Recommendations for abnormal behaviour ethograms in monkey research

Andrea Polanco, Brenda McCowan, Lee Niel, David L. Pearl, Georgia Mason

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Laboratory monkey ethograms currently include subcategories of abnormal behaviours that are based on superficial morphological similarity. Yet, such ethograms may be misclassifying behaviour, with potential welfare implications as different abnormal behaviours are likely to have distinct risk factors and treatments. We therefore investigated the convergent validity of four hy-pothesized subcategories of abnormal behaviours (‘motor’, e.g., pacing; ‘self‐stimulation’, e.g., self-sucking; ‘postural’, e.g., hanging; and ‘self‐abuse’, e.g., self‐biting). This hypothesis predicts positive relationships between the behaviours within each subcategory. Rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) data on 19 abnormal behaviours were obtained from indoor‐housed animals (n = 1183). Logistic regression models, controlling for sex, age, and the number of observations, revealed that only 1/6 ‘motor’ behaviours positively predicted pacing, while 2/3 ‘self‐abuse’ behaviours positively predicted self‐biting (one‐tailed p‐value < 0.05). Furthermore, ‘self‐stimulation’ behaviours did not pre-dict self‐sucking, and none of the ‘postural’ behaviours predicted hanging. Thus, none of the sub-categories fully met convergent validity. Subsequently, we created four new valid subcategories formed of comorbid behaviours. The first consisted of self‐biting, self‐hitting, self‐injurious behav-iour, floating limb, leg‐lifting, and self‐clasping. The second comprised twirling, bouncing, rocking, swinging, and hanging. The third comprised pacing and head‐twisting, while the final subcategory consisted of flipping and eye‐poking. Self‐sucking, hair‐plucking, threat‐biting, and withdrawn remained as individual behaviours. We encourage laboratories to replicate the validation of these subcategories first, and for scientists working with other species to validate their ethograms before using them in welfare assessments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1461
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021


  • Abnormal behaviour
  • Convergent validity
  • Ethogram
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Management practices
  • Nonhuman primates
  • Rhesus macaque
  • Welfare

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • veterinary(all)


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