A core aspect of human behavior, is that we evaluate ourselves in comparison to other’s in our social group. These social comparisons impact how we see ourselves, the decisions we make, and the way we behave on a daily basis. Yet we are not alone in relying on social comparisons when making choices. Like humans, nonhuman primates depend on social comparisons when choosing cooperative partners, maintaining relationships, establishing dominance hierarchies, and assessing potential mates and rivals. How do social comparisons shape the lives and behaviors of nonhuman animals as they navigate their own social networks? To address this question, my research has three components: how social comparisons inform and constrain decision-making behavior, the mechanisms underlying social comparisons in human and nonhuman animals, and why social comparisons may be an important adaptation for living in social groups.
My postdoctoral research examines the factors that influence variation in social decision-making in a social and ecologically relevant context. My research aims to address two main questions:
- How do hormones influence social decisions? I am working on several projects to examine the role of hormones- specifically oxytocin, testosterone, and cortisol- on cooperative behavior and response to inequity in capuchin monkeys.
- How do group dynamics influence social decisions? Most studies on decision-making in nonhuman primates have relied on how individuals behave when isolated (or in pairs) and when interacting with a human experimenter. This lack of external validity affects our understanding of how social animals actually make decisions within a social group. My research focuses on how capuchins make social decision using group-level paradigms that allow for comparing decision-making strategies in socially-housed captive monkeys and wild capuchins in Argentina.
For my dissertation I studied the interplay between individual recognition and the sexual selection in gelada monkeys (Theropithecus gelada) in the Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia. Specifically, my research focused on one putative sexually-selected signal for male geladas – the “loud call” vocalization used in male displays to determine if males assess the competitive abilities of rivals based on the frequency, duration, or acoustic properties of these calls.
My research has been funded by the National Science Foundation (SMA- 162039; BCS- 1340911; GRFP), the Leakey Foundation, Georgia State University (B & B Seed Grant) and the University of Michigan (Rackham, IIIF, Dept. Anthropology)