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Dr. Catherine Crockford

Independent Research Group Leader &
Director of Research, Head of Ape Social Mind Lab, Institute of Cognitive Sciences, CNRS, Lyon

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Department of Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture
Deutscher Platz 6
D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

phone: +49 341 3550 220
e-mail: crockforeva.mpgde


Research Interests

Research Interests

Together with Roman Wittig, I co-direct the Tai Chimpanzee Project, Tai National Park, Ivory Coast, which currently has three habituated chimpanzee groups with a fourth under habituation, as well as one habituated sooty mangabey group. This is a dynamic group encompassing topics ranging from behavioural ecology and conservation to psychology and health and disease.

Together with my research group, I investigate questions related to the evolution of sociality, social cognition, communication and the brain. I examine these from a) comparative and b) developmental perspectives addressing questions of a) sociality, health and fitness; b) maternal effects on the development of sociality, cognition and communication; c) species and individual variation in communication and cognition and correlated neural correlates. I use long-term data sets of behavioural observations, non-invasive hormone sampling and field experiments to address these questions in chimpanzees and other wild primates, including bonobos, baboons and sooty mangabeys. In terms of the evolution of sociality, we examine underlying physiological and cognitive mechanisms that may explain links between stress, social bonds and cooperation, between non-kin as well as kin.

ERC project: The influence of early life experience on later social skills in chimpanzee

Social bonding success in life impacts on health, survival and fitness. It is proposed that early and later social experience as well as heritable factors determine social bonding abilities in adulthood, although the relative influence of each is unclear. In humans, the resulting uncertainty likely impedes psychological and psychiatric assessment and therapy. One problem hampering progress for human studies is that social bonding success is hard to objectively quantify, particularly in adults. I propose to directly address this problem by determining the key influences on social bonding abilities in chimpanzees, our closest living relative, where social bonding success can be objectively quantified, and variation in underlying hormonal and cognitive mechanisms can be examined.

We assimilate behavioural, non-invasively sampled hormonal and genetic data from five wild chimpanzee communities across two subspecies with the aim to assess the impact mothers have on offspring development and on their offspring’s future adult life, for example we test the impact of post-weaning maternal loss on offspring behaviour, hormones and reproductive success.


Current Lab Members

Post doctoral Researchers
  • Dr. Cedric Gerard-Buttoz: Primate vocal complexity - in collaboration with the Evolution of Brain Connectivity Project
  • Dr. Patrick Tkaczynski: Maternal influence on offspring sociality and underlying hormones.
  • Sylvain Lemoine: Intergroup spacing and relationships between four neighbouring
    chimpanzee communities.
PhD Students
  • Tatiana Bortolato: Development of chimpanzee vocal sequences.
  • Clement Gba: Food competition in male and female mangabeys.
  • Mathieu Malherbe: Tool use variation across communities.
  • Mathilde Grampp: Social complexity & Behaviour in Mangabeys & Chimpanzees.
  • Virgile Manin: Sociality, hormones and health, together with SoHapi.
  • Prince Valé: Energy consumption and usage in wild chimpanzees.
  • Oscar Node-Langlois: Maternal care and the development of and affiliative interactions and the oxytocinergic system in chimpanzees.
  • Eleonore Rolland: Influence of mothering style on offspring attachment.
  • Veterinary Staff: Tobias Graessle, Jenny Jaffe, Jorge Gomez Fortun.
  • Post docs, Isaac Schamberg, Pawel Fedurek, Ruth Sonnweber, Natali Uomini, Aisha Bruendl, Kathrin Kopp.
  • PhDs: Alex Mielke, Liran Samuni, Anna Preis, Sylvain Lemoine.

Current collaborations

  • Alfred Anwander, Neuropyschology Dept, MPI Human Cognitive & Brain Sciences, Leipzig
  • Jacinta Beehner, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA
  • Thore Bergman, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA
  • Tobias Deschner, Head of Field Endocrinology Laboratory, primatology department, MPI EVA.
  • Claudia Fichtel, German Primate Center, Göttingen, Germany.
  • Angela Friederici, Director of Neuropyschology Dept, MPI Human Cognitive & Brain Sciences, Leipzig
  • Daniel Haun, Director Leipzig Research Center for Child Development, University of Leipzig.
  • Esther Herrmann, Group leader, Psychology Department, MPI EVA.
  • Gottfried Hohmann, Director of Lui Khotale Bonobo Field Site, Congo, and Group leader, primatology department, MPI EVA.
  • Sven Grawunder, Keele University.
  • Philipp Gunz, Human Evolution Dept, MPI EVA, Leipzig
  • Peter Kappeler, German Primate Center, Göttingen, Germany.
  • Lydia Lunz, Oxford University, Oxford, UK
  • Alex Mielke, Oxford University, Oxford, UK
  • Markus Morawski, Paul Flechsig Institute of Brain Research, Leipzig.
  • Kevin Langergraber, Anthropology Department, Arizona State University.
  • Fabian Leendertz, Group leader, Epidemiology of highly infectious diseases, Robert Koch Institute, Berlin.
  • Richard McElreath, Director of Human Behavioural Ecology Department, MPI EVA.
  • Julia Ostner, German Primate Center, Göttingen, Germany.
  • Liran Samuni, Harvard University, Boston, USA
  • Oliver Schülke, German Primate Center, Göttingen, Germany.
  • Steve Smith, Konrad Lorenz Institute for Ethology, University of veterinary medicine, Vienna.
  • Martin Surbeck, Harvard University, Boston, USA.
  • Linda Vigilant, Group leader, Molecular Genetics Lab, primatology department, MPI EVA.
  • Nik Weiskopf, Director of Neurophysics Dept, MPI Human Cognitive & Brain Sciences, Leipzig 
  • Klaus Zuberbühler, Biology Department, University of Neuchatel.


Press review on publications


Taï Chimpanzee Projects News on twitter



Nature Communications has published: Wittig, R.M., Crockford, C. et al. "Social support reduces stress hormone levels in wild chimpanzees across stressful events and everyday affiliations"
Supplementary Video

Portrait & General Reports

Gaidos S. Furry Friends Forever: Humans aren’t the only animals who benefit from having someone to count on. 2012. 181: 18-21

Science Magazine, 2 April 2010: Talking chimp to chimp – Review of our work in Budongo Forest Uganda

Scientific Commentary

Nature, 18 September 2014: Animal Behaviour: The evolutionary roots of lethal aggression. Commentary by Joan B. Silk (PDF)

Nature, 17 April 2014: Evolutionary Biology: Dating chimpanzees. Commentary by M. Haslam (PDF)

Current Biology, 24 January 2012: Animal Cognition: Chimpanzee alarm calls depend on what others know. Commentary by Robert M. Seyfarth & Dorothy L. Cheney (PDF)

Current Biology, 10 August 2010: Primatology: “A faithful friend is the medicine of life”. Commentray by Susan C. Alberts (PDF)

Press Review of Specific Papers

Vocalizing in chimpanzees is influenced by social-cognitive processes. Science Advances, 3(11): e1701742. November 2017
Nature (link), Scientific American (link), Newsweek (link), New York Times (link), LA times (link), The Verge (link)

Social support reduces stress hormone levels in wild chimpanzees across stressful events and everyday affiliations'. Nature Communications 7, 13361
New Scientist(link), Newsweek (link), LA Times (link), Mail Online (link)

Lethal aggression in Pan is better explained by adaptive strategies than human impacts. Nature, 2014. 17 Sep 2014: Die Welt (PDF). 18 Sep 2014: AAAS News (PDF), New York Times (PDF), BBC News (PDF).

Triadic social interactions operate across time: a field experiment with wild chimpanzees. Proceedings of the Royal Society London B, 2014. 6 Jan 2014: SCINEXX (PDF), Weser Kurier (PDF)

Food sharing is linked to urinary oxytocin levels and bonding in related and unrelated wild chimpanzees. Proceedings of the Royal Society London B, 2014. 15 Jan 2014: Washington Post (PDF), Daily Mail (PDF), Tagesspiegel (PDF), Die Welt (PDF).

Urinary oxytocin and social bonding in related and unrelated wild chimpanzees. Proceedings of the Royal Society London B, 2013. 23 Jan 13: BBC Nature (PDF), Der Spiegel (PDF), 25 Jan 13: Leipziger Volkszeitung (PDF)

Wild chimpanzees inform ignorant group members of danger. Current Biology, 2012.
29 Dec 11: BBC Nature (PDF), The Guardian (PDF), Wiener Zeitung (PDF); 30 Dec 11: Bild der Wissenschaft (PDF), Hamburger Abendblatt (PDF), Süddeutsche Zeitung (PDF), USA Today (PDF); 4 Jan 12: Neue Züricher Zeitung (PDF)

The benefit of social capital: Close social bonds among female baboons enhance offspring survival. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 2009. 
10 July 09 The Guardian (PDF)


* joint first author
ǂ joint senior author

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Crockford C. & Lesser, R. (1992). Assessing functional communication in aphasia: clinical utility and time demands of three methods. European Journal of Communication Disorders. 29:165-182.