BY MEGAN RICE
2013 Symposium on Student Research,
Creative Activities and Innovation Finalist


Over the course of my undergraduate research experience, I began to formulate my own hypotheses on animal behavior, which I could explore using the scientific method. Being involved in a project from its conception to the final conclusions is an invaluable lesson, not only in terms of being a scientist, but also in critical thinking overall. Not only have a gained a deeper understanding of what it takes to study animal behavior, I have gained the vital research experience necessary for pursuing graduate level degrees. My experience at Dr. Nancy Caine’s off-campus primate research facility has inspired me to pursue a research career in animal behavior.

About my Research
In the field of animal behavior, we like to ask questions concerning why animals do what they do. My research focuses on how common marmosets avoid their predators. Common marmosets are a small, vulnerable prey species and snakes are one of their biggest predators. Previous research on other species of primates, including humans, has found that primates are especially attuned to detecting snakes. I wanted to investigate whether captive marmosets could detect simple serpentine shapes placed in their environment faster than other shapes. I hypothesized that common marmosets engaged in a naturalistic foraging task would locate food placed on serpentine shapes faster and more often than food placed on rectilinear and straight shapes.

Contrary to my hypothesis, the marmosets reacted to the rectilinear shape most quickly -- a result I attribute to the novelty of that shape. My results suggest that the attentional processes of marmosets were not “fooled” into reacting preferentially to the simple serpentine shape. This interpretation is consistent with the fact that marmosets are known to be very discriminating when evaluating potential threats. We concluded that snake detection is a sophisticated cognitive and perceptual process that relies on a combination of features and not just shape.

Return to Article 'Boundaries of Knowledge

Megan Rice is among the 10 finalists representing CSUSM at the 27th annual statewide Student Research Competition held at Cal Poly Pomona on May 10-11. Hear firsthand how her research is leading to new discoveries, positively impacting her education and propeling her toward her future aspirations.

Graduate Studies and Research