Biologist Dorothy Cheney Elected to National Academy of Sciences

Professor of Biology Dorothy Cheney has been elected as a member by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in recognition of her distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. Membership in the NAS is considered one of the highest honors a scientist can receive. The NAS membership totals approximately 2,250 members and nearly 440 foreign associates, of whom approximately 200 have received Nobel prizes.

Cheney’s research uses long-term observational field studies to examine the communication and social behavior of non-human primates. She and research partner Robert Seyfarth, a psychology professor at Penn, are currently studying free-ranging baboons in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. They previously worked with vervet monkeys in Amboseli National Park in Kenya, focusing on the semantic content of alarm, inter-group, and within-group calls. Through the use of playback experiments, they investigated how monkeys perceive and classify their vocalizations. Their research also explored kin recognition, reciprocity, and knowledge of other species’ behavior. They continue to focus on many of these issues in their work with baboons.

Cheney and Seyfarth aim to clarify the differences between nonhuman primate communication and human language and to explore the adaptive value of primate social relationships, as well as the cognitive mechanisms that underlie them. They have coauthored the book Baboon Metaphysics and many papers. 

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