Date of Award

8-10-2021

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Jessica Turner

Second Advisor

David Washburn

Abstract

Although it is clear that behavioral, cognitive, and genetic factors all contribute to socio-communicative development in humans, it remains a significant challenge to disentangle the contribution of each to the emergence of socio-communicative abilities. Recent research has demonstrated that single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) are linked to social behavior and cognition in humans and nonhuman mammals. Bonobos, one of the species most closely related to humans, exhibit complex socio-communicative behavior and cognition, and exhibit similar connections between genetic factors and individual-level social behavior to those observed in humans. This study is the first comprehensive assessment of the behavioral, cognitive, and genetic underpinnings of socio-communicative development in a nonhuman great ape species. Specifically, I aimed to assess the relation among social behavior, communication, repetitive/abnormal behaviors, and social cognition at the individual level. In addition, I aimed to determine whether or not SNPs associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in humans are present in bonobos, and if they are predictive of individual-level socio-communicative behavior and social cognition abilities. To this end, I collected behavioral data from 26 captive bonobos, as well as cognitive task performance data from 7 of these individuals. Analyses revealed a significant negative correlation between sociality and repetitive/abnormal behaviors in female bonobos. Additionally, results indicated that communicative production was negatively correlated with completion time on a receptive joint attention task. Furthermore, this study provides the first evidence of a potential SNP in the bonobo oxytocin receptor (OXTR). Collectively, these findings suggest that bonobos may be an ideal model for the complex behavioral and cognitive phenotype associated with neurodevelopmental disorders, such as ASD. Indeed, this study fills a critical gap in our understanding of the various behavioral, cognitive, and genetic factors underlying socio-communicative development in humans, and our closest living relatives.

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