Malini Suchak, PhD

Graduate Student (Admitted Fall 2007)
Neuroscience and Animal Behavior Program

I joined the de Waal lab in 2007 as a graduate student in the Neuroscience and Animal Behavior Program in Psychology. I completed my Master’s in 2010 and am currently working on my Ph.D.

I am interested in cooperation and helping behavior and approach these topics from a comparative and evolutionary perspective. Specifically, I am interested in the factors that influence whether or not individuals choose to engage in behavior that benefits others as well as themselves. Currently, I am exploring these topics in non-human primates, but hope to extend this research to other species in the near future.

My Master’s research investigated the effects of reciprocity on prosocial behavior in capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella). Given their highly complex social environment, it is not surprising that in previous laboratory experiments they show robust prosocial tendencies. In other words, with all things being equal, they choose to benefit others. We found that when they have the opportunity to alternate providing favors for each other, they became even more inclined to benefit their partner even though they were not strictly keeping track of past favors (Suchak & de Waal, 2012). They were sensitive to their partner’s participation in the task, suggesting that joint action might be an important factor promoting prosocial behavior.

For my dissertation research, I am investigating factors that promote the initiation and maintenance of cooperation in the midst of a complex social environment in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). To study this, we introduce a cooperative problem-solving task into the outdoor enclosure of a group of 11-15 chimpanzees. All individuals in the group have the free choice to approach and participate in the task allowing us to examine partner preferences. The open nature of this task also provides opportunities for studying the interplay between cooperation and competition, the role of communication in coordinated behavior, and responses to free-loaders.

Last updated: Sep 28, 2012