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Leibniz Science Campus Primate Cognition enters the second round

The research network jointly established by the German Primate Center and the University of Göttingen will be funded for further four years after successful evaluation
Guinea baboons at the DPZ field station Simenti in Senegal. Photo: Matthias Klapproth
Berber monkey man. Photo: Dana Pfefferle
Berber monkey man. Photo: Dana Pfefferle
The new experimental platform makes it possible to test social interactions between two people separated by a transparent screen. Touchscreens register each touch on the screen, while sensors record the direction of gaze, facial expressions, gestures, heartbeat and utterances of the test persons. Photo: DPZ
The new experimental platform makes it possible to test social interactions between two people separated by a transparent screen. Touchscreens register each touch on the screen, while sensors record the direction of gaze, facial expressions, gestures, heartbeat and utterances of the test persons. Photo: DPZ
Prof. Dr. Julia Fischer, spokeswoman of the Leibniz Science Campus Primate Cognition. Photo: Karin Tilch
Prof. Dr. Julia Fischer, spokeswoman of the Leibniz Science Campus Primate Cognition. Photo: Karin Tilch

The enforced "social distancing" in Corona times reminds us of the role social life plays for us. The same applies to our closest relatives, the non-human primates. But how do primates control their social relationships? What do they pay attention to, what significance do emotions have, which brain processes control interactions, and how are social decisions made? Since 2015, the Leibniz-WissenschaftsCampus Primate Cognition has been addressing these and other questions about the social life of humans and apes. 

"The idea behind the ScienceCampi is to strengthen local cooperation between Leibniz institutes and universities," says Julia Fischer. As a professor at the University of Göttingen and head of department at the German Primate Center (DPZ) - Leibniz Institute for Primate Research, she heads the ScienceCampus. "We have been very successful in this integration right from the start; today, field researchers, neuroscientists, psychologists, medical doctors and linguists are involved".

Interdisciplinary projects are very demanding and often have a hard time getting started. "We have therefore tried to fill a gap and developed our own funding programme. Our members can apply for start-up funding as a team; we support the most promising projects," explains Hannes Rakoczy, developmental psychologist at the university and, together with Julia Fischer, on the Science Campus Board. "The concept is bearing fruit: The reviewers were impressed by the cooperative and interdisciplinary spirit we were able to establish in Göttingen; our funding programme has initiated a large number of new cooperations".

Another important aspect for the Göttingen scientists and scholars is the expansion of the jointly used infrastructure. Thus, the Science Campus invested in the new development of state-of-the-art experimental platforms. "Our platforms make it possible to experimentally investigate social interactions of apes and humans with hitherto unattained accuracy and data diversity," reports Stefan Treue. As Director of the German Primate Center and member of the Science Campus, he has been involved in this development from the very beginning. "The reviewers confirm that we have created an excellent scientific environment; the research programme and the existing infrastructure were rated as unique."

In a competition of 21 locations, nine institutions, including the Göttingen Science Campus, came out on top. Fischer sees the renewed success in a high-calibre competition as recognition and incentive: "We can build on our varied preliminary work. In the next four years, we want to push ahead with the integration of data sciences; only by looking at our questions from different angles will we be able to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the social behaviour and intelligence of primates".