I study animals and their sociality. The profound arrogance of our own species requires research that highlights the manifold ways in which we are not 'special,' broadening out from the human experience to recognize the interconnectedness amongst all living beings. Much of my work to date has focused on post-conflict behavior, and specifically resolution strategies like reconciliation that mitigate aggression and other conflicts-of-interest (an inevitable consequence of social life). My most recent research centers on consolation, which is considered a key behavioral marker of socio-emotional capacities like empathy. More specifically, I'm interested in comparative developmental approaches to the study of consolation behavior, results of which often challenge prevailing assumptions about the expression of empathy within and across species. Simultaneously, I have a deep and growing passion for animal ethics, human-animal relations, and the role of ethology (and science more broadly) in the animal turn.
📍I am currently a College Fellow in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University.
I also hold a Visiting Scholar appointment in the Animal Ecology and Welfare Group at Utrecht University.
My 3 main lines of research:
My doctoral research focused on underlying individual motivations for conflict and post-conflict behavior in chimpanzees and humans. I believe that patterns of reconciliation provide unique information concerning individuals and relationships that traditional measures (e.g., of social personality and social bond strength) do not capture. One overarching question is whether the rarity of conflict, or the strategic management and resolution of conflict once it has occurred, is more predictive of successful relationships and thereby (individual) fitness. Currently my work in this area focuses on wild chacma baboons in collaboration with the Tsaobis Baboon Project in Namibia.
Photo of L-troop (and me) on baboon hill, courtesy of Elise Huchard
For many organisms, empathy is a key component of what it means to be 'social.' I employ comparative developmental approaches to study empathy's behavioral manifestations towards other group members, which can help address broader theoretical and philosophical questions about empathy's role in building better societies. At present, my main research assesses sex, age, and individual differences in consolation and other empathy-driven behaviors, including a large-scale species comparison between chimpanzees at Chimfunshi wildlife orphanage in Zambia and bonobos at Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary in DRC.
Photo of Little Jane and Little Joey, courtesy of Jake Brooker
Animal behavior science generates evidence on which animal ethical argumentation rests. However, rarely do scientists engage actively with debates concerning animal moral status. My growing interest in animal ethics and philosophy continually challenges aspects of my 'traditional' scientific training—which favored mechanistic accounts of animals' lives, thereby downplaying their rich mental and emotional worlds. Rethinking divides between subjective vs. objective, human vs. animal, and the "two cultures," I aim to counter notions of human exceptionalism and contribute to an interdisciplinary de-centering of humans' position in the natural order.
Oil rendition of 'Lucas the Leopard,' courtesy of Mom
Webb, C.E., Woodford, P., & Huchard, E. (2020). The study that made rats jump for joy, and then killed them. BioEssays, 42(6): 2000030.
Franks, B., Webb, C., Gagliano, M., & Smuts, B. (2020). Conventional science will not do justice to nonhuman interests: A fresh approach is required. Commentary on Treves et al. on 'Just Preservation.' Animal Sentience, 27(17): 1-5.
Goldsborough, Z., van Leeuwen, E.J.C., Kolff, K., de Waal., F.B.M., & Webb, C.E. (2019). Do chimpanzees console a bereaved mother? Primates, 61(1): 93-102.
Webb, C.E., Woodford, P., & Huchard, E. (2019). Animal ethics and behavioral science: An overdue discussion? BioScience, 69(10): 778-788. [Editor's Choice]
Webb, C.E.*, Baniel, A.*, Cowlishaw, G., & Huchard, E. (2019). Friend or foe: Reconciliation between males and females in wild chacma baboons. Animal Behaviour, 151: 145-155.
Webb, C.E. & de Waal, F.B.M. (2018). Situating the study of jealousy within a relational context. Commentary on Cook et al. on 'Dog Jealousy.' Animal Sentience, 22(22): 1-5.
Webb, C.E., Romero, T., Franks, B. & de Waal, F.B.M. (2017). Long-term consistency in chimpanzee consolation behaviour reflects empathetic personalities. Nature Communications, 8(292): 1-8.
Webb, C.E., Rossignac-Milon, M. & Higgins, E.T. (2017). Stepping forward together: Could walking facilitate interpersonal conflict resolution? American Psychologist, 72(4): 374-385.
Webb, C.E., Coleman, P. T., Rossignac-Milon, M., Tomasulo, S.J. & Higgins, E.T. (2017). Moving on or digging deeper: Regulatory mode and interpersonal conflict resolution. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 112(4): 621-641.
Webb, C.E. & Verbeek, P. (2016). Individual differences in aggressive and peaceful behavior: New insights and future directions. Behaviour, 153: 1139-1169.
Webb, C.E., Franks, B., Romero, T., Higgins, E.T. & de Waal, F.B.M. (2014). Individual differences in chimpanzee reconciliation relate to social switching behaviour. Animal Behaviour, 90: 57-63.
Plotnik, J.M., Pokorny, J.J., Keratimanochaya, T., Webb, C.E. et al. (2013). Visual cues given by humans are not sufficient for Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) to find hidden food. PLoS One, 8(4): e61174.
Pokorny, J.J., Webb, C.E., & de Waal, F.B.M. (2011). Capuchin monkeys show specialized face processing with an inversion effect modified by expertise. Animal Cognition, 14(6): 839-846.
*joint first authors
Upcoming / past courses
Coexistence in Crisis
The Arrogant Ape
Introduction to Psychology
University College Utrecht
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