Date of Thesis

Spring 2023


Social context alters cognitive performance, but the mechanisms for this remain unclear. One possibility is that stressors associated with social contexts mediate changes in cognitive performance by influencing attention. We conducted two experiments to investigate how social context affects performance on an attention task in capuchin monkeys (Cebus [Sapajus] apella). We additionally validated and measured physiological stress through salivary cortisol. In experiment one, capuchins were exposed to three conditions where they were either isolated or paired with an affiliative or agonistic social partner separated by a barrier. In experiment two, subjects received affiliative and agonistic conditions without barriers to allow for physical contact. Following a period of social interaction or isolation, subjects were tested on an attention task. Saliva samples were collected and analyzed for cortisol levels. We analyzed the relationship between social condition, attention performance, and salivary cortisol levels. In experiment one and two, neither attention performance nor cortisol differed significantly across the social conditions. However, there was a significant interaction between condition and cortisol on attention performance in both experiments. In experiment one, this interaction was driven by a significant negative correlation between cortisol and attention performance in the isolation condition; this relationship was not present in either social condition. In experiment two, the interaction was driven by a non-significant positive relationship between cortisol and attention performance in the affiliative condition only. These results imply a potential role of cortisol in attention performance that is context specific, and highlight the importance of including social contexts in cognitive studies.


Cognitive Performance, Stress, Affiliative, Agonistic, Social Partners

Access Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Type

Master of Science


Animal Behavior

First Advisor

Reggie Paxton Gazes

Second Advisor

Morgan Benowitz-Fredericks

Available for download on Friday, May 08, 2026