Publication Date

April 2015


Joyce Powzyk


General Scholarship


English (United States)


The origins of altruism and cooperation have long been the source of debate. The conflicting notions of group selection and self-interested altruism have helped prosocial behavior become one of the most discussed topics in sociobiology. In this thesis, I address the presence of altruistic and cooperative behaviors in the genus Macaca, a diverse group of monkeys noted for having 'egalitarian' and 'despotic' species. While many have sought to explain these differences in behavior using the evolutionary tree of this group, in this thesis I address the many roles the environment plays in regulating the plasticity and diversity of behaviors seen amongst these species. Some endogenous behavior-related mechanisms may differ across these species. However, the vast majority of diversity comes from environmental pressures that result in different competitive pressures across different Macaca species. Many social behaviors related to altruism and cooperation (grooming, feeding-related behaviors, anti-predator defense, play, coalition formation, intervention, and reconciliation) demonstrate a great degree of plasticity, as the variation of these behaviors reflect variation in ecologically-mediated forms of social organization. I suggest a change in the jargon of altruism, replacing 'despotic' and 'egalitarian' with 'social reformers' and 'social maintainers,' creating terminology that suggests that social behavior is a response to socioecological pressures as opposed to innate temperaments. In addition to its primatological importance, this may particularly be of interest to those wishing to study the nature and historical dynamics of altruism and cooperation in humans. Also, by addressing the role of the environment in regulating social behavior, it becomes more apparent how human activities may be severely altering the behavior of wild as well as captive primates.



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