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Gossip and Grooming Hypothesis


Machiavellian intelligence; Social brain hypothesis


Posits that language evolved as a means of forming and maintaining alliances when group size became too large for relationships to be managed solely through grooming


The gossip and grooming hypothesis is an attempt to explain the steady and pronounced increase in hominid brain size over the last four million years. Developed by Robin Dunbar (1996), it begins from the premise that brain expansion was driven by the computational demands of monitoring, predicting, and manipulating the behavior of conspecifics. It sees language as one of the adaptations that evolved in response to these tasks. Specifically, it posits that language evolved as a means of forming and maintaining alliances when group size became too large for relationships to be managed solely through grooming.

Our primate ancestors lived in the tropical forests of Africa, but when these forests began to shrink around ten million years ago due...


  • Social Information
  • Large Brain
  • Complex Extraction
  • Cognitive Niche
  • Brain Expansion

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Scalise-Sugiyama, M. (2016). Gossip and Grooming Hypothesis. In: Weekes-Shackelford, V., Shackelford, T., Weekes-Shackelford, V. (eds) Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science. Springer, Cham.

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