Research Perspective

I use a psychobiological framework to investigate the underlying mechanisms and adaptive function of social relationships and cooperation in animal models, focusing on non-human primates. My research integrates frameworks from socio-ecology and socio-endocrinology, and I have also utilized genetic analyses and playback experiments. My prior research topics include: Social learning in cotton-top tamarins, socio-ecology of re-introduced chimpanzees, male mating strategies and paternal investment in chacma baboons and fitness benefits of social relationships in chacma baboons and bonobos. This work has broader implications for understanding the evolution of human sociality and the mechanisms by which social support provides health benefits to humans.

Current Research

Currently I am investigating the form and function of cooperative social relationships among non-kin in bonobos (Pan paniscus), a species that shares a recent evolutionary history and similarities in social structure with humans. For this project, I collect corresponding behavioral data and non-invasive hormone samples under varied social contexts in captive and field settings.
My research aims are to:

  1. Characterize the quality and diversity of social relationships among individuals, using behavioral and physiological measures.
  2. Use social network analyses to test for alternatives to kin selection and reciprocal altruism to explain patterns of group-level cooperation among unrelated females
  3. Determine whether inter-group encounters are motived by ecological or social benefits to individuals and
  4. Characterize physiological responses to affiliation and cooperation with in-group and out-group members.

My broader goals are to better understand the potential for building alliances within and between groups in a close phylogenetic relative of humans. This research is conducted in collaboration with Dr. Barbara Fruth and Dr. Gottfried Hohmann, co-directors of the LuiKotale field site, Democratic Republic of Congo, and with Dr. Adrian Jaeggi at Emory University.

Research is supported by: