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Rumbaugh / Oral

The Apes and us: brain and emergent processes

Duane M. Rumbaugh, Departments of Psychology and Language Research Center Georgia State University Atlanta, Georgia USA 30303

     Within the order Primates, it is clear that the degree of both biological and psychological continuity is a function of genetic relatedness. We are more closely related to the chimpanzee/bonobo apes than they are, in turn, to any other primates, including the gorilla. Although biological continuity between animals and humans has been long recognized, psychological continuity has not * primarily due to the long- standing beliefs that they cannot think and that human language results in a psychology that is quite different from that of animals. But now at the dawn of a new millennium, we have solid evidence for significant psychological continuity between apes and humans: apes are capable of complex learning, symbolic thought, speech comprehension, basic dimensions of language, basic numeric skills, and planning. Rhesus monkeys (Macaca) also have advanced skills and competencies revealed by research with computers that requires of them facile use of a joystick that controls a cursor on a monitor. Although apparently not as adroit in symbolic processes and probably without capacity to acquire language when compared to the great apes, they nonetheless are impressive. They can predict events, estimate confidence in making choices, and learn equivalencies and ordinal relationships between arrays of items and numerals. Like us, they do significantly better when they can choose tasks on which to work and prefer to work at their computers rather than to get food "for free."
     The offspring of great apes, as well as ours, are noted for their large brains and protracted stages of development and maturation. Sensitive periods of early years have comparable effects, for better or worse, upon both infant ape and child.
     Here we will emphasize both the evolution and maturation of the primate brain as an information-sensitive structure that is particularly responsive to early rearing. The role of technology in research also will be emphasized.(HD-06016)

Rumbaugh, D. M., Savage-Rumbaugh, E. S., Washburn, D. A. (1996). Toward a new outlook on primate learning and behavior: complex learning and emergent processes in comparative perspective. Japanese Psychological Research, 38(3), 113-125.
Kilts, C. D., Rilling, J. K., Savage-Rumbaugh, E. S., Hoffman, J. M., Giroux, M., Rapoport, S., Williams, S. L., Beran, M. J., Rumbaugh, D. M. (submitted). Language-related brain activity in the chimpanzee.