Smuts received a bachelor's degree in anthropology from Harvard University and a Ph.D in neurological and biological behavioral science from Stanford Medical School. In the 1970s she began studying animal behaviour at the University of Michigan, including research with Jane Goodall on chimpanzees in Gombe National Park, where she had a violent introduction to field research, being among four field researchers kidnapped and beaten by a Marxist revolutionary group.
Much of Smuts’ research concerns the development of social relationships between animals, particularly among chimpanzee and baboon populations. Smuts began studies of wild baboons in 1976. Studies she made of wild olive baboons in Tanzania and Kenya inspired her 1985 book Sex and Friendship in Baboons. The book, the fruit of two years' research, showed how two different groups of the same primate interact with each other socially. She determined that friendship was a critical predictor of sexual activity between male and female baboons: females preferred to mate with males that had previously engaged in friendly interactions with them and could interact with their other offspring as well.
- Wrangham, R. and Smuts, B. B. (1980). "Sex differences in the behavioural ecology of chimpanzees in the Gombe National Park, Tanzania." Journal of Reproduction and Fertility. Supplement, 28, 13–31.
- Smuts, B.B. (2009. First printing 1985) Sex and Friendship in Baboons New York: Aldine Publishing Co. ISBN 978-0-202-02027-3
- Smuts, B.B., Cheney, D.L. Seyfarth, R.M., Wrangham, R.W., & Struhsaker, T.T. (Eds.) (1987). Primate Societies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-76715-9
- Profile at the Council of Human Development
- Goodall, Jane (2001). Dale Peterson (ed.). Jane Goodall-Beyond Innocence: An Autobiography in Letters, the later years. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. pp. 146–147. ISBN 0-618-12520-5. Retrieved 28 April 2010.
- Smuts, B.B. (2009) [First printing 1985]. "Sex and Friendship in Baboons". New York: Aldine Publishing Co: 5. ISBN 978-0-202-02027-3.
- Smuts, Barbara B (1985). Sex and Friendship in Baboons. Aldine. ISBN 0-202-02027-4.
- Mann, Janet; Barbara Smuts (1999). "Behavioral development in wild bottlenose dolphin newborns (Tursiops sp.)". Behavior. Netherlands: E J Brill. 136 (5): 529–566. doi:10.1163/156853999501469. ISSN 0005-7959.
- Barbara Smuts research profile at UMich.edu
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- Barbara Smuts faculty profile at the University of Michigan
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