Isabel Behncke

Isabel Behncke (MSc University College London, MPhil, Cambridge University; PhD, Oxford University) is a New York and Oxford based behavioural and evolutionary scientist working on the nature of social animals … including humans. She’s from the mountains of Chile and loves wild things.

Isabel Behncke is a scientist, TED Fellow, public speaker, adviser of organisations, start-ups and think-tanks, as well as a host & curator of conferences. Her work and public speaking applies the principles of evolutionary biology to enable organizations, companies and individuals to better create, connect and adapt within an increasingly complex world. These insights will surprise, delight and positively challenge any audience that is looking for how and why to change.

To book Isabel for a presentation, curation, consultation please contact her agent Maria at Maria@londonspeakerbureau.comhere.

After walking 3000+ km in the jungles of Congo observing the social behaviour of bonobo apes – our closest living relatives – in field research, Dr. Behncke now applies an evolutionary lens to questions that lie at the core of social life and creativity: Why do we go to festivals? Why trust requires risk taking? Why adults need to play in order to not just feel alive, but also maintain health, creativity and social bonds? Why cities need to be not just ‘smart’ but also enjoyable, and crucially why is it that the more digital we get, the more understanding of evolution we need.

She enjoys consulting and engagement in different forms. Has spoken at WIRED, the G20, House of Lords, United Nations, twice at the main TED event, and around the fire in Patagonia. She also has been part of numerous radio programmes, including NPR and BBC Radio 4. She has been featured in a number of television documentaries (BBC and National Geographic) and independent cinema (e.g., ‘Bounce: How the Ball taught the World to Play’).

TED Evolution's gift of play, from bonobo apes to humans

Isabel is that rare special combination of respected front-line academic researcher and world-class communicator. She brings us into her world in ways that are authentic, exciting and powerfully engaging.

David Rowan, Editor at Large Wired Magazine

Dr Isabel Behncke is a scientist and speaker of rare talent, as dedicated and diligent in the rain forest as she is entertaining and eloquent on the stage. She brings energy, enthusiasm and deep knowledge to the understanding of animal and human behaviour.

Matt Ridley, Author of the Evolution of Everything

Isabel is doing superb work on the origins of human play. Play drives up the dopamine system in the brain and gives energy, optimism and creativity. Play is essential to good health, learning and social relations. And Isabel is the pioneer in this essential field.

Helen Fisher, Neuroscientist

Isabel has the lushest mind which she put to use in some of the most imaginative ways. She can effortlessly roam from discussing specific bonobo behaviors to the interplay of ecosystems and creativity. Her work reflects her engagement with all aspects of the world. Passionate, imaginative and rigorous.

Sunny Bates, Creativity Consultant and Connector

g2012 Rethinking G20
Seriously Play Unleashes Best Qualities Video
Wired Studying Wild Bonobos

Research Affiliations

Social Complexity Research Centre (CICS)
Universidad del Desarrollo,

Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group (SENRG)
University of Oxford
United Kingdom

Visiting Scholar
New York University
Psychology Department
New York
United States