Vanessa Wilson


I am a postdoctoral researcher studying primate social cognition and behaviour. My work is generally comparative and I have studied a range of species from New World monkeys to apes. I finished my PhD at The University of Edinburgh in 2016 under the supervision of Alex Weiss. My PhD thesis focused on the links between personality and socioemotional perception in nonhuman primates. Between 2016 and 2019 I was a postdoctoral researcher in the Cognitive Ethology lab of Julia Fischer at the German Primate Center, Göttingen. Here I continued my research focusing on responses to social stimuli in long-tailed and rhesus macaques through touchscreen presentation. 

I started my current position in September 2019, continuing to examine perception of social stimuli with great apes at Basel Zoo. This project, in collaboration with Klaus Zuberbühler and colleagues at the University of Zurich, uses eye tracking to examine how nonhuman apes view events, and how their gaze patterns compare to human adults and children. This project is part of the broader Swiss-wide NCCR Evolving Language research consortium.


Research Interests

I am particularly interested in how individuals perceive social stimuli, and in understanding individual differences in social cognition. This research has led me to explore diverging branches of research, incorporating both the study of personality, and consideration of methodologies used to assess responses to social stimuli. I have also worked on projects examining facial behaviour cues, and the relationship between wellbeing and measures of personality and welfare.

I am additionally interested in how our understanding of cognition can improve perceptions of other species and have a long term positive impact on the treatment and welfare of captive animals. I am happy to collaborate on or supervise topics along these themes.


Peer-reviewed Publications


Wilson, V. & Masilkova, M. (2023). Does the primate face cue personality? Personality Neuroscience6(e7), 1-10.
Wilson, V., Bethell, E. & Nawroth, C. (2023). Editorial: Using gaze to study social knowledge. Current challenges and future directions. Frontiers in Psychology, 14
Wilson, V., Bethell, E. & Nawroth, C. (2023). The use of gaze to study cognition: limitations, solutions, and applications to animal welfare. Frontiers in Psychology, 14.
Wilson, V. A., Zuberbühler, K., & Bickel, B. (2022). The evolutionary origins of syntax: Event cognition in nonhuman primates. Science Advances, 8(25), eabn8464.

Weiss, A., Wilson, V. A., & Hopkins, W. D. (2021). Early social rearingthe V1A arginine vasopressin receptor genotypeand autistic traits in chimpanzeesAutism Research, 14(9), 1843-1853.

Wilson, V., Kade, C. & Fischer, J. (2021). Testing the relationship between looking time and choice preferences in long-tailed macaques. Animal Behavior and Cognition.

Wilson, V., Kade, C., Moeller, S., Treue, S., Kagan, I., & Fischer, J. (2020). Macaque gaze responses to the Primatar: a virtual macaque head for social cognition research. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 1645.

Wilson, V., Weiss, A., Lefevre, C., Ochiai, T., Matsuzwa, T. ... Altschul, D. (2020). Assessment of fWHR in chimpanzees: links to age, sex and personality. Evolution and Human Behavior, 41(3), 226-234.

Altschul, D., Robinson, L., Coleman, K., Capitanio, J. & Wilson, V. (2019). Exploration of the relationships among facial dimensions, age, sex, dominance status and personality in rhesus macaques. International Journal of Primatology.

Wilson, V., Guenther, A., Øverli, Ø., Seltmann, M., & Altschul, D. (2019). Future directions for personality research: contributing new insights to the understanding of animal behaviour. Animals, 9, 240.

Wilson, V. (2019). Hominoid. In (J. Vonk & T. K. Shackelford, Eds.) Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior. Springer.

Wilson, V. (2019). Hominid. In (J. Vonk & T. K. Shackelford, Eds.) Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior. Springer.

Wilson, V. (2018). Using anthropocentrism to the benefit of other species. Commentary on Chapman & Huffman: Why do we think humans are different? Animal Sentience, 23(6).

Wilson, V. (2018). Costs, benefits and mechanisms of animal-assisted therapy: adopting a change in perspective. Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care, 17(4).

Wilson, V., Inoue-Murayama, M. & Weiss, A. (2018). A comparison of personality in the common and Bolivian squirrel monkey (Saimiri sciureus and Saimiri boliviensis). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 132(1), 24-39.

Wilson, V., Weiss, A., Humle, T., Morimura, N., Udono, T., … Inoue-Murayama, M. (2017). Chimpanzee personality and the arginine vasopressin receptor 1A genotype. Behavior Genetics, 1-12.

Robinson, L., Waran, N., Leach, M., … Wilson, V., Brosnan, S. & Weiss, A. (2016). Happiness is positive welfare in brown capuchins (Sapajus apella). Applied Animal Behaviour Science 181, 145-151.

Morton, F., Brosnan, S., Prétôt, L., Buchanan-Smith, H., O’Sullivan, E., Stocker, M., D’Mello, D. & Wilson, V. (2016). Using photographs to study animal social cognition and behaviour: Do capuchins’ responses to photos reflect reality? Behavioural Processes, 124, 38-46.

Wilson, V. & Weiss, A. (2015). Social relationships in nonhuman primates: potential models of pervasive disorders. In (P. Roubertoux, Ed.) Organism Models of Autism Spectrum Disorders, Neuromethods, volume 100. NY: Springer.

Wilson, V., Lefevre, C., Morton, F., Brosnan, S., Paukner, A., & Bates, T. (2014). Personality and facial morphology: Links to assertiveness and neuroticism in capuchins (Sapajus [Cebus] apella). Personality and Individual Differences, 58, 89-94.

Lefevre, C., Wilson, V., Morton, F., Brosnan, S., Paukner, A., & Bates, T. (2014). Facial width-to-height ratio relates to alpha status and assertive personality in capuchin monkeys. PloS One9(4), e93369.


Online Pre-prints

Wilson, V., Kade, C., Moeller, S., Treue, S., C., Kagan, I., & Fischer, J. (2019, Sep 5). Development of a monkey avatar to study responses to social perception in macaques. BioRxiv Preprint.

Wilson, V., Gartner, M., D’Eath, R., Little, A., Buchanan-Smith, H. & Morton, F. (2018, April 11). Capuchin monkeys do not differentiate between images of different facial width. PsyArXiv Preprint.