American Psychologist

Copyright 2000 by the American Psychological Association, Inc.

Volume 55(11)             November 2000             p 1274–1276
Dario Maestripieri
[Award for Distinguished Scientific Early Career Contributions to Psychology]

Maestripieri, Dario



“For outstanding, original research into the development and expression of nonhuman primate behavior, emphasizing mother–infant interactions. By combining superb research design with innovative and challenging theoretical notions that skillfully integrate comparative and psychobiological perspectives, Dario Maestripieri has significantly contributed to a better understanding of primate behavior. His work on normal and abnormal maternal behavior and the psychobiological processes that underlie this behavioral system have revitalized its study and made it central to a comparative understanding of primates, including humans.”

Dario Maestripieri was born in 1964 in Rome, Italy, to Franco and Elena Maestripieri. He always did very well in school and was an avid reader of books (mostly European literature) from an early age. As are many other children, Maestripieri was fascinated by all aspects of animal life, although he soon found animals' behavior to be the most intriguing and intellectually stimulating thing about them. While receiving an extensive classical education in high school, he read a number of college textbooks and essays in animal behavior, evolution, psychology, and anthropology, and he attended scientific seminars and conferences. Although Maestripieri was always encouraged by his parents to pursue any interests that he might have, he was discouraged by others from pursuing an academic career in animal behavior on the ground that such a choice would lead to almost certain unemployment. Despite the warnings, Maestripieri enrolled in the biology program of the University of Rome La Sapienza in 1983, determined to pursue his interest in behavioral biology.

The unfortunate mechanisms of the Italian academic system, which often reward students' loyalty to their academic advisors at the expense of their creativity and independent thinking, led Maestripieri to look for research opportunities elsewhere. In 1985, he started working as a volunteer research assistant in the Section of Toxicology and Behavior of the Italian National Institute of Health. During the two years spent in this laboratory, he was involved in a research project investigating the developmental effects of prenatal exposure to methylmercury in primates and rodents. Maestripieri's duties included running behavioral tests with both young and adult individuals, occasional cage cleaning, and other chores. The work with macaques in the laboratory prompted the idea to conduct some pilot studies focusing on macaques' use of behavioral mechanisms to cope with social tension and stress. These studies resulted in Maestripieri's first scientific publications. Although he initially had the assistance of a senior researcher, Stefano Scucchi, and an older doctoral student, Gabriele Schino, Maestripieri learned mostly by trial and error how to write and publish a scientific article.

In 1987, Maestripieri was drafted for one year of military service in the Italian Air Force. After one month of training in southern Italy, he was lucky to be stationed in Rome for the remaining 11 months of service. Because his duties were relatively light, he was able to complete his thesis and obtain a degree in biology while in the service. In 1988, Maestripieri started working as a volunteer in the Section of Behavioral Pathophysiology of the Italian National Institute of Health. In this new laboratory, Maestripieri initially collaborated with Enrico Alleva on his research project on nerve growth factor and aggressive behavior in male mice and subsequently developed a series of studies of maternal aggression in mice.

In 1989, Maestripieri was accepted into the doctoral biology program of the University of Rome and awarded a three-year scholarship. With Alberto Oliverio, professor of psychobiology, as his academic advisor, Maestripieri continued his research on mouse maternal aggression. This work provided the bulk of the data for his dissertation and the material for several scientific publications. Among other things, Maestripieri demonstrated that the intensity of maternal aggression is related to other aspects of maternal care and investment in the offspring and that individual differences in emotional reactivity to the environment significantly affect maternal and aggressive behavior in female mice.

Maestripieri arranged to spend the last year of his doctoral studies as a visiting scholar at the Subdepartment of Animal Behaviour of the University of Cambridge in England. His choice of Cambridge was motivated by several reasons, including the fact that the newly appointed director of the subdepartment, Barry Keverne, had a long-term interest in the area of mammalian maternal behavior and had successfully combined in his work molecular, endocrine, and behavioral approaches. Maestripieri's departure for England meant a return to primate research. During his stay in Cambridge, Maestripieri collaborated with Keverne and Michael Simpson in a study of the effects of anxiolytic and anxiogenic drugs on the behavior of rhesus macaque juveniles while, at the same time, he conducted an independent study focusing on the role of temperament and anxiety in determining individual differences in maternal style in rhesus macaques.

In Cambridge, Maestripieri met two people who had a dramatic impact on his personal and professional life. One of them was Kelly A. Carroll, a developmental psychologist from Indiana who became his wife in 1994. The other was Kim Wallen, a professor from Emory University who became Maestripieri's postdoctoral advisor. Maestripieri was very interested in Wallen's research approach, which carefully combined social and endocrine variables in the study of primate behavior, and planned to collaborate with him to further investigate the social and physiological determinants of maternal behavior. Although Maestripieri had never anticipated that he would pursue a research and academic career abroad, after returning to Italy from England he quickly packed his bags and moved to the United States. In March 1992, Maestripieri was appointed a research associate in the Division of Psychobiology of the Yerkes Primate Regional Research Center of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

After collaborating with Wallen in a study of the effects of neonatal testosterone suppression on rhesus macaque development, Maestripieri conducted a series of studies of maternal, social, and communicative behavior in macaques aimed at investigating the source of interindividual and interspecific differences in behavior. During such studies, Maestripieri made some preliminary observations suggesting that maternal responsiveness increases during pregnancy and that social stress may play a role in the occurrence of infant abuse. These preliminary data led him to the realization that a comprehensive understanding of variability in maternal behavior must necessarily incorporate biological variables and that the study of maladaptive parenting can be useful in understanding variability in parenting within the normal range, and vice versa. Therefore, his recent efforts have concentrated on the study of neuroendocrine influences on maternal behavior and the investigation of the causes and consequences of infant abuse and neglect. This research has produced evidence that maternal responsiveness is affected by steroid hormones and that infant abuse runs in macaque families.

The seven years spent in Atlanta were a period of intense research activity, and Maestripieri greatly benefited from Wallen's support and friendship. These years also marked another major event in Maestripieri's life: the birth of his daughter, Elena.

In 1999, Maestripieri accepted an offer from the University of Chicago and became an assistant professor in the Committee on Human Development, with joint appointments in the Department of Psychology, the Committee on Evolutionary Biology, and the Institute for Mind and Biology. He continues his research with monkeys and apes in Atlanta and in Chicago and has ventured into the study of a new interesting species: the human primate. The highly intellectual and interdisciplinary climate of the University of Chicago provides an optimal environment for Maestripieri, and Chicago's meteorological climate is not as bad as he thought it would be.

Figure. Dario Maestripieri

Selected Bibliography^
Maestripieri, D. (1991). Litter gender composition, food availability, and maternal defence of the young in house mice (Mus domesticus). Behaviour, 116, 139–151.

Maestripieri, D. (1993a). Maternal anxiety in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta): II. Emotional bases of individual differences in mothering style. Ethology, 95, 32–42.

Maestripieri, D. (1993b). Vigilance costs of allogrooming in macaque mothers. The American Naturalist, 141, 744–753.

Maestripieri, D. (1995a). First steps in the macaque world: Do rhesus mothers encourage their infants' independent locomotion? Animal Behaviour, 49, 1541–1549.

Maestripieri, D. (1995b). Maternal encouragement in nonhuman primates and the question of animal teaching. Human Nature, 6, 361–378.

Maestripieri, D. (1996). Primate cognition and the bared-teeth display: A reevaluation of the concept of formal dominance. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 110, 402–405.

Maestripieri, D. (1997). Gestural communication in macaques: Usage and meaning of nonvocal signals. Evolution of Communication, 1, 193–222.

Maestripieri, D. (1999a). The biology of human parenting: Insights from nonhuman primates. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 23, 411–422.

Maestripieri, D. (1999b). Fatal attraction: Interest in infants and infant abuse in rhesus macaques. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 110, 17–25.

Maestripieri, D. (1999c). Primate social organization, gestural repertoire size, and communication dynamics: A comparative study of macaques.In B. J. King (Ed.), The origins of language: What nonhuman primates can tell us (pp. 55–77). Santa Fe, NM: The School of American Research.

Maestripieri, D. (in press). Biological bases of maternal attachment. Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Maestripieri, D., Badiani, A., & Puglisi-Allegra, S. (1991). Prepartal chronic stress increases anxiety and decreases aggression in lactating female mice. Behavioral Neuroscience, 105, 663–668.

Maestripieri, D., & Call, J. (1996). Mother–infant communication in primates. Advances in the Study of Behavior, 25, 613–642.

Maestripieri, D., & Carroll, K. A. (1998a). Child abuse and neglect: Usefulness of the animal data. Psychological Bulletin, 123, 211–223.

Maestripieri, D., & Carroll, K. A. (1998b). Risk factors for infant abuse and neglect in group-living rhesus monkeys. Psychological Science, 9, 143–145.

Maestripieri, D., Jovanovic, T., & Gouzoules, H. (2000). Crying and infant abuse in rhesus monkeys. Child Development, 71, 301–309.

Maestripieri, D., Martel, F. L., Nevison, C. M., Simpson, M. J. A., & Keverne, E. B. (1992). Anxiety in rhesus monkey infants in relation to interactions with their mothers and other social companions. Developmental Psychobiology, 24, 571–581.

Maestripieri, D., & Wallen, K. (1995). Interest in infants varies with reproductive condition in group-living female pigtail macaques (Macaca nemestrina). Physiology and Behavior, 57, 353–358.

Maestripieri, D., Wallen, K., & Carroll, K. A. (1997). Infant abuse runs in families of group-living pigtail macaques. Child Abuse and Neglect, 21, 465–471.

Maestripieri, D., & Zehr, J. L. (1998). Maternal responsiveness increases during pregnancy and after estrogen treatment in macaques. Hormones and Behavior, 34, 223–230.

Accession Number: 00000487-200011000-00016

Copyright (c) 2000-2004 Ovid Technologies, Inc.
Version: rel9.0.0, SourceID 1.8300.1.453