Psychology Department

Dr. Jennifer Penner

 Dr. Jennifer Penner 
2005 - Associate Professor of Psychology
Ph.D., University of Oklahoma, 2005
M.S., University of Oklahoma, 2001
B.A., University of Oklahoma, 1999
DW Reynolds Center for Life Science
Office #144

Current Research

As a researcher in the area of comparative psychology and animal behavior, I am interested in the behavioral and cognitive adaptations that underlie behavior and decision-making in humans and non-human animals.

Food Caching, Pilfering, & Recovery in Squirrels and Chipmunks

Many animals store their food for later consumption as a way to exploit temporary food bonanzas and ensure energy stores during times of food scarcity.  Animals who scatter-cache (store their food in small quantities among multiple sites) are equipped with unique adaptations centered around two central foraging challenges--protecting their stored food from would-be robbers and ensuring that they, the owners, have a way to get back to their original cache sites to recover their food. I am interested in the foraging behavior of small, scatter-caching mammals—how and where they hide their food, how they protect their caches from robbers, how they remember the location of their own caches, and if and how they go about stealing caches from their competitors. I am particularly interested in pilfering (or stealing) behavior as a foraging strategy and am currently looking at how such a strategy might benefit particularly small robbers like least chipmunks (Tamias minimus).  I am currently conducting research with wild populations of caching eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) and fox squirrels (Sciurus niger) in the Ozark Mountains of central Arkansas, with wild populations of Central American agoutis (Dasyprocta punctata) near Monteverde, Costa Rica, and with wild populations of least chipmunks (Tamias minimus) in the southwestern U.S., near Canyonlands, UT. 

Human Dating & Mating

For animals like humans who are social, long-lived, require a relatively high amount of parental care, and form pairbonds, mate choice is an important contributor to reproductive success; our ancestors who selected mates that were healthy, resourceful, and socially adept would have experienced higher Darwinian fitness than their competitors who didn’t discriminate between high and low quality potential mates.  I am interested in the internal and external factors that shape peoples' perceptions of the opposite sex, their perceptions of their own mate value, and their decisions about short- and long-term romantic partners.  


I currently teach the following courses:

Comparative Animal Behavior with Lab (PSYC/BIOL 300)
Evolution of Human Sexuality (PSYC 260)
Evolutionary Psychology (PSYC 355)
Animal Behavior in the Tropics (taught in Costa Rica during the summer, PSYC 150)
Research Methods with Lab (PSYC 295)
Advanced Research in Comparative Animal Behavior
Advanced Research in Evolutionary Psychology

Teaching and Research in Costa Rica

This field course--taught during the Hendrix Summer Semester in Costa Rica and located near Monteverde, Costa Rica, a biodiversity "hotspot"--gives students a real-world glimpse into the lives of animals and animal behavior researchers.  Students attend lectures by visiting researchers and conservationists, conduct their animal behavior studies, travel to diverse ecosystems, and conduct field laboratories.  Through doing so, students experience first-hand the splendor of the rainforest, develop an appreciation for the evolutionary processes that created it, and appreciate the importance of preserving it.  

Recent Presentations & Publications

Makhanova, S., Estill, L., & Penner, J.  (2011).  The role of social dominance in male jealousy.  NorthEastern Evolutionary Psychology Society Annual Meeting, Binghamtom, NY.

Penner, J., Zalocusky, K., Abernathy, J., McGuff, B., Schichtl, S., Weaver, W., & Moran, M. (2009). The effects of site provisioning on cache pilfering in grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis). Animal Behavior Society Annual Meeting, Perinópolis, Brazil.

Holifield, L. & Penner, J.  (2008).  Caching & Pilfering Behavior in Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciuris carolinensis).  Arkansas Academy of Sciences.  

Penner, J.  (2006).  Strategic pilfering in least chipmunks. Animal Behavior Society Annual Meeting, Snowbird, UT.

Penner, J. & Devenport, L. (In press). A comparative study of caching and pilfering behavior in two sympatric species, least chipmunks (Tamias minimus) and eastern chipmunks (Tamias striatus). Journal of Comparative Psychology.  Advance online publication doi:  10.1037/a0024562.