topic.


2006-2010: PhD in Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Roehampton
2003-2005: Master of Arts in Anthropology, University of Calgary
1999-2003: Bachelor of Science, Biology, McGill University


2016-         Lecturer in Animal Behaviour, University of Exeter
2016-2019: Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour, University of Exeter
2014-2016: Associate Research Fellow, University of Exeter
2010-2014: Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Duke University.

Research group links

Contact details

Internal tel4779
Tel+44 (0) 1392 724779
AddressWashington Singer Laboratories
University of Exeter
Perry Road
Prince of Wales Road

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