Behavioral Biology Laboratory


Carere, C., Maestripieri, D. (Eds.). (2013). Animal Personalities: Behavior, Physiology, and Evolution. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Maestripieri, D. (2012). Games Primates Play. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Maestripieri, D., Mateo, J. (Eds.). (2009). Maternal Effects in Mammals. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Maestripieri, D. (2007). Macachiavellian Intelligence. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Maestripieri, D. (Ed.) (2003). Primate Psychology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Animal Personalities: Behavior, Physiology, and Evolution

Cover of Animal PersonalitiesAsk anyone who has owned a pet and they’ll assure you that, yes, animals have personalities. And science is beginning to agree. Researchers have demonstrated that both domesticated and nondomesticated animals—from invertebrates to monkeys and apes—behave in consistently different ways, meeting the criteria for what many define as personality. But why the differences, and how are personalities shaped by genes and environment? How did they evolve? The essays in Animal Personalities reveal that there is much to learn from our furred and feathered friends.

The study of animal personality is one of the fastest-growing areas of research in behavioral and evolutionary biology. Here Claudio Carere and Dario Maestripieri, along with a host of scholars from fields as diverse as ecology, genetics, endocrinology, neuroscience, and psychology, provide a comprehensive overview of the current research on animal personality. Grouped into thematic sections, chapters approach the topic with empirical and theoretical material and show that to fully understand why personality exists, we must consider the evolutionary processes that give rise to personality, the ecological correlates of personality differences, and the physiological mechanisms underlying personality variation.

Games Primates Play

Cover of Games Primates PlayIn his best-selling 1964 book Games People Play, psychiatrist Eric Berne makes the case that when people interact with their family members, friends, coworkers, or strangers, they do so according to specific patterns that are governed by particular rules and usually characterized by predictable outcomes. Calling these patterns “games,” Berne points out that the predictability of these patterns and outcomes stems from our tendency to assume particular social roles in these relationships (for example, “the Child,” “the Parent,” or “the Adult”) and that these roles are associated with certain behaviors. Therefore, relationships that involve the same role pairs – such as the Child and the Parent – have a lot in common.

Our understanding of human relationships has evolved significantly in the half-century since Berne’s book was published. Research in psychology and psychiatry has shown that our behavior in social relationships is the result of complex interactions between our genes and our environment and the effects of these interactions on our brains, emotions, and thoughts. In analyzing the complexities of human relationships with increasing precision, however, researchers appear to have lost interest in their general underlying patterns. They no longer ask why these patterns exist or where they come from. To answer these questions - indeed, to identify the patterns at all - we must step out of the laboratory and take a good look at people and their relationships in the context of other life forms and their behaviors. In other words, we need to venture out of psychology and into biology. Why? Because many of the rules and patterns underlying human relationships developed through evolutionary processes, and those same evolutionary processes have produced similar patterns in other animal species. Tens of thousands of studies of animal social behavior conducted in myriad different species have shown that all social animals have relationships with members of their own species. This means that many of the games played by people are also played by other animals, and especially by the species of monkeys and apes that are closely related to us, such as baboons and rhesus macaques, or chimpanzees and gorillas.

An underlying theme of Games Primates Play is that human nature is manifested in social interactions more than in any other aspect of our behavior or intellectual activity. This has two major implications. First, since our social behavior has been strongly shaped by evolutionary processes such as natural and sexual selection, we can explain it using cost-benefit analyses and other rational models of behavior (for example, game theory) developed by evolutionary biologists and behavioral economists. Second, we can use studies of social behavior and social relationships in other species to highlight similarities between animals and humans that are the product of either phylogeny or convergent evolution.

Dario Maestripieri is a leading behavioral scientist who has studied the social relationships of human and nonhuman primates for almost thirty years. In Games Primates Play, he examines human social behavior with both rational scientific models and evolutionary and comparative arguments, using examples from closely related primates that live in societies similar to our own. Other books have taken this approach to try to elucidate aspects of human nature and behavior. But Games Primates Play shows for the first time that the adaptiveness of human behavior and its evolutionary legacy extend to both the most mundane and the most specialized aspects of modern social life. The tools of behavioral science can be used to understand not only what men and women find attractive in a romantic partner or how people make decisions about investing their savings in the stock market. The same scientific theories and principles can also be used to explain people’s behavior in everyday social situations. We often assume that our behavior in these everyday situations simply reflects our unique personalities, the choices we freely make, or the influence of our environment. In reality, people around the world, living in very different environments and exposed to very different cultures, behave the same way in these situations. We don’t recognize these similarities in part because we are often unaware of our own behavior and in part because we don’t pay too much attention to what others do.

Games Primates Play will make people think about themselves and their behavior in a way they’ve never done before. After reading Games Primates Play, people will realize that when they exchange emails with someone, certain unspoken rules about dominance explain how quickly they reply to messages, how long the replies are, and whether or not they are likely to terminate the email conversation; the same rules regulate the exchange of grooming behavior between dominant and subordinate individuals in rhesus macaques or chimpanzees. Readers will also realize that when they begin working for a new company, they use social strategies to climb the power ladder that are quite similar to those used by male macaques who join a new group. The same theories that explain the formation of aggressive coalitions in baboons can also explain political alliances and strategic decisions in the workplace. Some readers will be amused to discover that the laws of supply and demand that regulate people’s desires and decisions in the marriage market are the same as those that that regulate the mating markets in birds and monkeys, or the market in which large fish called “clients” look for cleaning services from small fish who swim inside their mouths and eat their leftovers. Finally, readers will learn that when they engage in intimate interactions with their romantic partners, they are not only expressing their love or pursuing sensual pleasure; they are also testing their partner’s willingness to tolerate impositions, and therefore his/her commitment to the relationship, the way a capuchin monkey tests the strength of its bond with another monkey by sticking a finger up the other’s nose and waiting for a reaction.

Maternal Effects in Mammals

Cover of Maternal Effects in MammalsEvolutionary maternal effects occur whenever a mother’s phenotypic traits directly affect her offspring’s phenotype, independent of the offspring’s genotype. Some of the phenotypic traits that result in maternal effects have a genetic basis, whereas others are environmentally determined. For example, the size of a litter produced by a mammalian mother—a trait with a strong genetic basis—can affect the growth rate of her offspring, while a mother’s dominance rank—an environmentally determined trait—can affect the dominance rank of her offspring.

The first volume published on the subject in more than a decade, Maternal Effects in Mammals reflects advances in genomic, ecological, and behavioral research, as well new understandings of the evolutionary interplay between mothers and their offspring. Dario Maestripieri and Jill M. Mateo bring together a learned group of contributors to synthesize the vast literature on a range of species, highlight evolutionary processes that were previously overlooked, and propose new avenues of research. Maternal Effects in Mammals will serve as the most comprehensive compendium on and stimulus for interdisciplinary treatments of mammalian maternal effects.

Macachiavellian Intelligence

Cover of Macachiavellian IntelligenceJudged by population size and geographic distribution, Homo sapiens has clearly been the most successful of the more than three hundred primate species currently living on our planet. It’s no secret that our big brains and intelligence helped facilitate our success. By the same criteria of population size and distribution, the second most successful primate is a monkey called the rhesus macaque. The rhesus macaque, however, is not one of the smartest primates. Other primates – the great apes - have bigger brains and are smarter than rhesus macaques, but unfortunately they are all on the brink of extinction. So being smart is not by itself a guarantee of success in this corner of the universe. There are different kinds of intelligence and different ways to use it.

Macachiavellian Intelligence is about rhesus macaques and what they have in common with people. The product of more than twenty years of studying these fascinating creatures, Macachiavellian Intelligence caricatures a society that is as much human as monkey, with hierarchies and power struggles that would impress Machiavelli himself. High-status macaques, for instance, maintain their rank through deft uses of violence and manipulation, while altruism is almost unknown and relationships are perpetually subject to the cruel laws of the market. Throughout this eye-opening account, Maestripieri weds his thorough knowledge of macaque behavior to his abiding fascination with human society and motivations. The result is a book unlike any other, one that draws on economics as much as evolutionary biology, politics as much as literature and popular culture.

Macachiavellian Intelligence contains more facts about monkeys than about people, but the book is really more about people than monkeys. Why rhesus macaques are the way they are is an interesting question, but the fact that human beings often act like rhesus macaques is even more interesting.  Charles Darwin once wrote “He who understands baboon would do more towards metaphysics than Locke”. Without taking anything away from baboons, understanding why rhesus macaques behave the way they do may tell us something about human nature, metaphysics, and perhaps the future as well. By the time human beings start the global nuclear war that will destroy our civilization, there won’t be any great apes left for Earth to become the Planet of the Apes. But chances are there will still be plenty of rhesus macaques around.

Primate Psychology

Cover of Primate PsychologyIn more ways than we may sometimes care to acknowledge, the human being is just another primate--it is certainly only very rarely that researchers into cognition, emotion, personality, and behavior in our species and in other primates come together to compare notes and share insights. This book, one of the few comprehensive attempts at integrating behavioral research into human and nonhuman primates, does precisely that--and in doing so, offers a clear, in-depth look at the mutually enlightening work being done in psychology and primatology.

Relying on theories of behavior derived from psychology rather than ecology or biological anthropology, the authors, internationally known experts in primatology and psychology, focus primarily on social processes in areas including aggression, conflict resolution, sexuality, attachment, parenting, social development and affiliation, cognitive development, social cognition, personality, emotions, vocal and nonvocal communication, cognitive neuroscience, and psychopathology. They show nonhuman primates to be far more complex, cognitively and emotionally, than was once supposed, with provocative implications for our understanding of supposedly unique human characteristics. Arguing that both human and nonhuman primates are distinctive for their wide range of context-sensitive behaviors, their work makes a powerful case for the future integration of human and primate behavioral research.