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Author Notes:

Correspondence: Mark E Wilson, PhD, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, 954 Gatewood Road, Atlanta GA 30329; Tel: 404-727-9058; Email: mark.wilson@emory.edu

Authors' Contributions: Mark Wilson: Pi of grant; finalized data analysis; lead author

Shannon Bounar: technician who helped collect and analyze data

Jodi Godfrey: technician who helped collect and analyze data

Vasiliki Michopoulos: graduate student who assisted in summarizing group social behavioral data

Melinda Higgins: statistician

Mar Sanchez: co-investigator on grant; supervised emotionality tests; contributed significantly to writing the manuscript

Acknowledgments: We thank Jennifer Whitley, Marta Checchi, Erin O’Sheil, Christine Marsteller, and Natalie Brutto for their expert technical assistance in collecting the data.

We also appreciate the programming efforts of Dr. Rebecca Herman that allowed us to summarize this vast data set.

Disclosures: The authors report no conflict of interest.

The Yerkes NPRC is fully accredited by AAALAC, International.


Research Funding:

The project was supported by NIH grants MH079100 and, in part, RR00165.


  • menarche
  • first ovulation
  • puberty
  • emotionality
  • and social stress

Social and emotional predictors of the tempo of puberty in female rhesus monkeys


Journal Title:



Volume 38, Number 1


, Pages 67-83

Type of Work:

Article | Post-print: After Peer Review


A cascade of neuroendocrine events regulates the initiation and progression of female puberty. However, the factors that determine the timing of these events across individuals are still uncertain. While the consequences of puberty on subsequent emotional development and adult behavior have received significant attention, what is less understood are the social and environmental factors that actually alter the initiation and progression of puberty. In order to more fully understand what factors influence pubertal timing in females, the present study quantified social and emotional behavior; stress physiology; and growth and activity measures in juvenile female rhesus monkeys to determine what best predicts eventual puberty. Based on previous reports, we hypothesized that increased agonistic behavior resulting from subordinate status in their natal group, in combination with slowed growth, reduced prosocial behavior, and increased emotional reactivity would predict delayed puberty. The analyses were restricted to behavioral and physiological measures obtained prior to the onset of puberty, defined as menarche. Together, our findings indicate that higher rates of aggression but lower rates of submission received from group mates; slower weight gain; and greater emotional reactivity, evidenced by higher anxiety, distress and appeasing behaviors, and lower cortisol responsivity in response to a potentially threatening situation, predicts delayed puberty. Together the combination of these variables accounted for 58% of the variance in the age of menarche, 71% in age at first ovulation, and 45% in the duration of adolescent sterility. While early puberty may be more advantageous for the individual from a fertility standpoint, it presents significant health risks, including increased risk for a number of estrogen dependent cancers and as well as the emergence of mood disorders during adulthood. On the other hand, it is possible that increased emotional reactivity associated with delayed puberty could persist, increasing the risk for emotional dysregulation to socially challenging situations. The data argue for prospective studies that will determine how emotional reactivity shown to be important for pubertal timing is affected by early social experience and temperament, and how these stress-related variables contribute to body weight accumulation, affecting the neuroendocrine regulation of puberty.

Copyright information:

© 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

This is an Open Access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/).

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