Joan Silk

Faculty Emeritus

Ph.D. University of California-Davis 1981

Joan Silk moved to Arizona State University’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change in 2012, from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She is interested in how natural selection shapes the evolution of social behavior in primates.  Most of Silk’s empirical work has focused on the behavioral and reproductive strategies of female baboon. She recently initiated a comparative study of the structure and function of close social bonds in four baboon species (anubis, hamadryas, gelada, and chacma).  In particular, Silk is interested in questions that explicitly link studies of nonhuman primates to humans. Experimental work she conducts with chimpanzees and children focuses on the phylogenetic origins and ontogenetic development of prosocial preferences.

Silk received her doctorate from University of California at Davis in 1981, and spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow in the Altmann’s lab at the University of Chicago. She then joined the Department of Anthropology at Emory University.  Silk moved to UCLA in 1986, where she remained until 2012. At UCLA, she was a founding member of the Center of Behavior, Evolution, and Culture and served as department chair for six years.



Boyd, R. & Silk, J.B. 1997, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2015, 2018. How Humans Evolved. W.W. Norton Press, New York.

-Spanish Translation (2nd Edition).  Como Evolucionaron los Humanos.  Ariel Ciencia, S.A., Barcelona, 2001.
-French Translation (3rd Edition).  L’aventure humaine : Des molécules à la culture. De Boeck, 2003.
-Japanese transation (5th Edition). 2011.
-Excerpts from Chapter 9 reprinted in Research Frontiers in Anthropology: Advances in Archaeology and Physical Anthropology, ed. by C. Ember and M. Ember, Prentice Hall.)

Kappeler, P. & Silk, J.B. (editors) 2010. Mind the Gap: The origins of human universals. Springer Verlag, Berlin.

Mitani, J., Call, J., Kappeler, P., Palombit, R., Silk, J.B. (editors) (2012). The Evolution of Primate Societies. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Recent Journal Publications and Book Chapters

2018. Silk, J. B., Seyfarth, R. M. & Cheney, D. L. Quality versus quantity: do weak bonds enhance the fitness of female baboons?. In : Animal Behaviour. 140, p. 207-211 5 p.

2017. Silk, J.B., Roberts, E.R., Barrett, B.J., Patterson, S.K., Strum, S.C. Female–male relationships influence the form of female–female relationships in olive baboons, Papio anubis. Animal Behaviour 131, 89-98.

2017. Silk, J.B., Kappeler, P.M. Sociality in primates. In: Comparative Social Evolution (D. Rubenstein, P. Abott, eds.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

2016. Silk, J.B., Seyfarth, R.M., & Cheney, D.L. Strategic use of affiliative vocalizations by wild female baboons. PLoS One 11 (10), e0163978.

2016. Silk, J.B. Review of  Mammal Societies. Nature 535:228.

2016. Cheney, D. L., Silk, J. B., & Seyfarth, R. M. Network connections, dyadic bonds and fitness in wild female baboons. Royal Society Open Science, 3(7), 160255.

2016. Silk, J.B. Taxonomies of cognition. Nature 532: 176.

2016. Silk, J.B. Building strong bonds. Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences LXIX:80-81.

2016. Silk, J.B. Animal Behaviour: Friendship enhances trust in chimpanzees. Current Biology 26: R76-78.

2016. Silk, J.B., House, B.R. The evolution of altruistic social preferences in human groups. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 371: 20150097.

2016. Rosenbaum S, Hirwa JP, Silk JB, & Stoinski TS. Relationships between adult male and maturing mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) persist across developmental stages and social upheaval. Ethology 122: 134-150.

2016. Rosenbaum, S., Hirwa J.P., Silk, J.B., Vigilant, L., Stoinski, T.S. Infant mortality risk and paternity certainty are associated with postnatal maternal behavior toward silverback mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei). Public Library of Science One 11(2): 11(2): e0147441.


Arizona State University Faculty Profile