The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

Dorothy Cheney

Dorothy Cheney, renowned scientist and Penn Biology professor, died Nov. 9 at age 68. 

Cheney studied the social behavior and psychology of primates, and her research revealed that the thinking of primates is more complex than was previously expected in the scientific community.

Penn professor emeritus Robert Seyfarth, who was married to Cheney, told The New York Times she died from breast cancer. The two were partners in their research, traveling together often to conduct research.

Most recently, they traveled to Botswana to study social hierarchies within wild baboon populations. They published their baboon studies on their curated research website

Cheney has been at Penn since 1985 and has previously taught courses on evolutionary biology, animal psychology, and behavior. She has co-written numerous books on primate behavior including “Baboon Metaphysics” and “The Social Origins of Language.” She is also a recipient of the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship for Natural Sciences. 

Cheney was interested in studying the complex social relationships that exist between primates such as monkeys, gorillas, and baboons, according to her staff page on Penn's website. In addition to Botswana, she has traveled to countries such as Kenya for research.

While Cheney intended to become a lawyer upon graduating college, she switched disciplines after an impressionable trip to South Africa with her husband, who was conducting research there in 1971, The New York Times reported. She soon became a leading expert in the field shortly after receiving a PhD in zoology from Cambridge University. 

“Cheney was a spectacular scientist,” her colleague Robert Sapolsky, who is a neurology and neuroscience professor at Stanford University, told the New York Times.

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.