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Our Mission & Approach

We are trying to understand the evolutionary and developmental bases for communication in humans. The nervous system is an important component of these processes but not the controlling component; it must act in concert with (and is often constrained by) the components of the body during development. Understanding this interaction between the brain and biomechanics as they build scaffolds for developmental changes in behavior is what we call "developmental neuromechanics".

Using animal models is one of the best ways to uncover the basic neural mechanisms of complex behaviors by allowing direct measurements of neural activity and changes in the body (e.g., respiration, muscle activity, heart rate, the skeleton, etc.). In our lab, we use primate model systems who naturally exhibit (i.e, without extensive training) communication behaviors that are similar to ours. This approach allows us to determine the evolutionary origins of these behaviors, but more importantly it gives us insights into what may go awry in disorders of human communication.

Our lab operates at the interface of neuroscience, developmental biology, morphology and evolution. We study how social communication emerges through the dynamic interactions between neural systems, the body, pre- and post-natal experience and socioecological context. Our comparative approach includes studying macaque monkeys (Macaca fascicularis & M. mulatta), marmosets (Callithrix jacchus), and humans. We use a variety of techniques to address our questions, including electrophysiology, electromyography, eye tracking, computer animation, morphometry, ultrasonography, field work and psychophysics.

Our work is funded by the NIH's National Institute for Neurological Disorders & Stroke, Autism Speaks, the National Science Foundation and the James S. McDonnell Foundation.