How do other animals think about the world? Why are their capacities different from (or similar to) our own? We answer these questions by studying the cognition, behavior and physiology of semi-free-ranging primates. We partner with parks, sanctuaries, and research centers to study different primate populations living in socially- and ecologically-rich contexts. To test primates’ cognitive skills, we design fun games that they play to get a treat, or show them novel and interesting stimuli to see how they respond. We further collaborate with wildlife veterinarians to collect biological samples during routine health examinations. Our research always prioritizes the welfare and conservation of the primates we work with, many of which are endangered species.
We also study the cognition and behavior of humans, using the same techniques, to understand the evolutionary origins of the human mind. To do so, we test people in interactive studies at our lab at the University of Michigan campus, and recruit larger samples of participants in online versions of these same games.
Evolutionary variation in cognition
Why do some animals solve problems differently from others? A major focus of our research is understanding how variation in cognitive abilities relates to different species’ natural history. We aim to reconstruct human cognitive evolution and understand the evolutionary processes shaping cognition in general.
- Rosati, A.G. (2017). Foraging cognition: reviving the ecological intelligence hypothesis. Trends in Cognitive Sciences.
- Rosati, A.G. (2017). Chimpanzee cognition and the roots of the human mind. Chimpanzees and Human Evolution.
- Santos, L.R. & Rosati, A.G. (2015). The evolutionary origins of human decision-making. Annual Review of Psychology.
See all publications about evolutionary variation.
Development and aging
Humans exhibit distinct life-history patterns compared to other primates, including an extended juvenile period and long total lifespan. Studies of comparative development and aging are therefore critical to understand human evolution. Our work on chimpanzee aging is funded by the National Institutes on Aging.
- Rosati, A.G. (in press). Heterochrony in chimpanzee and bonobo spatial memory development. American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
- Rosati, A.G., Arre, A.M., Platt, M.L., & Santos, L.R. (2018). Developmental shifts in social cognition: socioemotional biases across the lifespan in rhesus monkeys. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.
- Rosati, A.G. & Santos, L.R. (2017). Tolerant Barbary macaques maintain juvenile levels of social attention into old age, but despotic rhesus macaques do not. Animal Behaviour.
See all publications about development and aging.
Decision-making and memory
Animals face complex foraging problems such as navigating between resources, trading off between costs and benefits, and flexibly adjusting their behavior in fluctuating environments. What cognitive skills do primates use to solve these problems, and have humans evolved unique abilities for decision-making, spatial memory, and self-control?
- Rosati, A.G., & Santos, L.R (2016). Spontaneous metacognition in rhesus monkeys. Psychological Science.
- Rosati, A.G. & Hare, B. (2016). Reward type modulates human risk preferences. Evolution and Human Behavior.
- Rosati, A.G. (2015). Context influences spatial frames of reference in bonobos (Pan paniscus). Behaviour.
- Warneken, F. & Rosati, A.G. (2015). Cognitive capacities for cooking in chimpanzees. Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Social cognition and cooperation
For gregarious species, social interactions can influence all aspects of daily life. For example, foraging requires competing (or cooperating) with others who are also trying to find food. This component of our research focuses on the psychological skills that primates use to think about others, and how social context shapes decision-making strategies.
- Rosati, A.G., DiNicola, L.M., & Buckholtz, J.W. (2018). Chimpanzee cooperation is fast, and independent from self-control. Psychological Science
- Rosati, A.G., Arre, A.M., Platt, M.L., & Santos, L.R. (2016). Rhesus monkeys show human-like changes in gaze following across the lifespan. Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
- Leimgruber, K.L., Rosati, A.G., & Santos, L.R. (2016). Capuchins punish those who have more. Evolution and Human Behavior.
See all publications about social cognition and cooperation.
Primate welfare and conservation
All species of nonhuman great apes are endangered due to habitat loss, human encroachment, and the bushmeat and pet trades. We partner with welfare and conservation organizations like the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), and further conduct research on how the public perceives the conservation status of primates.
- Stokes, R., Tully, G., & Rosati, A.G. (2018). Pan African Sanctuary Alliance: Securing a future for the African great apes. International Zoo Yearbook.
- Stokes, R., Tully, G., & Rosati, A.G. (2017). Pan African Sanctuary Alliance: Primate welfare, conservation, and research. African Primates.
- Rosati, A. G., Herrmann, E., Kaminski, J., Krupenye, C., Melis, A. P., Schroepfer, K., Tan, J., et al. (2013). Assessing the psychological health of captive and wild apes: A response to Ferdowsian et al. (2011). Journal of Comparative Psychology.
See all publications about welfare and conservation.