Robert M. Seyfarth

University of Pennsylvania

Election Year: 2017
Primary Section: 51, Anthropology
Secondary Section: 52, Psychological and Cognitive Sciences
Membership Type: Member


Robert Seyfarth studies the social behavior, vocal communication, and cognition of nonhuman primates in their natural habitat. His goal is to understand the evolution of social complexity, mind, and behavior in monkeys and apes. Seyfarth was born in 1948 and graduated in 1970 from Harvard College, where his major subject was Biological Anthropology. He received a PhD from Cambridge University in 1977, then spent four years as a post-doctoral fellow at Rockefeller University. After three years at UCLA, he moved to the University of Pennsylvania, where he has been a member of the Psychology Department since 1985. Seyfarth has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, received an honorary doctorate from the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, and served as President of the Animal Behavior Society.

Research Interests

Robert Seyfarth’s research begins with long-term field observation of monkeys under natural conditions. Together with his colleague, Dorothy Cheney, he has studied vervet monkeys in Amboseli National Park, Kenya (1977-88, summarized in the book "How Monkeys See the World", 1990) and baboons in the Okavango Delta of Botswana (1992-2008, summarized in Baboon Metaphysics, 2007). They have used field playback experiments to explore monkeys’ vocal communication and its relation to cognition, with a particular focus on the monkeys’ understanding of call meaning and their knowledge of each other’s social relationships. Their research has also considered how social relationships and social cognition contribute to fitness. More recent papers explore what the study of nonhuman primate communication and cognition might tell us about the early precursors of human language.

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