My main research area is 'comparative-developmental psychology' which involves the study of human and non-human primate behaviour based on frameworks drawn from developmental and evolutionary psychology. I am particularly interested in Social Intelligence and much of my research to date has focused on complex forms of social learning such as imitation. Before coming to Goldsmiths I conducted experiments on the imitation of arbitrary gestures by young chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Also in collaboration with a number of colleagues, I designed an 'artificial fruit' processing task which has, so far, been presented to human children and adults (Homo sapiens), chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), gorillas (Gorilla gorilla), orang-utans (Pongo pygmaeus), pig-tailed macaques (Macaca nemestrina), laboratory-raised and hand-raised tufted capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella), common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus), and even the giant New Zealand parrot, the kea (Nestor notables).
More recently, I have conducted research in Zoo Atlanta on program-level imitation in orang-utans. I was also funded by The British Academy to visit Berenty Reserve in Madagascar for three months to study the effect of social dynamics on social transmission in wild ring-tailed lemurs.
In a relatively new research area for me, I have embarked upon an ESRC funded research project on object-directed imitation in children with autism.
Finally, I have pursued a quite different line of research on the dog-human bond. Along with a group of Italian colleagues and my postgraduate student, Robyn Palmer, we used Ainsworth’s strange situation procedure to investigate whether the dog-human bond is consistent with infantile attachment.
Whiten, Andrew and Custance, Deborah M.. 1996. Studies of imitation in chimpanzees and children. In: Cecilia M. Heyes and Bennett G. Galef, eds. Social learning in animals. The roots of culture. San Diego, USA: Academic Press, pp. 291-318. ISBN 0122739655
Custance, Deborah M.; Mayer, Jennifer L.; Kumar, Emmelianna; Hill, Elisabeth L. and Heaton, Pam F.. 2014. Do Children With Autism Re-Enact Object Movements Rather Than Imitate Demonstrator Actions? Autism Research, 7(1), pp. 28-39. ISSN 1939-3792
Custance, Deborah M. and Mayer, Jennifer. 2012. Empathic-like responding by domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) to distress in humans: An exploratory study. Animal Cognition, 15(5), pp. 851-859. ISSN 1435-9448
Custance, Deborah M.; Swami, Viren; Henderson, Grant and Tovée, Martin J.. 2011. A Cross-Cultural Investigation of Men’s Judgments of Female Body Weight in Britain and Indonesia. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 42(1), pp. 140-145. ISSN 0022-0221
Custance, Deborah M.; Kendal, Rachel L.; Kendal, Jeremy R.; Vale, Gillian; Stoinski, Tara S.; Rakotomalala, Nirina Lalaina and Rasamimanana, Hantanirina. 2010. Evidence for social learning in wild lemurs (Lemur catta). Learning & Behavior, 38(3), pp. 220-234. ISSN 1543-4494
Custance, Deborah M. and Palmer, Robyn. 2008. A counterbalanced version of Ainsworth's Strange Situation Procedure reveals secure-base effects in dog-human relationships. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 109(2-4), pp. 306-319. ISSN 0168-1591
Custance, Deborah M.; Prato Previde, E.; Spiezio, C. and Rigamonti, M.. 2006. Social Learning in Pig-Tailed Macaques (Macaca nemestrina) and Adult Humans (Homo sapiens) on a Two-Action Artificial Fruit. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 120(3), pp. 303-313. ISSN 07357036
Custance, Deborah M.; Prato Previde, E. and Spiezio, C.. 2005. Testing for localized stimulus enhancement and object movement re-enactment in pig-tailed macaques (Macaca nemestrina) and young children (Homo sapiens). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 119(3), pp. 257-272. ISSN 07357036
Custance, Deborah M.; Whiten, A.; Sambrook, T. and Galdikas, B.. 2001. Testing for social learning in the artificial fruit processing of wildborn orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus), Tanjung Puting, Indonesia. Animal Cognition, 4(3-4), pp. 305-313. ISSN 14359448
Custance, Deborah M.; Whiten, Andrew and Fredman, Tamar. 1999. Social learning of an artificial fruit task in capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 113(1), pp. 13-23. ISSN 0735-7036
Whiten, Andrew; Custance, Deborah M.; Gomez, Juan-Carlos; Teixidor, Patricia and Bard, Kim. 1996. Imitative learning of artificial fruit processing in children (Homo sapiens) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 110(1), pp. 3-14. ISSN 0735-7036
Custance, Deborah M.; Whiten, Andrew and Bard, Kim. 1995. Can young chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) imitate arbitrary actions? Hayes & Hayes (1952) revisited. Behaviour, 132(11/12), 837 -859. ISSN 0005-7959