Goldsmiths University of London
United States Minor Outlying Islands
Senior Lecturer in Psychology
My main research area is 'comparative-developmental psychology' which involves the study of human and non-human primate behaviour based on frameworks drawn from developmental and evolutionary psychology. I am particularly interested in Social Intelligence and much of my research to date has focused on complex forms of social learning such as imitation. Before coming to Goldsmiths I conducted experiments on the imitation of arbitrary gestures by young chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Also in collaboration with a number of colleagues, I designed an 'artificial fruit' processing task which has, so far, been presented to human children and adults (Homo sapiens), chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), gorillas (Gorilla gorilla), orang-utans (Pongo pygmaeus), pig-tailed macaques (Macaca nemestrina), laboratory-raised and hand-raised tufted capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella), common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus), and even the giant New Zealand parrot, the kea (Nestor notables). More recently, I have conducted research in Zoo Atlanta on program-level imitation in orang-utans. I was also funded by The British Academy to visit Berenty Reserve in Madagascar for three months to study the effect of social dynamics on social transmission in wild ring-tailed lemurs. In a relatively new research area for me, I have embarked upon an ESRC funded research project on object-directed imitation in children with autism. Finally, I have pursued a quite different line of research on the dog-human bond. Along with a group of Italian colleagues and my postgraduate student, Robyn Palmer, we used Ainsworth’s strange situation procedure to investigate whether the dog-human bond is consistent with infantile attachment.
Empathic-like responding by domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) to distress in humans: An exploratory study Custance, Deborah M. and Mayer, Jennifer. 2012. Empathic-like responding by domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) to distress in humans: An exploratory study. Animal Cognition, 15(5), pp. 851-859. ISSN 1435-9448
Do Children With Autism Re-Enact Object Movements Rather Than Imitate Demonstrator Actions? Custance, Deborah M.; Mayer, Jennifer L.; Kumar, Emmelianna; Hill, Elisabeth L. and Heaton, Pam F.. 2013. Do Children With Autism Re-Enact Object Movements Rather Than Imitate Demonstrator Actions? Autism Research, 7(1), pp. 28-39. ISSN 1939-3792
Studies of imitation in chimpanzees and children Whiten, Andrew and Custance, Deborah M.. 1996. Studies of imitation in chimpanzees and children. In: Cecilia M. Heyes and Bennett G. Galef, eds. Social learning in animals. The roots of culture. San Diego, USA: Academic Press, pp. 291-318. ISBN 0122739655