Human Evolutionary Biology

Overview: Evolutionary theory provides a powerful framework for investigating why humans are the way we are. Human evolutionary biologists seek to understand how evolutionary forces have shaped our anatomy, physiology, psychology, culture and behavior. Research in human evolutionary biology influences many professions and social issues including medicine, politics, business, and gender and race relations.

Some of our key questions include:

  • How does our gut microbiota influence patterns of disease?
  • Why did our species evolve such large brains?
  • How can health care be improved by understanding our species’ evolutionary history?
  • Why do humans walk upright?
  • What psychological, anatomical and physiological traits are uniquely human and why did they evolve?
  • Why and how do humans cooperate on such large-scales compared to other primates?
  • How has culture and its evolution--including things like music and religion--shaped our species’ biological evolution? 
  • How does the lifestyle of modern humans (e.g., diet, activity levels) impact our evolutionary trajectory?


Research: This is an exciting time to tackle questions of how evolution made us human. Research in HEB provides you the opportunity to learn and contribute. HEB faculty lead projects spanning a spectrum of interests and methods, including fieldwork studying diverse societies or African apes, laboratory-based work on endocrinology, genetics, comparative neuroscience, anatomy, the microbiota and nutrition, and computationally intensive projects on genomics and cultural evolution.

Examples of HEB research include:

  • human and primate nutrition
  • comparative neuroscience
  • reproductive and behavioral endocrinology
  • cultural evolution
  • evolutionary genetics and phylogenetics
  • human anatomy and biomechanics
  • primatology
  • paleoanthropology
  • human behavioral ecology