Department of Psychology


Photo of Dr Marina Davila-Ross

Dr Marina Davila-Ross

  • Qualifications: PhD
  • Role Title: Reader in Comparative Psychology
  • Address: King Henry Building, King Henry 1st Street, Portsmouth, Hampshire, PO1 2DY
  • Telephone: 023 9284 6634
  • Email:
  • Department: Department of Psychology
  • Faculty: Faculty of Science


My research focuses on communication and emotions in orangutans and chimpanzees, where I also compare them to humans/children. My research interests include vocal and facial expressions, the evolution of language, positive emotions and social play, mimicking and empathy, personality, learning and culture. I use field research to learn more about how great apes, our closest extant relatives, behave in their natural environment, to test predictions on the adaptive significance of hominoid traits and to reconstruct the evolution of great ape and human behaviours. I am a member of the Centre for Comparative and Evolutionary Psychology.

Since my PhD, I have studied positive communication in great apes. Particularly laughter and smiles, which are shared by both great apes and humans, are likely to provide us a special insight into the evolution human social communication and social cohesion. I use the data to reconstruct how these expressions of ancestral apes must have changed in form and function over the past 13 million years to become these pervasive tools of human behaviours. Another main research project of mine is to carry out studies that help to improve animal conservation management. An aim, here, is to try to improve our understanding of the individual- group-specific behaviours and abilities of rehabilitant animals in order to better support their needs when released back into the forest. For more information about field research opportunities in Malaysia and Zambia, please see:

Ape Field Research:

Personality traits and foraging skills of orangutans at different stages in the rehabilitation process (curiosity, spatial cognition etc.). Study sites: Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve and Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (Borneo)

Multimodal communication, social play, and social learning in semi-wild chimpanzees of three colonies. Study site: Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage, Zambia

(Related Link:

Comparative Psychology:

Research on positive communication in children (schools in Portsmouth) or other primates (Owl & Monkey Haven)

Teaching Responsibilities

Final year research project coordinator 

Field course in Borneo on Primate Behaviour and Ecology

Comparative and Evolutionary Psychology

Biological and Cognitive Psychology

Key Ideas in Human and Animal Psychology

Individual Differences and Psychometrics.


Laughter and laugh faces in apes and humans

The evolution of language and multimodal communication

Mimicking, emotional contagion and the evolution of empathy

Acoustics and facial expressions


Competition and cooperation

Development and social learning

Social bonding and play

Phylogenetic reconstructions of primate behaviours

Interactions between apes, humans, and interactive robots

Ape conservation


Research profile

Explore my research profile, publications and activities on the Portsmouth Research Portal

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