Comparative Cognition in Primates

Session Date: 
Mar 23, 2019

Humans are a member of the order PRIMATES that has 447 species in the recent categorization. Among them, the hominoid family consists of 4 genera: humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. I have compared the cognitive function in humans and chimpanzees, who share a common ancestor 5-7 million years ago. Our laboratory study is known as the Ai-project, and our field study has been carried out in Bossou-Nimba, Guinea-Conakry, West Africa. Humans and chimpanzees are similar at early developmental stages, however, there remain several crucial differences. In comparison to humans, chimpanzees exhibit poor social-referencing abilities and rarely engage in general imitation and active teaching. Young chimpanzees possess exceptional working-memory capacities superior to those of human adults. However, the chimpanzees’ ability to learn the meaning of symbols is relatively poor. Human neonates are characterized by the stable supine-posture that enables face-to-face communication via facial expressions, vocal exchange, gestures, and object manipulation. Based on parallel efforts in the field and laboratory, I present possible evolutionary and ontogenetic explanations for aspects of cognition that are uniquely human. The proposed “The Cognitive Tradeoff hypothesis”, postulates the existence of a tradeoff between language and memory.

For more information, see Chimpanzee Ai Publications (specifically the Evolution of the brain and social behavior in chimpanzees).