• Cercopithecines;
  • “Typical” primates;
  • Kinship;
  • Dispersal;
  • Aggression;
  • Dominance;
  • Sex;
  • Reproduction


Anthropological interest in nonhuman primates as models for human behavioral evolution has tended to focus on a relatively small number of species. This emphasis, coupled with a search for unifying principles that explain behavior, has led to a widespread perception of the semi-terrestrial cercopithecines as “typical,” and therefore characteristic of most other primates. The prevalence of male-biased dispersal and female philopatry, the use of aggression to establish and maintain hierarchical relationships, and the occurrence of sex for exclusively reproductive purposes have been challenged repeatedly, but the cercopithecine model of primate behavior has nonetheless persisted in much of the anthropological literature. This review incorporates accumulating data on a diversity of primates to examine the myth of the typical primate. The roles of kinship, aggression, and sex in mediating primate social relationships are far less uniform across primates than the myth has implied, raising questions about the generality of models of primate social systems derived from “typical” primates. Acknowledging existing diversity and encompassing it in more accurate portrayals of primate behavioral ecology requires consideration of the interacting effects of phylogenetic, demographic, ontogenetic, and physiological variables. © 1994 Wiley-Liss, Inc.