Risk factors for stereotypic behavior and self-biting in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta): Animal's history, current environment, and personality

Daniel H. Gottlieb, John P. Capitanio, Brenda Mccowan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


Captive rhesus macaques sometimes exhibit undesirable abnormal behaviors, such as motor stereotypic behavior (MSB) and self-abuse. Many risk factors for these behaviors have been identified but the list is far from comprehensive, and large individual differences in rate of behavior expression remain. The goal of the current study was to determine which experiences predict expression of MSB and self-biting, and if individual differences in personality can account for additional variation in MSB expression. A risk factor analysis was performed utilizing data from over 4,000 rhesus monkeys at the California National Primate Research Center. Data were analyzed using model selection, with the best fitting models evaluated using Akaike Information Criterion. Results confirmed previous research that males exhibit more MSB and self-biting than females, MSB decreases with age, and indoor reared animals exhibit more MSB and self-biting than outdoor reared animals. Additionally, results indicated that animals exhibited less MSB and self-biting for each year spent outdoors; frequency of room moves and number of projects positively predicted MSB; pair separations positively predicted MSB and self-biting; pair housed animals expressed less MSB than single housed and grate paired animals; and that animals expressed more MSB and self-biting when in bottom rack cages, or cages near the room entrance. Based on these results we recommend limiting exposure to these risk factors when possible. Our results also demonstrated a relationship between personality and MSB expression, with animals low on gentle temperament, active in response to a human intruder, and high on novel object contact expressing more MSB. From these results we propose that an animal's MSB is related to its predisposition for an active personality, with active animals expressing higher rates of MSB.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)995-1008
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2013


  • Management
  • Personality
  • Rhesus
  • Risk-factor
  • Self-abuse
  • Stereotypy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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