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Social Development in Wild Infant Chacma Baboons, South Africa

  • School: School of Social Sciences
  • Study mode(s): Full-time / Part-time
  • Starting: 2023
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Fully-funded


NTU's Fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme 2023

Project ID: S3 15

Across a wide range of species, including humans and non-human primates, increased sociability can have a positive impact on individual health, reproductive success, and survival. Among baboons, for example, both increased infant survival and adult longevity are associated with the maintenance of social relationships within the group. While the link between sociability and individual fitness is well-established, we know far less about the development of the social skills that underpin such social integration.

Human and primate mothers engage in gentle touch and intense face-to-face communication with their infants, characterised by mutual gazing and facial expressions. The exchange of signals between mothers and infants is a large component of mother-infant interactions, and existing research has shown that this plays a key role in infant socio-cognitive development in humans and primates alike. As infants explore the social world beyond the reach of their mothers’ grasp, infant and juvenile cohorts also provide a forum for social interaction (e.g., play, grooming, aggression). To date, most research into these questions has focused on captive primates, living in unnatural environmental and social conditions, and we know very little about the pressures that shape socio-cognitive development in wild populations.

Studying a wild population of chacma baboons in South Africa, the aim of the current PhD will be to (i) examine the form and function of mother-infant interactions, (ii) track the social integration of new-born infants over their first 6-12 months of life, investigating how early mother-infant experiences shape infant-cohort interactions, and (iii) assess how infant-cohort interactions facilitate the development of the social skills required to navigate the environmental and social pressures experience in the group as a whole. Baboons are an excellent model species for a study of this type, given they live in large social groups, are born into infant cohorts of variable size and composition, and demonstrate marked inter-individual differences in social integration and fitness.

A 12-month data collection period will take place on the Swebeswebe Primate Project, Limpopo Province, South Africa; an established NTU teaching and research facility directed by Richard McFarland ( Data analysis and writing will take place in Nottingham, under the supervision of Drs Richard McFarland, Annika Paukner and Chris Young.

Supervisory Team:

Dr. Richard McFarland

Dr. Annika Paukner

Dr. Chris Young

Entry qualifications

For the eligibility criteria, visit our studentship application page.

How to apply

To make an application, please visit our studentship application page.

Fees and funding

This is part of NTU's 2023 fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme.

Guidance and support

Application guidance can be found on our studentship application page.

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