Living in social groups requires behavioral and cognitive specializations (e.g., formation of bonds, conspecific recognition, social signaling…etc.) which are enabled by the evolution of specific neurobiological mechanisms.
My research uses an ethological framework to study how genetic and hormonal markers of neurobiological function are related to variation in the development of social behavior in rhesus macaques.
1) Maternal care and the development of social behavior
Altriciality promotes extended periods of heightened developmental plasticity during which early life experiences, such as type of maternal care, can exhibit long-lasting programmatic effects on the behavioral phenotype of the offspring. By capitalizing on natural variation in the amount of maternal rejection and protection exhibited by free-ranging infant rhesus macaques, I test whether maternal care: A) influences the development of neuropetide signaling pathways in the offspring know to modulate social behavior (oxytocin) and B) interacts with allelic variants in the serotonergic pathway (5-HTTLPR) in the infant, hypothesized to confer differing phenotypic plasticity, to promote social competency.
2) Behavioral and biological predictors of social behavior
The ability to recognize social signals and to differentiate between conspecifics are fundamental social cognitive skills necessary for the formation of specialized relationships. By employing longitudinal biological and behavioral sampling of juvenile rhesus macaques, I test whether face recognition and social signal recognition abilities during infancy are related to A) individual differences in neuropeptide signaling pathways known to modulate the perception of socially relevant information (oxytocin/vasopressin peptide/receptor) and ultimately B) individual differences in juvenile social networks.