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Origin Stories Episode 06: Being a Nice Animal

Origin Stories

For our sixth episode we have the first in a collection of stories looking at human behavior and how it’s been shaped by evolution.  Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth share their research on the baboon mind.

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Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth study the communication and social behavior of wild non-human primates. They received their PhDs from Cambridge University, and since 1985 they have held positions at the University of Pennsylvania. Cheney is a professor of biology and Seyfarth is a professor of psychology.

Baboons grooming together. Photo courtesy of Robert Seyfarth.

In this episode, they tell us about their long-term (1992-2008) study of free-ranging baboons in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. As with other primates, kinship and rank are tremendously important to these baboons. However, in this sophisticated society, there seems to be a certain attentiveness, perhaps an obsession with other individuals’ relationships, including individuals from other species! Does this behavior help them to form bonds, maintain them, and form strategic alliances with others? Is this similar to how humans create social bonds and alliances? Humans may understand that having close relationships with others can contribute to our ability to reproduce and survive, but does this apply to baboons? If so, what role does personality play in their survival?

Listen and learn how these field researchers have approached these and other questions about how natural selection shapes the primate mind.

Thank you to Robert Seyfarth and Dorothy Cheney.

This show is a project of The Leakey Foundation. You can help fund this podcast and the research we talk about by making a gift to The Leakey Foundation. If you give now, your donation will be doubled! Click here!


Robert Seyfarth and Dorothy Cheney’s website
Book:  Baboon Metaphysics
How Baboons Think (Yes, Think)New York Times


Produced by Meredith Johnson
Edited by Audrey Quinn
Original music and scoring by Henry Nagle
Production help from Schuyler Swenson

Sponsors: Being Human and the Baumann Foundation
Adept Word Management

I [name], of [city, state ZIP], bequeath the sum of $[ ] or [ ] percent of my estate to L.S.B. Leakey Foundation for Research Related to Man’s Origins, Behavior & Survival, (dba The Leakey Foundation), a nonprofit organization with a business address of 1003B O’Reilly Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94129 and a tax identification number 95-2536475 for its unrestricted use and purpose.

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