CNS Seminar

Monday October 21, 2013 2:00 PM

The evolutionary origins of human cognition viewed from the study of chimpanzees

Speaker: Tetsuro Matsuzawa, Kyoto University
Location: Broad 100

I have studied chimpanzees both in the wild and in the laboratory. My talk compares cognitive development in the two species, shedding light on the evolutionary origins of human cognition. An upright posture and bipedal locomotion may have been important in human evolution. However, in terms of cognitive development, the morphological feature that contributed most to making us human is the ability to remain stable in a supine posture. The human mother–infant relationship is characterized by physical separation (although remaining in close proximity), and the stable supine posture of infants; enabling face-to-face communication via facial expressions, vocal exchange, and manual gestures, and also demonstration of object manipulation. Cognitive development in chimpanzees was studied using the novel 'participant observation' method in the laboratory and through "field experiments" in their natural habitat. This research has revealed that humans and chimpanzees are largely similar at early developmental stages. However, there are several critical differences: chimpanzees lack the social referencing ability observed in human children and chimpanzees seldom engage in active teaching. Moreover, although young chimpanzees showed unique working memory capacity, often superior to that of human adults, they are less able to learning symbols. In sum, cognitive development in humans is fundamentally influenced by the manner of raising young children; characterized by collaboration among multiple adults. This aspect of human rearing may be linked to the development of empathy, altruistic behavior, reciprocity, understanding others' minds, and so on. Taken together, my talk presents evolutionary and ontogenetic explanations for the uniquely human characteristics of cognition.  For further information, please visit the following web site:

Series Computation and Neural Systems Seminar