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Dr Raphaela Heesen

Research Associate


AffiliationRoom numberTelephone
Research Associate in the Department of PsychologyRH016 


I am interested in comparative research on human and nonhuman great ape communication and social cognition. Specifically, I investigate how communication is used to express emotions and to coordinate joint activities. I am also interested in comparing the structure of communicative repertoires between humans and nonhuman animal species, in particuar nonhuman great apes (applying methods of quantitative linguistics). With such comparative research outputs, I attempt to tackle broader questions related to the evolution of human language, emotion and cooperation.

In my current post-doctoral appointment with Dr Zanna Clay, I combine naturalistic behavioral observations and experimental designs to study differences in expression/perception of emotion in humans and great apes. Our methods involve behavioral coding, paired with diverse psycho-physiological techniques (e.g., thermal imaging, eye-tracking, heart rate measures and galvanic skin conductance).

Research interests

  • Evolution of social intelligence
  • Communication
  • Joint action

Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

  • Evolution:


Chapter in book

  • Heesen R., Sievers C., Gruber T. & Clay Z. (Accepted). Primate communication: Affective, intentional, or both? In Primate Cognitive Studies. B. L. Schwartz & M. J. Beran Cambridge University Press.

Journal Article

  • Heesen R., Bangerter A., Zuberbühler K., Iglesias K., Neumann C., Pajot A., Perrenoud L., Guéry JP. Rossano F. & Genty E. (2021). Assessing joint commitment as a process in great apes. iScience 24(8): 102872.
  • Genty, E., Heesen, R., Guéry, JP., Rossano, F., Zuberbühler, K., & Bangerter, A. (2020). How apes get into and out of joint actions: Shared intentionality as an interactional achievement. Interaction Studies
  • Watson S.K., Heesen R. (Co-first authors) Hedwig D., Robbins M.M. & Townsend S.W. (2020). An exploration of Menzerath’s law in wild mountain gorilla vocal sequences. Biology Letters 20200380.
  • Heesen R., Bangerter A., Zuberbühler K., Rossano F., Iglesias K., Guéry JP. & Genty E. (2020). Bonobos engage in joint commitment. Science Advances 6(51): eabd1306.
  • Heesen R., Hobaiter C., Ferrer-i-Cancho R. & Semple S. (2019). Linguistic laws in chimpanzee gestural communication. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 286(1896): 20182900.
  • Heesen R., Genty E., Rossano F., Zuberbühler K. & Bangerter A. (2017). Social play as joint action: A framework to study the evolution of shared intentionality as an interactional achievement. Learning & Behavior 45(4): 390.