Primate Studies

Primate Studies

Why Do We Study Primates?

As our closest living animal relatives, nonhuman primates share many behavioral and cognitive traits with us. Assessing which traits are distinctly humans and which traits are shared across the primate family trait can give us insights into our own species’ evolutionary history and the origins of our cognitive and communicative capacities. Our lab focuses on exploring the development of primate social behavior, social interactions and social cognition from an evolutionary, developmental and cultural perspective. We do observational and non-invasive experimental work across several species in semi-naturalistic and wild settings.

our studies

Gestures in non-human primates

This is a longitudinal study of the ontogenetic processes in which primate infants develop, ritualize, and possibly repair their gestural behavior. This is a cross species project including bonobo, chimp, gorilla, and orangutan infants.

Neuchâtel: Engagement in joint collaboration

The Neuchatel study is a collaborative project initiated by the Swiss University of Neuchatel, consisting of over 400 hours of data collected from primates and children. This research allows us to trace how engagement in joint actions develops within peers. It will also allow for comparison of behavior between the two groups to understand possible evolutionary connections.

Gibbon Cognition Project

Thanks to our friends at the Gibbon Conservation Center in Santa Clarita, CA, we have run several experimental cognitive studies on Gibbons, the lesser known, Lesser Ape. We are interested in their perspective taking (Sánchez-Amaro, A., Tan, J., Kaufhold, S.P., Rossano, F. 2019), gaze-following, and cooperative abilities.
Macaques Project
We are collecting behavioral data at the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary, which is the largest primate sanctuary in the US and houses, amongst other primates, a truly unique population of Japanese macaques that got transplanted from the wild in Japan to Texas in 1972. Today, several groups that all originate from the transplanted group are housed across different enclosures, providing the ideal circumstances for exploring the extent of behavioral variation across groups while controlling for ecological and genetic factors. Our work focuses on investigating social networks and cultural behaviors, i.e. behaviors that are passed on through social learning, across the different groups of Japanese macaques. Our goals include observing and documenting the social networks and social behaviors of the different groups at the sanctuary. Subsequently, we want to provide novel resources to the monkeys and observe how different groups might vary in their exploration, usage and development of novel behaviors surrounding these resources. We are also developing machine learning algorithms that will help us with identifying monkeys and their behavior from video recordings. This would allow us to survey the social behavior of the monkeys at the sanctuary longitudinally in a more automated way.

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