Nonhuman Primate Responses to Death

  • Sarah F. Brosnan
  • Jennifer Vonk
Part of the Evolutionary Psychology book series (EVOLPSYCH)


A key feature that seems to separate humans and other species is humans’ ability to conceive of death. Although other species also respond differently to deceased individuals in their groups, we do not yet know what they understand about what has happened or at what point, if ever, they understand that another individual is gone permanently. Moreover, in many cases, we do not even know the degree to which other species possess the concepts that are necessary to understand these abstract concepts (i.e., inevitability, self, other, agency, absence, metacognition, and the ability to mentally time travel). However, pinning this down is important for several reasons. First, if we are to understand how our own conceptions of and reactions to death evolved, we need to understand other species as well, even though they will not likely be the same as humans. On the flip side, understanding how other species respond to death will also inform our understanding of their cognition and behavior, providing a window into abilities that have been difficult to empirically measure. In this chapter, we first consider some of the necessary cognitive abilities for humans’ conception of death, then discuss the extant evidence in other species (primarily nonhuman primates), and end with a consideration of the challenges facing our understanding of death and how solving these will concurrently address similar challenges in other areas of comparative psychology.


Primates Grief Nonhuman primates Comparative psychology Animal behavior 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah F. Brosnan
    • 1
  • Jennifer Vonk
    • 2
  1. 1.Psychology, Philosophy, and the Neuroscience InstituteGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.Psychology, Oakland UniversityRochesterUSA

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