Edwin Van Leeuwen

Research themes

Social learning, culture, cooperation, pro-sociality, intra- & interspecific variation in sociality in bonobos and chimpanzees


As a post-doctoral researcher with over 10 years of chimpanzee research experience, I supervise BSc., MSc. as well as PhD students working on chimpanzee dynamics. At the chimpanzee sanctuary in Zambia (Chimfunshi), I coordinate the research platform and closely collaborate with the Board of Trustees to ascertain the best possible well-being for the chimpanzees in our care.

Extra activities

  • Chair of Chimfunshi’s Research Advisory Board
  • Advisor to Chimfunshi’s Board of Trustees
  • Guest teacher at several universities (e.g., University of Amsterdam)

Research Interests

My current research interest is focused on charting the range of intraspecific variation in sociality in bonobos and chimpanzees, and studying the effects of local sociality on fitness-determining behaviours like cooperation and social learning. Specifically, I am exploring the extent to which great apes’ lives are governed by cultural processes.

Brief Biography

I obtained a PhD in Social Sciences from Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands. My PhD research was carried out under the banner of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics (Nijmegen) and Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig, Germany), with which I’m still affiliated. Postdoctoral positions I’ve held at Jena University (Germany) and St. Andrews University (Scotland). Currently, I’m working on a FWO Postdoc mandate from the Belgium government, in close collaboration with the University of Antwerp and the Centre for Research and Conservation of Antwerp ZOO and Planckendael ZOO.

Key Publications

van Leeuwen E. J. C, et al. The development of human social learning across seven societies. Nature Communications

van Leeuwen E. J. C, et al. Population-specific social dynamics in chimpanzees. PNAS van Leeuwen, E. J. C., et al. (2017). Chimpanzee culture extends beyond matrilineal family units, Current Biology.

van Leeuwen, E. J. C., et al. (2016). Conformity cannot be identified based on population-level signatures, Scientific Reports, 6: 36068

van Leeuwen, E. J. C., et al. (2014). Human children rely more on social information than chimpanzees do, Biology Letters, 10, 20140487.

van Leeuwen, E. J. C., et al. (2014). A group-specific arbitrary tradition in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Animal Cognition, 7, 1421–1425

van Leeuwen, E. J. C., et al. (2012). Neighbouring chimpanzee communities show different preferences in social grooming behaviour, Proceedings of Royal Society B, 279, 4362-4367.

Authored book chapters

Coultas, J. C., & van Leeuwen, E. J. C. (2015). Conformity: Definitions, Types and Evolutionary grounding. In Zeigler-Hill, V., Welling, L., & Shackelford, T. K. (Eds.), Evolutionary Perspectives on Social Psychology, (p. 189–202). Springer, New York.

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