Aggression and social support predict long-term cortisol levels in captive tufted capuchin monkeys (Cebus [Sapajus] apella)

Am J Primatol. 2019 Jul;81(7):e23001. doi: 10.1002/ajp.23001. Epub 2019 Jun 10.


Many nonhuman primates live in complex social groups in which they regularly encounter both social stressors such as aggression and social support such as that provided by long-term affiliative relationships. Repeated exposure to social stressors may result in chronically elevated cortisol levels that can have deleterious physical effects such as impaired immune function, cardiovascular disease, and reduced brain function. In contrast, affiliative social relationships may act as a buffer, dampening the release of cortisol in response to acute and chronic stressors. Understanding how social stressors and social support predict cortisol levels is therefore essential to understanding how social situations relate to health and welfare. We studied this relationship in 16 socially housed captive brown capuchin monkeys (Cebus [Sapajus] apella) by comparing long-term hair cortisol levels with behavioral measures of social stress (dominance rank, rank certainty, and amount of aggression received) and social support (amount of affiliation and centrality in the affiliative social network of the group). Dominance rank, rank certainty, amount of affiliation, and age were not significant predictors of long-term cortisol levels in this population. Instead, long-term cortisol levels were positively related to the amount of aggression received and negatively related to centrality in the affiliative social network of the group. This pattern may be attributed to the species' socially tolerant dominance system and to the availability of social support across the dominance hierarchy.

Keywords: hair cortisol; information centrality; social network analysis; stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Female
  • Hair / chemistry
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis*
  • Male
  • Sapajus / physiology*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Dominance


  • Hydrocortisone