Research at Hendrix

Jennifer Penner

Julia Mobley Odyssey Associate Professor of Psychology

Ph.D., University of Oklahoma

Research interest: 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. If you're an animal who has just scatter-cached what might be hundreds of food items (scatter-caching refers to the storage of small quantities of food among multiple sites), you have two major challenges: 1) protecting your stored food from would-be robbers, and; 2) ensuring that you, the owner, have a way to get back to your original cache sites to recover the food. I am interested in how natural selection has shape the brains and bodies of animals to deal with these problems. My research focus is on 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 how and why pilfering might be favored over "honest" foraging.

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, therefore, in how natural selection and sexual selection have shaped peoples' perceptions of the opposite sex, their perceptions of their own mate value, and their decisions about short- and long-term romantic partners. My students and I are currently investigating romantic jealousy, perceptions of sexual interest, and future predictions about romantic success.