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Research Spending & Results

Award Detail

Doing Business As Name:University of New Mexico
  • Melissa Thompson
  • (505) 610-3860
  • Martin N Muller
Award Date:08/29/2019
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 114,263
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 114,263
  • FY 2019=$114,263
Start Date:08/15/2019
End Date:07/31/2022
Transaction Type:Grant
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.075
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:NCS-FO: The evolutionary origins of leadership in chimpanzees: from individual minds to collective action
Federal Award ID Number:1926352
DUNS ID:868853094
Parent DUNS ID:784121725
Program:IntgStrat Undst Neurl&Cogn Sys
Program Officer:
  • Lawrence Gottlob
  • (703) 292-4383

Awardee Location

Street:1700 Lomas Blvd. NE, Suite 2200
Awardee Cong. District:01

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:Makerere University Biological Field Station
Street:PO Box 409
City:Fort Portal

Abstract at Time of Award

Leadership is crucial for effective cooperation, especially in large and complex groups. Yet there is an empirical and theoretical gap in our understanding of the individual-level processes underpinning leadership and the group-level consequences of leadership. How does the cognition of individual leaders translate into coordinated group action in the real world? This project proposes using chimpanzees as a new model of human-like leadership to better understand the evolutionary origins of our own leadership patterns. We will bridge the gap between individual- and group-level phenomena by conducting matched research with semi-free ranging chimpanzees living in a sanctuary where we can do detailed assessments of cognition, and with chimpanzees living in the wild where we can look at complex group behavior in a natural setting. By matching datasets across these two contexts, we will be able to see how individual cognitive process translate into group action. While humans are thought to be uniquely able to establish leadership through prestige and collaboration instead of just pure physical domination, chimpanzees are our closest living relative, also show variation in how individuals obtain and maintain status in their groups. This project will therefore illuminate the evolutionary origins of human leadership, and also set a new agenda in evolutionary cognitive science for studying cognition in the wild. Training, education, and outreach from elementary school through to graduate school will be integrated throughout the project both domestically and abroad. As part of this proposal, we will develop a leadership module for children, using animal models to demonstrate different forms of leadership. We will implement this module through outreach at local schools and museums in the US and in 16 primary schools in Uganda. Undergraduates and high school students in the US will gain hand-on research experience through internships and in coursework. Two postdoctoral researchers and a graduate student will further gain international research experiences in the course of the project. This integrated approach to research and education will train a new generation of evolutionary cognitive scientists and disseminate primate research to the public. This project has three specific aims. The first aim is to identify individual leaders (those with outsized influence) in natural social groups across multiple contexts of behavior including dominance rank, initiation of group movements, resource acquisition, within-group mediation and inter-group aggression. The second aim is to create leadership profiles by characterizing individual variation in the cognitive, behavioral, and physiological mechanisms of leaders across these contexts. At the sanctuary, 100+ chimpanzees across 5 social groups will be assayed for cognition (including social cognition, cooperation, and executive function); temperament; behavior (aggression and affiliation), and physiology (hormones and body size) to predict leadership. At the field site, similar assessments will be made of temperament, behavior, and physiology, drawing on a longitudinal database with 30 years of data on 150 wild chimpanzees. These data will be used to test the hypothesis that there are distinct pathways to leadership in chimpanzees, with intimidation-based and cooperative strategies being the most important, but knowledge and motivation anchoring some forms of leadership. The final aim is to understand how variation in leadership styles shapes the outcomes of collective action by examining several short-and long-term metrics of leadership success, including group cohesion, rewards received, and biological outcomes like reproductive success that can only be studied in the wild. This project will bridge individual-level and group-level perspectives on cognition, behavior, and physiology by leveraging the strengths of two natural populations of chimpanzees. The project will match experimental and observational techniques across sites on a scale never previously done, and will develop chimpanzees as a new model for human leadership. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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