Nonhuman primates – prosimians, monkeys and apes - represent the best animal models to trace back the evolutionary origins of human behavior and cognition. This course aims at exploring the current knowledge on multiple aspects of non-human and human primate behavior from a comparative perspective.

Main aims of the course are: to familiarize students with primate models in behavioral and cognitive research; encourage students to understand the advantages and challenges of using nonhuman primates as animal models to investigate the evolutionary origins of human behavior; to promote the students’ understanding of human behavior and of its evolutionary origins in a comparative perspective, examining both the traits that are considered uniquely human and those that are shared with other primates. The students will acquire knowledge on the most recent research on the evolutionary origins of human behavior. The course will emphasize conceptual, methodological, empirical, and ethical aspects of research on nonhuman primates. Students will be encouraged to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of observational vs. experimental research, in captivity vs. in natural conditions. Students will be familiarized with the concepts of controllability of variables, replicability of findings, and ecological validity of results, and will be encouraged to discuss the scientific and ethical issues concerning research on nonhuman primates and to critically evaluate the scientific literature, in order to promote their capacity to formulate testable hypotheses and develop effective protocols for data collection and analysis. Some basic knowledge of psychology, psychobiology, and evolutionary biology is required. 

EVALUATION: Oral exam will consist of a powerpoint presentation of a review article chosen by the student (but previously agreed on with the instructor) and questions proposed by the instructor on the basis of the lessons and the scientific literature provided.