Brown capuchin monkeys can be a loud and feisty bunch when an unfamiliar visitor enters Bucknell's Animal Behavior Lab. The raucous activity is unsettling, but Newton, Socrates, Monet and Sheba soon calm down as they see Lindsay Schwartz and Mattea Rossettie, both seniors, offering red grapes to move the monkeys from one cage to another. The primates are being prepped for Schwartz and Rossettie's tests as part of their summer undergraduate research.
Under the direction of Professor Peter Judge, psychology, Rossettie's project focuses on whether capuchins have the ability to use social cues provided by other capuchins. She hopes to discover if specific pairs of monkeys that are family members are more effective at reading each other's cues than other pairs of monkeys. "This is a novel study; it's not yet been experimentally shown whether New World monkeys can socially cue each other," says Rossettie, an animal behavior and comparative humanities major with a dance minor.
Schwartz, who is majoring in animal behavior and classics and ancient Mediterranean studies, studies whether capuchins are able to recognize cues given from a human experimenter. "I've always wanted to work with animals, and I came to Bucknell because of this program," she says. "There are very few schools that do this type of undergraduate research."
The seniors conduct testing twice per day, eight to 10 minutes per monkey. Currently at work on human cuing, Rossettie inserts a gummy treat into one of two cups behind a board that blocks Newton's view. The cups are turned to hide the gummy from Newton, and after Rossettie pulls the board, Schwartz quickly points to the cup containing the hidden treat. Newton successfully picked the treat two of four times.
"It makes me sad when they get it wrong," says Schwartz. But the good news is Newton passed all the social cue tests when the cue was given by another monkey.
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