Research

My research focuses on  comparative primate social behavior and endocrinology. My research foci include 1) juvenile social development 2) the behavior, ecology, and endocrinology of spider monkeys living at El Zota, Costa Rica, and 3) female social relationships and affiliation. My current research examines the effects of female friendship and social networks on teenage girls and female scientists.

For access to publications, see my Academia.edu page or my ResearchGate page. You can also find a list of my publications and abstracts on my Google Scholar page.

The Role of Female Friendships and Social Networks in Mediating Stress in Girls and Women

DawnJessMichelle

Female Scientist Social Network! With my PhD advisor Dawn Kitchen, and academic sibling Jessica Walz.

The tend-and-befriend hypothesis predicts that girls and women should turn to friends to deal with the stressors in their life. Does having friends and a social network help you deal with the stressors that come from your social and academic environment? What happens if you don’t have a strong female support network? I will be examining these questions in teenage girls and female scientists–both populations that have varying amounts of interpersonal stressors, as well as varying levels of social integration.

Comparative Social Relationships in Ateles and Pan

 

 

Bonobos grooming at the Columbus Zoo

Bonobos grooming at the Columbus Zoo

I collected data comparing female social relationships in captive spider monkeys, bonobos, and chimpanzees. These three species provide an interesting contrast. Spider monkeys and chimpanzees are distantly related, but exhibit a striking convergence in social patterns. Conversely, chimpanzees and bonobos are sister species, but exhibit differences in patterns of sexual behavior and social bonding. I will be comparing patterns of female-female, male-male, and female-male relationships to examine how relationships differ in chimpanzees and bonobos, and then compare female-female relationships in both the Pan species and spider monkeys to examine how similarities in how they utilize affiliative behaviors to mediate those relationships.

The Role of Affiliative Behaviors in Mediating Social Relationships

Spider monkeys embrace at Brookfield Zoo. Spider monkey embraces typically include a pectoral-sniff, in which each monkey sniffs glands located near their armpits

Spider monkeys embrace at Brookfield Zoo. Spider monkey embraces typically include a pectoral-sniff, in which each monkey sniffs glands located near their armpits

Although affiliative behaviors are friendly behaviors, not all of them serve the same function. Some behaviors serve to develop or reinforce social bonds, while others serve to mediate tension. With colleagues, I am examining the role behaviors such as grooming, vocalizations, embraces, and genital-genital rubbing play in mediating social behaviors.

Stress and Friendship in Spider Monkeys

Spider monkeys grooming at Brookfield Zoo.

Spider monkeys grooming at Brookfield Zoo.

Theoretical models of female social relationships focused on the influence of ecology on competition, dispersal patterns, and kinship. However, as we do more research, we are recognizing that female social relationships are much more complicated. My dissertation research examined the “tend-and-befriend” hypothesis to examine if female spider monkeys seek affiliation with other primates to cope with stress. Female spider monkeys disperse in early adulthood, and other studies indicate that they have weak social relationships. However, I found that some females did form close bonds with other females, and increased affiliation with females when experiencing high stress levels. Furthermore, lactating females experienced higher stress levels than cycling females, which may be due to the the threat of male coalitionary aggression.

Relevant Publications:

Rodrigues MA Wittwer D, Kitchen DM. 2015. Measuring stress responses in female Geoffroy’s spider monkeys: Validation and the influence of the reproductive state. American Journal of Primatology 77(9):925-935.

 

Juvenile Social Development

tristan5

Young male juvenile spider monkey at El Zota

Primates have an extended period of juvenility, in which individuals are weaned/independently locomoting, but retain a small body size. This extended developmental stage provides primates with opportunities to gain the social and ecological skills they need to become functional adults. My early research focused on social behavior in juvenile howler and spider monkeys, in order to examine how their social behaviors prepare them for adulthood. In both species, I found that juveniles actively seek social opportunities. In spider monkeys, male and female juveniles engage in sex-segregated patterns, in which they preferentially play with same-sexed peers. Furthermore, juvenile males interacted more widely, and spent more time in subgroups containing adult males.

Relevant Publications:

Rodrigues MA, 2014. The emergence of sex-segregated behavior and association patterns in juvenile spider monkeys. Neotropical Primates. 21(2): 183-189.

Rodrigues MA. 2007. Age and sex-based differences in social interactions and social spacing in mantled howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata): Implications for juvenile social development. Journal of Developmental Processes 2(2): 103-114.

 

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