Defensive behaviors in infant rhesus monkeys: ontogeny and context-dependent selective expression

Child Dev. 1991 Oct;62(5):1175-83.


We examined the ontogeny of the infant rhesus monkey's defensive behaviors and the ability to modulate them in response to specific environmental cues. Rhesus infants in 4 age groups (N = 8 per group) were briefly separated from their mothers and tested under 3 conditions: alone, in the presence of a human who averted his gaze, and in the presence of a human staring at them. Infants as young as 0 to 2 weeks displayed defensive behaviors but did not selectively respond to the human's presence or direction of gaze. By 9 to 12 weeks of age, infants modulated their responses in relation to the parameters of the threat. At this age, infant rhesus monkeys undergo cognitive and emotional changes associated with brain development similar to those in human infants 7 to 12 months old. This also is the time when human infants engage in complex emotional and behavioral responses to threatening situations. Understanding the development and expression of defensive behaviors in infant monkeys should be applicable to similar issues in emotional development of human infants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aging / psychology*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn / psychology
  • Arousal*
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Social Environment*