The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Captive Animal Methodology

My research on primate behavior focuses on social complexity in the widest possible sense, including alliance formation, reciprocal exchange, reconciliation following aggression, deceptive communication, and responses to environmentally induced stress. This research has a distinctly comparative character; it is being pursued with chimpanzees, bonobos, several macaque species, and capuchin monkeys.

The methodology requires group-living captive animals, preferably under naturalistic conditions such as found at major zoos and research institutions.

The four main topics of current interest are:

  • Cultural learning: Stimulus enhancement, imitation, and group specific habits in both capuchins and chimpanzees. A collaboration with Dr. Andrew Whiten at St. Andrews University focuses on the learning of artificial fruits and the spreading of knowledge in chimpanzees.
  • Behavioral economics: A series of experiments on reciprocal altruism and cooperation with capuchin monkeys has been conducted, most recently including reactions to reward division (e.g. inequity aversion). Similar studies on chimpanzees are underway.
  • Empathy: Observational study of empathy responses in chimpanzees (e.g. consolation of distressed individuals) as well as computerized experiments in which chimpanzees chose from among emotional scenes presented on a screen. We are expanding this research to Asian elephants and bonobos.
  • Communication: Experiments on audience effects in food calls and observations of gestural communication in great apes, such as bonobos and chimpanzees.

Presently, my research unit includes 3 postdoctoral associates, 3 paid technicians or research coordinators, 4 graduate students, and a variable number of undergraduates, honors students, summer interns, and temporary assistants.

We work at both the Yerkes Field Station (with its 2,000 primates in outdoor enclosures) and in the NSF-sponsored Capuchin Lab at the Yerkes Main Center (near Emory Campus). The research has been or is being supported by NIH, NSF, NIMH, Templeton, and NATO. We have collaborations with Zoo Atlanta, Bronx Zoo, Chester Zoo, St. Andrews University, Kyoto University, Chimp Haven (Louisiana), as well as other primate facilities.

Apart from being an active research unit, we also try to communicate the importnace of primatological research to the general public, doing so both through the Living Links Center's website and via books for popular audiences (see Recent Publications).

Current Lab Members:

  • Jennifer Pokorny, graduate student, NAB:
  • Joshua Plotnik, graduate student, NAB:
  • Colleen Gault, graduate student, NAB:
  • Kristin Leimgruber, Coordinator at the Capuchin Lab:
  • J. Devyn Carter, Coordinator at the Yerkes Field Station:
  • Darby Proctor, Technician at the Yerkes Field Station
  • Malini Suchak, graduate student, NAB
  • Dr. Victoria Horner, Postdoctoral Research Associate:
  • Dr. Teresa Romero, Postdoctoral Research Associate:
  • Dr. Matthew Campbell, Postdoctoral Research Associate

Many of my graduate students have supplemented their regular fellowships with NSF fellowships (4 students) or support from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, Leakey Foundation, Woodruff Foundation, Fulbright program, etcetera."


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