Julia Fischer, head of the Cognitive Ethology Laboratory at the German Primate Center, is one of three senior scientists who will be working with her department on a new research project of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). The research group titled "Relativity in Social Cognition: Antecedents and Consequences of Comparative Thinking" will bring together social psychologists from the University of Cologne and behavioral scientist of the university of Vienna and the German Primate Center. The researchers aim to find out more about the evolutionary origin of social comparisons: Behavioral observations in cynomolgus monkeys (Macaca fascicularis) and corvids as well as comparisons with the behavior of human test subjects, should provide information as to whether social comparisons with conspecifics is detectable in other species with a complex social life. Spokesperson for the research group is Thomas Mussweiler of the University of Cologne.
People constantly compare themselves with their fellow humans: Am I more beautiful, more intelligent, more successful than my neighbor? Surely, everyone is familiar with similar questions from their own life. Such social comparative processes are a fundamental feature of human behavior, its underlying psychological mechanisms and processes have therefore been researched extensively over the past decades. In comparison, relatively little research has been conducted on the evolutionary foundations of social comparisons. The new group of researchers will therefore find out whether this is also found in animals that live in complex social societies. Indications of such evidence have already been revealed in studies with primates.
Therefore the scientists of the new research group plan to combine a systematic, comparative approach with experimental paradigms from the social psychology with behavior biological methods. They want to test how the performance of one animal affects the performance of another animal. Julia Fischer will conduct these comparisons at the German Primate Center with cynomolgus monkeys (Macaca fascicularis). The Asian macaques are particularly skillful in social tasks, which makes them ideal models for comparative research. In the planned experiments, the animals will solve tasks on a touch screen computer, simultaneously hearing how successful an animal in a cage next to them is in dealing with the same tasks. The primatologists will specifically investigate how the social relations and the social status of the animals within their group and previous priming of attention to similarities or differences affect the social comparison process.