Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. At the Animal Cognitive Research Center we focus on studying nonhuman animals to better understand the evolutionary origins of behavior and cognition, including how and why humans evolved the way they did. Because nonhuman primates are the closest living relatives to humans, our research primarily focuses on species within this lineage.
To study these primates, we collaborate with to work with the primates under their care. We are particularly interested in complex social behaviors such as cooperation, behavioral economics, and social knowledge. Currently, much of our research focuses on spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi) as they share interesting behavioral traits with both humans (Homo sapiens) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). These commonalities suggest similar cognitive abilities, however, spider monkeys have not been as thoroughly studied as humans and chimpanzees, making this an exciting line of research.
Brevard Zoo recently opened its new Spider Monkey Complex. This complex was designed with input from Darby Proctor, Ph.D. in order to simulate the complex fission-fusion social structure these monkeys exhibit in the wild. In the Spider Monkey Complex, three habitats are connected to each other through a series of sky trails allowing the monkeys to make choices about with whom they spend time, just as they would in the wild. When animals exhibit species-typical behavior, this indicates that the animals are thriving under our care.
An amazing feature of the Spider Monkey Complex is the Animal Cognitive Research Center, which was designed for conducting voluntary behavioral research with these fascinating animals. The Center allows researchers like Darby Proctor, Ph.D., and Catherine F. Talbot, Ph.D., to work with the monkeys individually and explore the bounds of their cognitive abilities. All research at the Center is conducted in front of zoo guests so that we can all learn from these monkeys.
We also run the undergraduate psychology Roach Lab, which enables students to gain hands-on experience with animals on campus. We hope that this initiative expands to other universities so that more students can participate in these kinds of experiences as part of their undergraduate psychology curriculum. To facilitate this, we developed as a resource for other faculty and universities to aid in starting their own Roach Labs.
Students in our lab have the opportunity to work with us at Brevard Zoo by doing behavioral observations of the animals and assisting in other research, as well as design and run independent research through the Roach Lab.
The Animal Cognitive Research Center is co-directed by Darby Proctor, Ph.D. and Catherine F. Talbot, Ph.D. who are members of the psychology undergraduate program and animal behavior concentration.