Baboon metaphysics: The evolution of a social mind (talk recording available)
Dr. Robert Seyfarth
Tuesday, March 31, 2009, 01:00pm - 02:00pm
Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania
We study monkeys and apes to help understand the evolution of human thought, language, and behavior. Sixteen years' fieldwork on baboons in the Okavango Delta of Botswana reveals a complex society, organized around a core of adult females who form a hierarchy of ranked, matrilineal families. In this environment, an individual's survival and reproduction depend on social skills. Through field playback experiments, we show that baboons have a mind that is specialized for observing social life, computing social relations, and predicting other animals' behavior. Through studies of stress and its alleviation, we show that female baboons-like modern humans-experience the greatest stress from events like predation and infanticide that are unpredictable and difficult to control. They alleviate stress by broadening and extending their social relationships with others. Finally, through long-term data we provide new evidence that the offspring of females who form strong social bonds with other females survive at higher rates and live significantly longer than the offspring of females who form weaker social bonds. These survival benefits are independent of maternal dominance rank and number of kin and extend into offspring adulthood.
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