Dr. Matthew Campbell
My interests lie along two different paths related to learning and cognition by nonhuman animals. I am interested in the evolution of complex social behavior and the extent to which traits thought of as characteristically human are shared with other species, like chimpanzees. Understanding the evolutionary heritage of human behaviors provides a better understanding of what it means to be human, and what it means to be chimpanzee. Toward this end, I have focused my postdoctoral research on the topic of empathy in chimpanzees, as empathy is a critical part of human sociality. Empathy has many specialized definitions, but it is commonly thought of as feeling what someone else feels. Preston & de Waal (2002) characterized empathy as a continuum ranging from basic forms to complex forms. The complex forms are built upon the basic forms, and empathy functions on all of these different levels in humans.
I have focused on contagious behaviors and expressions as a basic level of empathy functioning. To study this in chimpanzees, we needed a form of contagion that could be observed visually. Contagious yawning serves this purpose, as yawns are thought to be contagious by the same mechanisms as smiles, frowns and other facial expressions. Recently, we showed that chimpanzees showed an ingroup-outgroup bias in contagious yawning (Campbell & de Waal 2011).Chimpanzees yawned more when watching their friends and family (ingroup) yawn than when watching strange chimpanzees (outgroup) yawn, exactly as would be predicted if empathy underlies contagious yawning.
We also discovered that chimpanzees yawned in response to 3D computer animations yawning (Campbell et al. 2009) (videos).To show contagious yawning in response to the animated yawns, the chimpanzees must have connected with the virtual chimpanzees on some level. We showed that animation can stimulate naturalistic responses, which opens the possibility of using animation to present stimuli impossible to capture on video.
My other main interest is applying cognition, learning, and the field of psychology in general to conservation biology. By developing methods for training captive-bred animals on skills necessary for life in the wild, I hope to increase survivorship in captive reintroductions, making them more efficient and more successful. This was the topic of my doctoral dissertation. We first documented the mobbing response of cotton-top tamarins, which revealed previously undescribed vocalizations (Campbell & Snowdon 2007). Next we attempted to train cotton-top tamarins to mob a snake by pairing play-back of these mobbing calls with a live snake (Campbell & Snowdon 2009). This method of pairing vocalizations with a novel predator had been successful with birds, but the tamarins did not learn to mob the snake. Most likely, the tamarins needed the visual cues associated with mobbing to show them what stimulus was provoking the response.
Long term I want to pursue both of these areas as parallel lines of research. Having measured empathy, I next want to study how I can influence this response, making it stronger or weaker. This could have therapeutic benefits for humans. I also want to explore additional ways we might train captive-born primates to respond appropriately to predators and other challenges they face in the wild. In this way I hope to contribute to our understanding of human nature, mental health, and to biodiversity conservation.