November 28, 2012

Primate Behavior Speaker Series Q&A with Kevin Hunt

An orangutan - photo courtesy of Michael Muehlenbein
Professor Kevin Hunt of the IU Department of Anthropology is a co-organizer for Themester's Primate Behavior lecture series, along with Professor Michael Muehlenbein. The series was comprised of seven events throughout the semester, with its two final speakers Karen Strier of the University of Wisconsin speaking Nov. 28 and Rob Shumaker of the Indianapolis Zoo speaking Dec. 5. Here, Professor Hunt discusses the series and its relationship to Good Behavior, Bad Behavior.

Why did you decide to organize a lecture series on primate behavior? How did you choose speakers to invite?
It is relatively recently that Michael Muehlenbein was hired giving us two primatologists on the faculty.  We thought we would celebrate that important event by spotlighting primatology at IU by bringing in guest speakers. We looked for primatologists who were doing interesting work that was in the news or widely discussed in the field.

How will the series appeal to students outside of the sciences?
Animal behavior in general, but primatology in particular, appeals to a broad audience because it often sheds light on human behavior and human society.

Are primates sentient of their decisions to exhibit “good” or “bad” behavior?
Rarely.  Some primates have a sense of guilt, I would guess (nobody knows for sure) when they behave in ways they know will be unexpected in their social group, but my opinion is that experiencing the feeling that they're behaving 'badly' is unusual in primates, except for humans.

A macaque - photo courtesy of Michael Muehlenbein

What have you learned about primates in your career that is most surprising?
When we look for human-like traits in primates, their presence is dispersed across the order; our closest relatives aren't always the primate that most closely expresses human-like traits.  

For more information on this speaker series, please visit 


Rebecca Kimberly
Themester 2012 Intern

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