Chimps May Be Capable of Comprehending the Minds of Others - Scientific American
Our next chapter (for Thursday) covers learning and cognition in animals, and I wanted to offer a couple of supplemental readings to accompany the material in our text. Our textbook describes a bit about the extent to which our closest relatives (the other members of the "great ape" lineage) may possess mental faculties approaching our own, and these two readings expand upon that idea, with the caveat that we may not also know how to best test, or interpret, animal behaviors.
The first reading describes some of the work done by researchers at Kyoto University, which houses a rich group of researchers in primate cognition. This report describes an attempt to interpret the mental states of chimpanzees, based upon their reaction to stimuli. If animals possess the capacity for thoughts and behaviors related to traits like empathy, jealousy, or disbelief, we can predict that they may respond in specific ways to certain kinds of stimuli. It's a challenging argument, to be sure, but many in the primate community believe that our closest primate relatives share more of our "higher" cognitive abilities than many would care to admit.
The second reading is from a prominent primate behaviorist (Frans de Waal), who has long argued that we approach animal behavior too simplistically, and often erroneously. Taken to an extreme, he suggests that, at least at times, we are testing the wrong things and making interpretations that are illogical. I do not believe that his interpretations are widely held by members of the behavioral community, but they do serve as a useful reminder that we often make too many assumptions in our design and interpretation of behavioral experiments.
When we delve into Chapter 07 on Thursday, it will be useful to keep these viewpoints in mind.
See you this afternoon for collection of exam corrections. We'll have time to review and discuss any material we wish to cover today.