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Dr. Jen Pokorny

Jen Pokorny

I joined the de Waal lab in 2003 as a graduate student in the Neuroscience and Animal Behavior Program in Psychology at Emory University. In May of 2009 I completed my Ph.D.

Broadly, my interests are in social cognition and behavioral neuroscience in a comparative and evolutionary context. My graduate research involved studying social cognition in tufted capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella), a New World monkey species native to South America. In the wild, these monkeys live in complex social groups of approximately 8-15 individuals, consisting of 1 to 3 adult males and several unrelated adult females with their offspring. My research focused on how individuals view themselves in relation to others, both inside the group and out, as well as what knowledge they have of the relationships between others. In addition, I was interested in how they obtain this information, whether it is evident visually in the faces of others or if personal interaction and observation of behavior is necessary.

Initial experiments focused on face recognition, as faces are an important component of social communication in humans and other nonhuman primates. We found that capuchins were able to recognize and discriminate the faces of both in-group and out-group conspecifics (Pokorny & de Waal, 2009).  They also demonstrated an inversion effect for conspecific and human faces (Pokorny, Webb & de Waal, under review), indicating specialized processing for faces they encounter frequently and have developed expertise.  Using facial images of conspecifics, we then began testing knowledge of social categories starting with the concept of group membership. Subjects were in fact able to categorize faces based on group membership (in-group vs. out-group), indicating that capuchins recognize the individuals depicted in the two-dimensional image and connect it to real life conspecifics with whom they have personal knowledge and experience (Pokorny & de Waal, in revision).   I continue to remain involved in projects that test knowledge of other social dimensions, such as sex and kinship.