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PhD ceremony Mr. I. Puga-Gonzalez: Social organization through self-organization. Model and empirical data of macaques

When:Fr 02-05-2014 at 16:15
Where:Academiegebouw, Broerstraat 5, Groningen

PhD ceremony: Mr. I. Puga-Gonzalez

Dissertation: Social organization through self-organization. Model and empirical data of macaques

Promotor(s): prof. C.K. Hemelrijk

Faculty: Mathematics and Natural Siences

Usually, most people and some scientists assume that social behavior of humans, apes and monkeys is the product of ‘ high intelligence’. In contrast, Ivan Puga-Gonzalez shows, with the help of a computational model, that this is not necessarily the case; that seemingly intelligent social behavior, such as that observed in apes and monkeys, may emerge via simple cognitive rules of social interaction in combination with the spatial structure of individuals in the group.The research of Puga-Gonzalez suggests an alternative parsimonious theory to explain the complex behavioral patterns (e.g. reciprocation and interchange of social services, reconciliation, consolation) observed in societies of monkeys, especially macaques. In primate societies, individuals seem to trade social services: exchange grooming for the receipt of grooming, support in fights, tolerance, food, sex, etc. Further, after fights individuals seem to reconcile, console, or appease former opponents, especially those opponents considered ‘friends’. These behavioral patterns are usually assumed to illustrate the great intelligence of primates, i.e. that individuals are able to keep track of the records of acts given and received, estimate the value of relationships, understand the emotional state of others, etc. However, nowadays it is known that cognitive capacities of primates, especially monkeys, are limited: they lack an understanding of thoughts, beliefs, and desires of others; and are unable to plan for the future, remember past events, or engage in causal or analogical reasoning. So, if complex cognition is unlikely to explain these seemingly intelligent behaviours, then, what is? The goal of the PhD thesis of Puga-Gonzalez was to search alternative mechanisms that may answer this question. He extended an individual-based model of grouping and aggression with grooming behavior. In the new model, GrooFiWorld, individuals group and, when nearby each other, they fight if they are likely to win; otherwise, they may groom, especially when they are anxious. These simple cognitive rules in combination with the spatial location of individuals in the group appeared to be sufficient to generate all commonly described behavioural patterns (e.g. exchange of grooming for support, reconciliation, consolation) of primate societies, especially macaques. "Hopefully findings will inspire empirical researchers to investigate the mechanisms suggested by the model", says Puga-Gonzalez.

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