Universiteit Leiden

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LIBC Colloquium

Wednesday 7 April 2021
via Zoom

Inability or unwillingness: cognitive or motivational restrictions in our evolutionary closest relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, in their social and cultural behavior

Human uniqueness and its evolutionary basis is explored through the comparison between humans and our evolutionary closest animals: chimpanzees and bonobos. With this approach, a behavior which neither chimpanzees nor bonobos demonstrate is considered as a human unique characteristic. And we often attribute this human uniqueness to a highly sophisticated cognitive ability which may appear only in humans. However, even though chimpanzees and bonobos do not demonstrate a certain behavior, it is too early to say that they cannot demonstrate it. In this presentation, I will introduce some examples that chimpanzees and bonobos have cognitive bases for some social or cultural behaviors but do not do these in their ordinal life. For example, chimpanzees can understand others’ desire, but they do not help proactively. Bonobos have cognitive abilities to use tools, but they do not demonstrate tool use in foraging contexts in the wild. This kind of marginal extension of cognitive ability may help animals survive when they are put under a novel selective pressure. This may have happened when humans, with highly exploring motivation,  succeeded in adapting to novel environments out of tropical rain forests.

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