Dr Sarah Johns

Reader in Evolutionary Anthropology,
Director of Graduate Studies-Taught,
Academic Head Biological Anthropology
+44 (0)1227 823232
Dr Sarah Johns


Dr Sarah Johns received her doctorate from the University of Bristol after completing an MPhil in biological anthropology at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and an undergraduate degree in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. Sarah is a broadly trained anthropologist with research experience in palaeoarchaeology, human reproductive behaviour and the evolutionary psychology of human reproductive decision-making. Her primary research interest is in the variation of the age at first birth in humans, specifically focusing on teenage mothers, and how public health policy and evolutionary theory can be integrated.

Her PhD research, which was funded in part by the Gloucestershire Health Authority and the Department of Health, was an empirical investigation into whether teenage motherhood is the result of an evolved reproductive strategy that allows for variation in life-history event timings, as predicted by evolutionary anthropological theory. Specifically, Sarah tested the hypothesis that having children at an earlier age may promote lineage survival when the environment is unstable and risky and personal future is uncertain. In addition, she investigated a possible psychological mechanism linking environment and behaviour in this context. She believes research that links both function and mechanism is the future direction for evolutionary studies of human behaviour, and her research is pushing the boundaries of the field in this direction.

In 2008 Sarah was a joint recipient (with S. Legge and N. Newton-Fisher) of a teaching prize from the University of Kent for her role in developing the BSc in Anthropology and BSc in Biological Anthropology programmes.

Research interests

Dr Sarah Johns has broad research interests in reproductive and sexual health, and how evolutionary theory is a useful explanatory framework in this area. She also has expertise in evolutionary approaches to postnatal mental health and postnatal depression. Further details about this award-wining research project can be viewed here

Additionally, Dr Johns is an expert in teenage motherhood in the UK and she has carried out some of the first research to explain adolescent pregnancy as an adaptive strategy. Her work has significant policy implications, specifically for governmental teenage pregnancy and maternal mental health strategies. She has also led research exploring the sending of unsolicited sexual images, female genital colouration and male mating preferences, relationships between smoking, risk behaviour and mating success (funded by Novartis UK), weaning in medieval Britain, and primate long-bone trauma. 


Dr Johns is programme convenor for the MSc in Biological Anthropology, a programme with two routes, one of which is run jointly with the School of Psychology.


  • SE302: Foundations of Biological Anthropology
  • SE307: Thinkers and Theories
  • SE308: Skills for Anthropology and Conservation
  • SE533: Project in Anthropological Science (module convenor)
  • SE565: Sex, Evolution, and Human Nature (module convenor)
  • SE567: Quantitative Research Methods
  • SE570: Current Issues in Evolutionary Anthropology


  • SE855: Research Project (Evolution & Human Behaviour) (module convenor)
  • SE992: Advanced Topics in Evolutionary Anthropology
  • SE994: Advanced Topics in Human Behaviour (module convenor)


Current students

  • Hella Péter: The effects of water shortage on female chimpanzee social behaviour in the Budongo forest


  • Francesca WhitehouseThe menstrual cycle and female-to-female interactions: Explored through olfactory, visual and verbal/auditory communication. MSc by research. (Completed 2010)


  • Committee member, Biosocial Society: An international academic society that explores human biological and social diversity (from 2010).
  • Committee member, European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association (EHBEA): An interdisciplinary society that supports the activities of European researchers with an interest in evolutionary accounts of human cognition, behaviour and society (2005-2010).
  • Steering committee member, University of Kent Darwin 200 Committee (2008-2009).
  • Member (peer nominated), Centre for Sociology, Anthropology and Politics (C-SAP): Anthropology reference group responsible for developing the teaching of anthropology in UK higher education (2003-2010).
  • Conference sessions organised: Charity, Philanthropy, and Volunteerism, ESRC-funded Darwin’s Medicine Seminar series, University of Kent (2009); Human Ecology, The British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology, University of Bristol (2004).
  • Conference session chair: European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association annual meeting (2009); British Society for Population Studies Annual Meeting (2005); Human Behavior and Evolution Society Annual Meeting (2004).
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