Robert Seyfarth

Professor Emeritus
BA, Biological Anthropology, Harvard University;
Ph.D. Animal Behaviour, University of Cambridge
Office Location: 
Room 353, Levin Building, 425 S. University Ave.
Research Interests: 
Animal Learning and Behavior
Evolutionary Psychology
Language and Communication
Specific Research Areas: 

Social behavior, vocal communication, and cognition of nonhuman primates in their natural habitat

Research Synopsis:

My research focuses on the social behavior, vocal communication, and cognition of animals in their natural habitats. Methods include observational sampling, tape-recording of vocalizations, playback experiments, and the collection of hormonal and genetic data from fecal samples. My goal is to clarify the differences between nonhuman primate communication and human language, to explore the adaptive value of primate social relationships, and to examine the cognitive mechanisms that underlie close social bonds. My graduate student Isaac Schamberg studies vocal communication among bonobos in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Isaac works jointly with Gotfried Hohmann at MPI Leipzig). Graduate student Emily Bray is conducting a longitudinal study of behavioral and cognitive development among puppies at The Seeing Eye Foundation in New Jersey (Emily’s work is jointly supervised by James Serpell at the Penn Vet School). Although I plan to remain active in research, I will retire at the end of academic year 2015-16 and am no longer accepting graduate students.

Selected Publications: 

Seyfarth, R.M. & Cheney, D.L. (2014) The evolution of concepts about agents: Or, What do animals recognize when they recognize an individual? In: The Conceptual Mind (Ed. E. Margolis), pp. 57-76. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Seyfarth, R.M. & Cheney, D.L. (2014) The evolution of language from social cognition. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 28: 5-9.

Seyfarth, R.M. & Cheney, D.L. (2013) Affiliation, empathy, and the origins of Theory of Mind. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 110: 10349-10356.

Seyfarth, R.M. & Cheney, D.L. (2012) The evolutionary origin of friendship. Annual Review of Psychology 63, 153-177.

Silk, J.B., Beehner, J.C. Bergman, T. Crockford, C., Engh, A.L., Moscovice, L., Wittig, R.M., Seyfarth, R.M. & Cheney, D.L. (2009) The benefits of social capital: Close social bonds among female baboons enhance offspring survival. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B 276, 3099-3104.

Cheney, D.L. & Seyfarth, R.M. (2007) Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Courses Taught: 

PSYC 131 Animal Behavior
PSYC 451 Primate Communication


Anthropology Graduate Group


Emily Bray [Psychology Graduate Student]
Isaac Schamberg [Psychology Graduate Student]