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Evolution and Social Interaction Research Group

Unit(s) of assessment: Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience

Research theme: Health and Wellbeing

School: School of Social Sciences


The Evolution and Social Interaction Research Group’s aim is to further our understanding of human and non-human animal social interaction and how and why these behaviours have been moulded by evolution. We want to understand the adaptive value, constraints and mechanisms of social interaction in human and non-human animal social systems. In doing so, we will also help understand the consequences of changing or restricting social interaction, and how important social contact is to our species.

Key topics include comparative cognition and communication, the evolution of social group processes, and primatology.  Members use both experimental and observational methods and come from multiple disciplinary perspectives such as psychological science, biology, and evolutionary anthropology. Funding has been awarded from a range of national and international funding bodies including The Leverhulme TrustBritish AcademyNIHEuropean Research CouncilWenner-Gren Foundation and The Leakey Foundation.

The group sits within the Centre for Behavioural Research Methods and the Brain, Cognition and Development Research Cluster as a part of NTU Psychology. It is closely aligned to other NTU research groups such as Person Perception and Affect, Personality and Embodiment.



Research Fellows

PhD Students

PhD studentships currently available, please contact a potential supervisor to discuss ideas before applying: Application details

Current projects

  • ERC Consolidator Project FACEDIFF (Individual differences in facial expressivity: Social function, facial anatomy and evolutionary origins)
  • Facial Action Coding Systems for comparative facial expression analysis: AnimalFACS
  • Richard McFarland directs an established research and teaching facility in South Africa where he studies wild primates, including baboons and vervet monkeys: Swebeswebe Primate Project

Selected publications

Howard, E., Ropar, D., Newport, R., & Tunçgenç, B. (2021). Social context facilitates visuomotor synchrony and bonding in children and adultsNature: Scientific Reports, 11, 22869

In this paper, we show that a social context that provides rich opportunities for sensorimotor coupling and joint action elicits better movement synchronisation and stronger bonding with an interaction partner. Moreover, only for children, but not for adults, the degree of synchronisation predicted the intensity of feelings of social closeness.

Paukner, A., Slonecker, E. M., & Wooddell, L. J. (2021). Effects of dominance and female presence on secondary sexual characteristics in male tufted capuchin monkeys (Sapajus apella). Ecology and Evolution11(11), 6315-6325. 

Dominant male tufted capuchin monkeys take on a distinctive appearance with square heads and bulky chest compared to subordinate males. But what prompts this change in appearance – is it a signal to females or to other males? Here we compared body measurements and facial appearance in male groups of capuchin monkeys before and after the introduction of a female. Results suggest that secondary sexual characteristics emerge as a consequence of dominance over female capuchin monkeys.

Kupfer, T. R., Fessler, D. M., Wu, B., Hwang, T., Sparks, A. M., Alas, S., Samore, T., Lal, V., Sakhamuru, T.P. & Holbrook, C. (2021). The skin crawls, the stomach turns: ectoparasites and pathogens elicit distinct defensive responses in humans. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 288(1955), 20210376.

The emotion disgust has traditionally been seen as the defensive response against pathogens and parasites but in this paper, we provide evidence that humans have distinct responses towards ectoparasites versus microscopic pathogens. Whereas the typical disgust response, involving nausea and urges to vomit, defends well against potentially ingestible microscopic pathogens, the response toward ectoparasites, including itching and scratching, is consistent with a mechanism that evolved to protect against parasites that seek to land and feed on the body’s surface.

The findings were reported in The New York Times and The Atlantic. The research was supported by an ERC grant (MSCA-IF-2017-800096-EmoPun) to Tom Kupfer.

Whitehouse, J., & Meunier, H. (2020). An understanding of third-party friendships in a tolerant macaque. Scientific reports, 10(1), 1-11.

This paper explores whether macaques have knowledge of third-party friendships in their social group (i.e. social relationships not involving themselves). Using an audio playback design, macaques were more responsive to conflicts involving close social partners more than conflicts involving acquaintances, suggesting they were taking into account the quality of the third-party relationship when deciding if and how to respond. This study was part of a Fyssen Foundation research fellowship awarded to Jamie Whitehouse.

Waller, B. M., Julle-Daniere, E., & Micheletta, J. (2020). Measuring the evolution of facial ‘expression’ using multi-species FACS. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 113, 1-11.

Review summarising the development and application of FACS (Facial Action Coding Systems) for use across species. FACS are anatomically based tools for making standardised measurements of facial behaviour, which can be used for comparative facial signal analysis.

Whitehouse-Tedd, K., Abell, J. & Dunn, A. K. (2020). Evaluation of the use of psychometric scales in human-wildlife interaction research to determine attitudes and tolerance towards wildlifeConservation Biology, 35(2), 533–547.

In this review we looked at the use of psychometric scales in understanding attitudes toward predators and other wildlife, and the importance of appropriate validation and reliability measures. We advocate that a more robust approach is need than is currently take, when trying measuring stakeholder human-wildlife interactions.