Dr Deborah Custance

Staff details

Position Senior Lecturer in Psychology
Department Psychology
Email d.custance (@gold.ac.uk)
Phone +44 (0)20 7919 7897
Dr Deborah Custance

Summary of research

Developmental-comparative psychology with special emphasis on social evolution of culture in humans and animals and the dog-human bond.

Research Interests

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.