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Dynamic relationships between social connections and information transmission

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Animal social connections play a major role in health, survival, and fitness. Individuals display selectivity in their social connections by interacting with some, but not all, of their group members. These selective connections determine the overall group structure and have consequences for a variety of population-level processes, including how information is transmitted between individuals. In this talk, I will present results from experimental and observation studies on animal cognition and social behavior, with the goal of addressing the causes and the consequences of these selective connections. In particular, I will show that there are dynamic relationships between social connections and information transmission, and that these dynamics are driven by selective attention and selective communication. For example, when faced with a novel foraging task, the members of a primate species (ring-tailed lemur) and a bird species (common raven) observed and learned from the group members with whom they shared strong social bonds (bonds were quantified based on affiliative behaviors such as grooming before experiments started). Intriguingly, the individuals who were frequently observed while solving the task received more affiliative behaviors after the experiment than they did before. This suggests that individuals who successfully learn and use novel about their environment become valuable social partners, who then become highly connected when group members preferentially interact with them. Hence, social connections can both influence and be influenced by information transmission, leading to a feedback-based dynamic relationship between the two. Furthermore, social connections also influence communication patterns; for example, lemurs preferentially respond to the vocalizations of the group members with whom they share strong social bonds. Overall, these relationships between selective attention, communication, and social connections have the potential to change our understanding of social evolution, including how selection acts on behavior, and how sociality influences population-level processes such as the spread and the persistence of novel behaviors.


I am a biologist who is driven by the desire to understand animal behavior by exploring their social behavior, communication, and cognition. I earned my Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Sciences with honors from Stanford University, my Master of Science from the University of Arizona, and my Ph.D. from Princeton University. After obtaining my Ph.D., I completed a postdoc at University College Cork and I am now at the University of Notre Dame. I enjoy pursuing question-driven research, and this approach has allowed me to work with a wide range of taxa including insects (bumblebees and butterfly species), birds (Florida scrub-jays, ravens, crows, great tits, blue tits, and peacocks), and mammals (ring-tailed lemurs, savannah baboons, rhesus monkeys, and wolves) in multiple continents including Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. In addition to animal behavior, I am completely fascinated with astronomy and astrobiology, and was a research associate at SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center. Also, I am the founder and the editor of “Animal Cognition Network”, which includes an extensive bibliography of scientific evidence on animal minds and emotions. My interests include spending time with animals, nature and wildlife photography, equestrian sports, and outdoor sports. More information can be found on my website

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