Some stereotypic behaviors in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) are correlated with both perseveration and the ability to cope with acute stressors

Ori Pomerantz*, Annika Paukner, Joseph Terkel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The most prevalent sub-group of abnormal repetitive behaviors among captive animals is that of stereotypies. Previous studies have demonstrated some resemblance between stereotypy in captive animals and in humans, including the involvement of neurological malfunctions that lead to the expression of stereotypies. This malfunction can be evaluated through the use of neuropsychological tasks that assess perseveration as implying a failure of the basal ganglia (BG) to operate properly. Other studies, in contrast, have suggested that stereotypies are the product of neurologically intact individuals reacting to the abnormal nature of their surroundings, and are possibly characterized by an adaptive feature that enables the subject to cope with such adversity. Employing neuropsychological tests and also measuring the levels of fecal corticoids in captive rhesus macaques, we tested the hypothesis that stereotypies are related both to brain pathology and to a coping mechanism with stress, resembling accounts by autistic individuals exhibiting basal ganglia malfunction, and who report a sense of relief when performing stereotypies. Self-directed and fine-motor stereotypies exhibited by the monkeys were positively correlated with perseveration, suggesting BG malfunction; while self-directed stereotypies were also negatively correlated with an increase in fecal corticoids following a stress challenge, suggesting a related coping mechanism. We therefore suggest that not all repetitive, unvarying, and apparently functionless behaviors should be regarded as one homogeneous group of stereotypic behaviors; and that, reflecting reports from autistic individuals, self-directed stereotypies in captive rhesus monkeys are related both to brain pathology, and to an adaptive mechanism that allows those that express them to better cope with acute stressors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)274-280
Number of pages7
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 21 Apr 2012


  • Basal ganglia
  • Coping hypothesis
  • Perseveration
  • Psychological welfare
  • Stereotypic behavior


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