Date of Award

Spring 5-8-2024

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Integrative Biology


Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology

Committee Chair/First Advisor

Jared Taglialatela

Second Advisor

Martin Hudson

Third Advisor

Christopher Cornelison


The evolutionary origins of uniquely human cognitive processes remain poorly understood. Comparative analysis between humans and great apes can help identify derived characteristics and extrapolate ecological conditions leading to the evolution of specifically human cognitive abilities. It has been posited that the relatively large brain size of primates, in relation to body size, evolved in response to increasing social complexity and the accompanying cognitive demands placed on gregarious organisms that need to maintain cohesive, functional groups. Studies examining primate social behavior and cognition have focused on foundational abilities and cognitive capacities that are theorized to act as progenitors to uniquely human abilities, such as theory of mind and tactical deception. However, adaptations associated with primate prosocial behavior—voluntary behavior performed for the benefit of another—can also be used to better understand the evolution of primate social cognition. It has been posited that among humans, significant positive relationships exist between motor skills and prosocial behavior, though similar studies have not been conducted in non-human primates. The current study sought to test the hypothesis that sensorimotor coordination and social behavior in primates are correlated. To this end, we tested associations between social behavior and fine and gross motor skills in 7 bonobo adults and 20 human children. The data indicate an association between motor task performance and social proximity. Specifically, bonobos and children that spend more time in close proximity to social partners complete fine motor skills tasks faster than individuals who spend less time in close proximity to conspecifics. In addition, results indicate a significant positive correlation between average social proximity score and pro-social behavior score for both bonobos and human children. These data suggest sensorimotor skills and social behavior may interact in mutually reinforcing ways and indicate an important area for future research.

Available for download on Tuesday, December 31, 2024