The Mind of the Chimpanzee

Ecological and Experimental Perspectives
Featuring a foreword by Jane Goodall

Order an autographed copy from the Wild Things Online Shop.
Edited by Lincoln Park Zoo scientists Elizabeth Lonsdorf, Ph.D., and Steve Ross, Ph.D., along with colleague Tetsuro Matsuzawa, Ph.D., the Mind of the Chimpanzee features contributions from 30 of the world’s leading chimpanzee researchers. Exploring topics ranging from tool use to chimpanzee culture, this exciting scholarly volume collects the latest knowledge on our closest living relative.

About the Book
Understanding the chimpanzee mind is akin to opening a window to our own consciousness. Many of the complex cognitive processes that humans take for granted have origins that can be seen in the way that chimpanzees think, learn and behave. In The Mind of the Chimpanzee more than 30 prominent scientists from around the world share their latest findings and unique perspective into what goes on inside the mind of our closest living relative.

The Mind of the Chimpanzee: Ecological and Experimental Perspectives, is the third in the renowned “Understanding Chimpanzees” collection that stems from the conference series of the same name. Featuring the most prominent scientists studying chimpanzees today, The Mind of the Chimpanzee brings together perspectives from the field, research centers and zoological parks to create a unique and stimulating view of these fascinating beings.

Concepts ranging from imitation, tool-use, face recognition, culture, cooperation, and reconciliation, are intertwined with critical commentaries on conservation and welfare. Together, a clear message emerges: Understanding how chimpanzees learn, think and feel not only provides insight into the origins of human cognition, but crystallizes our collective efforts to protect wild populations and ensure appropriate care in captive settings.

Introducing the Mind of the Chimpanzee
What does it take to get inside the mind of another species? To understand how another being sees the world around them? For many years, humans have wondered how animals thought, felt and learned. Recently, technological and scientific methods have advanced to the point where some of these important questions are able to be addressed.

One of the species that bears the most interest is our closest living relative: the chimpanzee. In this series of blogs, we’ll introduce you to an exciting new book, “The Mind of the Chimpanzee: Ecological and Experimental Perspectives,” in which the latest research in the field of chimpanzee cognition is explored. Topics such as communication, tool-use and cooperation are examined in this rich collection of chapters from the world’s chimpanzee authorities, providing unprecedented insight into the thoughts and emotions of this fascinating species.

The book represents the culmination of work that began in 2004, when Tetsuro Matsuzawa, Ph.D., of the Primate Research Center in Japan suggested that we organize an international conference following in the footsteps of the seminal Understanding Chimpanzees series pioneered by Jane Goodall, Ph.D.. The request was certainly an honor but also quite daunting. The previous two conferences, in 1986 and 1991, were widely successful and resulted in two of the most influential volumes for those studying chimpanzees in wild and non-wild settings: “Understanding Chimpanzees” (1989) and “Chimpanzee Cultures” (1994).

In 2007, Lincoln Park Zoo hosted “The Mind of the Chimpanzee” conference. We welcomed primatologists from around the globe and enjoyed three days of stimulating presentations and discussions. The meetings were capped with a sold-out public lecture by Jane Goodall at Navy Pier.

Speaking to participants at that lecture, it was clear there was a fervent interest in chimpanzees among people from all walks of life, not just the scientists studying them on a daily basis. As we embarked on the process of developing a book that would reflect the range of studies presented at the conference, we took special interest to find ways to present these studies in ways that would have wide appeal.

Over the next several months, we will be discussing some of the highlights of the book and providing our insight into how we developed the volume. While the editorial process itself was arduous at times, we’re tremendously proud of the product that resulted: a compilation of stimulating research that should interest those interested in how animals think, feel and learn.  Join us as we explore the fascinating landscape of the chimpanzee mind.

Elizabeth Lonsdorf and Steve Ross

The Mind of the Chimpanzee is available in all major bookstores and online retailers. You can also purchase a signed copy of the book exclusively from the Lincoln Park Zoo online store.

Cooperation Calls Us to Japan Friday, October 29

Our last post discussed how the rich history of the Understanding Chimpanzees series was initiated by a series of conferences held here in Chicago. But another perspective points to a much more distant origin: Japan. It was Tetsuro Matsuzawa, Ph.D., of Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute that first brought us the idea of organizing the third conference at Lincoln Park Zoo. Now, more than six years later, we found ourselves in his home country, unveiling the volume to an international audience of renowned primatologists.
We were attending the Congress of the International Society of Primatologists in Kyoto, Japan where, aside from promoting the new book, we were participating in the biennial gathering to discuss the latest findings in primate science. As usual, the study of learning and cognition was prominent on the busy agenda, as scientists continue to develop new and innovative techniques to understand how primate minds really work.

The difficulty of developing effective techniques is often the real obstacle to studying primate cognition. The challenge lies less in whether the primate can complete the task presented to them and more in designing a task that allows the subjects to demonstrate their abilities.
A good example of this comes in the topic of cooperation. We all know that humans are not only able to cooperate but that they rely on cooperation to achieve some of their most impressive achievements. Less is known, however, about whether primates, specifically great apes, are able to cooperate. Cooperation requires the ability to understand what another being is thinking. There is a shared intention in these circumstances, and only with this high level of social understanding would a pair of animals be able to contemplate working together to achieve an objective.
For many years, studies of cooperation failed to show any promising results. Chimpanzees, it seemed, simply did not have the cognitive skills to consider the intentions of others. But a young Japanese scientist named Satoshi Hirata devised a clever task in which two chimpanzees had to simultaneously pull on a rope in order to drag a tray of food toward them. The task could not be solved independently—it required the two chimpanzees to act together. Not surprisingly to those of us that work with chimpanzees, they were able to achieve this task rather easily. They thus joined humans as a species that was cognitively capable of cooperation. All that it took was a bit of Japanese innovation and another corner of the mind of the chimpanzee was revealed.
We’ve returned home now from Japan, happy to reacquaint ourselves with cheeseburgers and milkshakes. But the experience of sharing this collection of studies on chimpanzee cognition with an international audience is a fulfilling one.  We hope you will pick up a copy at Wild Things gift shop at Lincoln Park Zoo and share in that feeling of innovation and discovery as you learn more about the mind of our closest living relative, the chimpanzee.

Elizabeth Lonsdorf and Steve Ross

Chimpanzee Culture January 19, 2011

In our last post we talked about our experiences in Japan with the International Primatological Society meetings. Our time in Japan not only gave us the opportunity to hear about the latest and coolest primate research; it also gave us the opportunity to do so in Kyoto, a city steeped in historical beauty and cultural significance.

For the Lincoln Park Zoo team, it was particularly interesting to learn more about how Japanese culture differed from our own. In a similar way, researchers studying animals (especially primates) have recognized population-level differences in behaviors within a certain species. Just as Americans tend to eat rice with a fork or a spoon while our Japanese counterparts tend to use chopsticks, chimpanzees may perform behaviors in very different ways depending on where they live.

In some parts of Africa, chimpanzees gather ants (a tasty treat) by using long pieces of vegetation and a wide sweeping motion to collect a huge mass of the insects from their nest on the ground. Other chimpanzees in different regions tend to use a shorter stick and perform faster, repeated dips into the nest.

What causes these regional differences in chimpanzee behavior? Do they have “culture” in the sense that humans do? Culture is broadly defined as differences in behavior that are not genetically inherited, but rather learned from other members of your community. 

In the animal world, culture is even more strictly defined, such that ecological explanations must be nullified. That is, it’s not necessarily a cultural difference if a chimpanzee in a certain area doesn’t crack nuts if there are no nuts around to be cracked. However, we now know of numerous examples of behaviors for which these ecological explanations have been discounted, and researchers are left to explain these behavioral differences as something once thought uniquely human: as true culture. 

Few would argue that chimpanzee culture reaches the diversity and complexity shown by the human race, encompassing mythology, religion and literature. But cultural differences do exist in chimpanzees, and the study of these behavioral differences has become a fertile area of study.

New studies on cultural behaviors in species as diverse as whales and crows are coming to light on a regular basis. Although we never quite became experts on the use of chopsticks in Japan, Lincoln Park Zoo scientists continue to show interest in the study of cultural development. An entire section of “The Mind of the Chimpanzee” focuses on the newest findings regarding complex chimpanzee behaviors and the cultural differences found between populations. Pick up a copy and learn more the cultures of chimpanzees.

Elizabeth Lonsdorf and Steve Ross

Committing to Care April 15, 2011

One unique perspective in “The Mind of the Chimpanzee” is the final section, where we propose that ape-cognition studies are not only importantly academically but also crucial for ape conservation and care.

This mirrors our approach to research at the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes. We aim to conduct a wide variety of scientific investigations that not only have research value but also applied value for ultimately improving the care or conservation of the species.

In the book, we learn about the amazing things chimpanzees are capable of, whether they’re in the wild, zoos or a research setting. It was important to us that studies in the book didn’t directly involve the use of privately owned chimpanzees who might be subject to inappropriate management and, ultimately, poor care.

In curating the vast research presented in the book, it became clear that while scientists learn a lot from this research, most of the experiments are actually quite fun for the chimpanzees to do. That’s the intrinsic value of this sort of research: the chimpanzees are provided opportunities to work on tasks, puzzles and games in order determine the full range of their cognitive abilities.

But not all chimpanzees have those opportunities, of course. Since the original conference, we here at Lincoln Park Zoo have initiated Lincoln Park Zoo's Project ChimpCARE, a full-scale assessment of chimpanzees living as pets and performers across the United States. As part of this project, I have met dozens of chimpanzees. Some live in substandard conditions at roadside zoos and in private residences. Some sit alone in barren cages with barely an orange peel to move around the floor.

Knowing what these individuals are cognitively capable of and how they thrive in challenging social and physical environments makes these visits particularly difficult. Watching visitors mill past a solitary and clearly bored chimpanzee certainly made me wonder if visitors to these facilities had lower expectations for the animal than visitors seeing a group of active and dynamic chimpanzees.

The fact is that chimpanzees are adaptable. It’s why they are able to survive some of the most inappropriate conditions you can imagine. And when you move a chimpanzee from substandard conditions to an AZA-accredited zoo or legitimate sanctuary setting, you are likely to witness an amazing transformation. With the right care and management, chimpanzees can be rehabilitated and rediscover the amazing range of cognitive abilities that have lain dormant inside them.

Hopefully readers of the book will have two complementary experiences. They’ll come to understand more about the cognitive capabilities of chimpanzees. And the appreciation that comes from this will foster a new level of respect for the species.

Steve Ross

Elizabeth V. Lonsdorf, Ph.D., is an adjunct scientist in the zoo’s Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes.

Steve Ross, Ph.D. is director of the Fisher Center and chair of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan®.

Tetsuro Matsuzawa, Ph.D., directs the Primate Research Institute at Kyoto University in Japan.