Behavioral Biology and Ecology

At Emory, a strong focus on the study of behavior draws on multiple levels of explanation, from the ultimate (in evolutionary, comparative terms) to the proximate (in terms of motivation and developmental effects). Grounded in hypothesis-driven studies of animal behavior and the theory of kin selection, a substantial wave of empirical work arose with the advent of the field of sociobiology. More recently, behavioral ecology has emerged as a sophisticated empirical endeavor that includes fine-grained field studies which examine behavior in relation to fitness parameters such as age at maturity, reproductive success, and mortality. At the same time, the rise of neuroscience and of behavioral endocrinology has greatly enlarged our understanding of motivation and cognition. New studies link field to laboratory settings as endocrine, neurobiological, and microbiological data are used to investigate the reproductive and physiological costs and benefits of behavioral tactics and strategies and their relation to ecological pressures. Graduate training in anthropology at Emory offers a multi-leveled and integrative approach to the study of behavior, health, and reproduction that links motivational, developmental, and evolutionary perspectives.

While all of these scientific approaches to the study of behavior are actively pursued in a number of programs at Emory, anthropology occupies a central position in Emory's several initiatives to integrate them. At many universities, these levels of analysis - ultimate vs. proximate - are separated along disciplinary or intra-disciplinary lines, affording little cross-talk among them. With its commitment to multidisciplinary integration our Department fosters an approach to the study of behavior that is multi-level, non reductionist, and committed to theoretically - informed empirical rigor. Our ethos also emphasizes a "real world" side to this work, in terms of the following:

  1. implications of evolutionary analysis of human history for understanding human behavior and health today;
  2. implications of evolved constraints on human behavior and biology for feasibility of public policy alternatives;
  3. impact of social change in human behavior on both mental and physical health. 

Faculty with interests in the areas of behavioral biology and ecology in the Anthropology Department include James Rilling (primate behavioral biology) and Carol WorthmanCraig Hadley, Mel Konner (human behavioral ecology) Adrian Jaeggi and Jessica Thompson. Other faculty members in Anthropology with a strong interest in human evolution include Dietrich Stout.

Other programs at Emory with researchers who study these topics include the Departments of PsychologyEnvironmental Studies, and Neuroscience, the Rollins School of Public Health, and the Yerkes Primate Center.