Primate Personalities Polly Goss

Monkeys, like people, have different personalities and personality traits. The Primate Personalities Creative Inquiry, led by Brett Frye and Dr. Lisa Rapaport in the Department of Biological Sciences, investigates possible connections between different characteristics of monkeys and their behavior. Primate Personalities began with six students helping Frye with research for her dissertation, but moved beyond Frye's research as students began to ask their own questions and look into new areas of research. "They have perspectives that I don't. It makes for better research when you get everyone's perspectives," Frye said.

The Primate Personalities Creative Inquiry is divided into two projects. One group of students studies whether male and female golden lion tamarins react differently to novel foods, while the other investigates whether handedness predicts behavior in marmosets. The first step in beginning the research for each group was to design an ethogram, which carefully lists and defines behaviors. Then, using the ethogram, the students record the time and duration of different behaviors in ten minute videos of the monkeys.

Coding behaviors from the videos can be challenging; the students have to stop and re-watch the videos so often that coding a ten minute video can take almost five times that long. The projects found that sex is not a factor in marmosets' approach to novel foods and that there is only a weak link between handedness and behavior in golden lion tamarins. Although these results contrast the expected outcomes of the students' work, proving a hypothesis wrong can be informative. Rapaport says that the students are learning how to navigate the imperfections and surprises that often appear in research.

"It's giving them really nice experience with how you really do a scientific project. From doing a literature research, coming up with predictions, how you test them, and actually analyzing the data," Rapaport said.

The students have also had various opportunities to present their work on the national and international level. In 2015, they took posters to four different venues, including the meeting of International Primatological Society and American Society of Primatologists in Chicago, Illinois. Tara Brown, a senior biological sciences major who traveled to Chicago, held a poster session on the Creative Inquiry's research and was able to attend talks from multinational leaders in primate research.

"They have perspectives that I don't. It makes for better research when you get everyone's perspectives."

Brown has benefitted in other ways from her involvement with Primate Personalities. She was one of six students in the country to be offered a summer internship position with the Southwest National Primate Research Center. Brown credits the experience and connections she gained from working on the Creative Inquiry with helping her to transition into her internship.

"It gives me a lot of really good experience focusing more in-depth on something. You start to read papers and learn the big names in the field and start to admire people who do certain work," Brown said.

Today, the scientific community knows little about the personalities and sex differences of golden lion tamarins and marmosets. Rapaport says that the students' work, especially the handedness project, could be publishable in a scientific journal in an effort to fill this niche. For now, the students will continue to ask questions and conduct research on these animals' behavior.


Created with images by jinterwas - "The Gesture ..." • Amigos3D - "monkey animal wild"

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