UCL Anthropology


Evolution, Culture and Health

Co-led by Dr G. Deniz Salali and Dr Emily Emmott, the Evolution, Culture and Health research cluster is at the forefront of evolutionary anthropological approaches to understanding contemporary health and health-related behaviours, bringing crucial insights to health research and practice. As a collaborative research cluster promoting research excellence, we regularly work with students and staff from the Human Evolution and Ecology Group and Medical Anthropology at UCL Anthropology, as well as other departments and institutions.


Academic Research

Dr Gul Deniz Salali

Dr Salali works on evolutionary approaches to health, health-related behaviour and culture focusing on contemporary hunter-gatherers. Her ongoing projects include learning and cultural transmission of traditional knowledge (e.g. medicinal plant uses), childhood, physical activity and dietary transitions in BaYaka hunter-gatherers in the Congo rainforest. She also researches the applications of cultural evolution theory to understand 1) cross-cultural variation in vaccine hesitancy and health-related beliefs, and 2) the future of human learning and cognitive diversity.

Dr Emily Emmott

As a researcher in Evolutionary Public Health, Dr Emmott’s research expertise surround extended and institutional childrearing in developed populations, and how different aspects of the childrearing system influences parenting behaviours & children and young people's health and wellbeing. She is particularly interested in the role of wider social support and how this influences 1) infant feeding behaviour and 2) adolescent health-related behaviours.

Study Evolution, Health and Medicine 


Evolutionary Medicine can be taken as a Level 6 (undergraduate) and Level 7 (postgraduate) module. This course explores the applications of evolutionary biology to human health, health-related behaviour and current health problems. Incorporating research on contemporary hunter-gatherers, the course covers human-microbe interactions, mental health, health-related behaviour, human life history and reproductive health. This module is typically taken by students on the MSc Human Evolution and Behaviour, MSc Biosocial Medical Anthropology, and BSc Human Sciences, BSc Anthropology, and Intercalated Medical degree programmes.

Biosocial Approaches to Childrearing can be taken as a Level 5 (undergraduate) module. The course explores bio-socio-cultural mechanisms around how we raise children, including its evolutionary foundations, and its implications on children’s health and development. This module is typically taken by students on the BSc Anthropology and BSc Human Sciences programmes.

MSc/MSci Projects

Students on the following Master’s programmes have undertaken their dissertation research projects within the Evolution, Health and Medicine research cluster: MSc Human Evolution and Behaviour, MSc (Biosocial) Medical Anthropology, MSci Human Sciences and Evolution.

Past dissertation titles include:

  • Can the Pill actually affect your mental health? An evolutionary outlook addressing the impact of hormonal oral contraceptives on depression and anxiety
  • Exploring Subpopulation Variation in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes Co-Morbidity: A Systemic Scoping Review
  • Is there an optimal stage in the menstrual cycle to receive vaccines?
  • Effect of previous pandemic experience and vaccination on anxiety levels in health-care workers in China during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Effect of future discounting and mindfulness on anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Childrearing practices in hunter-gatherers and Western societies and developmental outcomes
  • Physical activity patterns in BaYaka hunter-gatherers compared with the US and UK population
  • Social networks and disease transmission in BaYaka hunter-gatherers
  • Development of social learning and play in BaYaka children
  • Dietary composition, bitter taste perception and nutrition transition in BaYaka hunter-gatherers
  • Animal food taboos among BaYaka hunter-gatherers
  • Female reproductive scheduling and autoimmune disease prevalence
  • Are psychopathic traits adaptive? Investigating psychopathy within an evolutionary framework
PhD Projects

We welcome enquiries from prospective PhD students who are interested in evolutionary anthropological approaches to health, medicine and public health. We are particularly interested in the topics listed below.

Dr Deniz Salali:

  • Childhood and childcare in hunter-gatherers
  • Learning of ecological knowledge (e.g. medicinal plant use) across species
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding-related beliefs and practices across cultures

Dr Emily Emmott:

  • Social support and allomaternal care networks for children and families
  • Children as caregivers
  • Adolescent health and wellbeing
  • The behavioural ecology and cultural transmission of infant feeding
  • Vaccine hesitancy

Consultancy, Wider Engagement and Outreach

Are you a local organisation interested in evolutionary anthropological approach to health and public health? Please get in touch for:

•    informal advice and feedback (e.g., when developing services or guidance)
•    presentation requests (e.g., knowledge-exchange and continuing professional development sessions) 
•    formal collaboration queries (e.g., research collaborations, evaluations)

Please note the ability to take on projects depends on staff capacity. We can also deliver school talks – get in touch with Dr Deniz Salali or Dr Emily Emmott.