The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation has awarded New York University primatologist Anthony Di Fiore and Andres Link, a doctoral candidate in NYU’s Graduate School of Arts and Science, a research grant to study aggression in South American spider monkeys. Through their study, the researchers hope to better understand the factors that lead to group conflict in humans as well as in non-human primates.
A generation ago, anthropologists thought that lethal intergroup raids, boundary patrolling and defense, and intergroup “warfare” were unique to human societies. But subsequent inquiry has shown these same behaviors are evident in populations of wild chimpanzees, suggesting that the study of nonhuman primates could yield insight into understanding human warfare and coalitionary violence. Chimpanzees have thus come to be regarded as a valuable model for assessing the basic principles influencing the evolution of these elements of human behavioral biology.
Using the $29,500 Guggenheim grant, Di Fiore and Link will study aggression and intergroup violence in spider monkeys in Ecuador by collecting behavioral data on their social interactions.
“The behavior of spider monkeys and chimpanzees provide us with an important opportunity to test what basic socioecological variables and other factors might point toward the emergence of warfare and intergroup coalitionary violence in primates generally,” explained Di Fiore. “By investigating whether such violence appears to emerge mainly under particular social conditions, the study will not only build upon our current knowledge of warfare but might also suggest social strategies effective for reducing the likelihood of coalitionary violence among humans.”
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