School of Psychology - Leading psychological science, scholarship and practice

Quentin Atkinson


Associate Professor

Contact details
Phone: +64 9 923 4316
Ext: 84316
Room: HSB 523
Office hours: Please email for an appointment


Quentin came to the University of Auckland in 2010 following a postdoctoral research fellowship in the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Oxford. He has also held postdoctoral positions in the School for the Study of Religion at the University of Aarhus, Denmark, and with Professor Mark Pagel in the Zoology Department at the University of Reading, UK. Quentin teaches stage III and postgraduate courses on Evolutionary Psychology and in 2011 he started a new postgraduate course with Dr Niki Harré on Sustainability and Psychology. He is Associate Editor for Evolution and Human Behavior, a guest editor for PNAS, and on the editorial board of Diachronica. In 2012 he was awarded a 5-year, Royal Society of New Zealand, Rutherford Discovery Fellowship.

Research interests

Language, religion and large-scale cooperation are among the most interesting and unique characteristics of our species. Yet the language we speak, what we hold sacred and whether we choose to cooperate are not coded in our genes, but are shaped by the behaviour and norms of those around us – they are inherently cultural.

Quentin’s research draws on lab and field experiments, computer modelling and evolutionary theory to shed light on how and why various aspects of human culture evolved. His work on the evolution of language, religion, prosociality and the human expansion from Africa has been published in Nature and Science and regularly features in international media outlets including the BBC, New Scientist, the NY Times, the Economist and the Wall Street Journal. Quentin is also a keen environmentalist and in 2007 published an edited volume with Dr Niki Harré on how New Zealanders can tackle climate change.

Previous research groups

Selected publications

  • Opie, C., Atkinson, Q. D., Dunbar, R. I. M., & Shultz, S. (2013). Male infanticide leads to social monogamy in primates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110 (33), 13328-13332 10.1073/pnas.1307903110
  • Pagel, M., Atkinson, Q. D., S Calude, A., & Meade, A. (2013). Ultraconserved words point to deep language ancestry across Eurasia. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 110 (21), 8471-8476 10.1073/pnas.1218726110
  • Atkinson, Q. D. (2013). The descent of words. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 110 (11), 4159-4160 10.1073/pnas.1300397110
  • Bowern, C., & Atkinson, Q. (2012). Computational phylogenetics and the internal structure of Pama-Nyungan. Language, 88 (4), 817-845 10.1353/lan.2012.0081
  • Bouckaert, R., Lemey, P., Dunn, M., Greenhill, S. J., Alekseyenko, A. V., Drummond, A. J., ... Atkinson, Q. D. (2012). Mapping the origins and expansion of the Indo-European language family. Science, 337 (6097), 957-960 10.1126/science.1219669
    Auckland contributors: Russell Gray , Remco Bouckaert , Alexei Drummond
  • Shultz, S., Opie, C., & Atkinson, Q. D. (2011). Stepwise evolution of stable sociality in primates. Nature, 479 (7372), 219-222 10.1038/nature10601
  • Atkinson, Q. D., & Bourrat, P. (2011). Beliefs about God, the afterlife and morality support the role of supernatural policing in human cooperation. Evolution and Human Behavior, 32 (1), 41-49 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2010.07.008
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