Psychology of Primates      55313  T R 08:10 AM    Conant 101


28 class meetings, Jan 25- May 05


PSYC 512 Psychology of Primates- Spring 11-2



Daily notes

These are my own notes and record of what we covered (discussed/viewed) in class. They also may include other relevant material I didn't mention but should have if time (or memory) allowed. I may also include info on questions someone asked. They are not necessarily complete but should be reviewed before exams as I might add or revise at any time. (I left some items in from last semester.) I usually try to log my notes each day and will modify any contents that need it. New assignments will be found here as well.

week 1

See course description and other features of the webpage and course itself.

Introducing "Life in the trees". I briefly commented on the function of binocular vision in connection with basic features of primates, pointing out that other species may share some of these features. Someone asked about birds, some of whom are notorious predators. All birds have binocular vision but I suspect predator birds like owls and eagles have more overlap. Compare owls and pigeons!

(Read about Tyson's Pygmie -- the "standing" chimp on my webpage. Our human fascination with animals probably goes back into prehistory but modern science of primates, might start with Tyson. Darwin and Wallace put together a theory of evolution that has proven largely true -- for primates as well as beetles)

Timeline of primate evolution and more


Show "Life in the trees"  Everyone should know the distinguishing characteristics of primates, something about all the apes and their similarities with various species of Homo  xxxx including us humans.  We should also know about a few non-ape species that have served as "animal models" for human behavior.  These would include old world (OW) rhesus monkeys and other macaques (some of which are misleadly known as Barbary Apes even though they are monkeys), baboons (also monkeys), the new world (NW) capuchin and tamarin monkeys, and some prosimians such as lemurs. Others may be added to this list. See video for similarities and differences of OW and NW monkeys. One of these differences, a prehensile tail, raises some interesting questions-- what other differences are required in order to evolve a functional prehensile tail? Think about building a robot or puppet monkey with a grasping tail; what else would have to be changed?

The most signficant correction to the "Life in trees" video is the statement that humans and chimps shared a common ancestor some 15 million years ago (mya). Since that video was made, we have learned that there is only about 5 to 7 million years difference between chimps -- our closest relative -- and humans. Read a recent entry in "what's new.."

New discoveries continue to be made - new species found, more about relationships among existing ones revealed -- either from new fossil or DNA findings. See recent items in "what's new..."

How do we know this? See the next video, Children of Eve.

 But first see the slides in "primate family" topic notes. Also see the recent discovery in the "News" regarding genetic differences determining primate forelimbs. (Compare mammal forelimbs with primates' forelimbs - of course primates including us humans are also mammals...)


The "Adaptation" video intro compresses earth's history into a few minutes-- note the extinction of dinosaurs and portrayal of separation of apes and humans by the east African rift.

See timeline of evolution and overview notes. While all of us are aware that species come and go, many do not realize that the earth itself undergoes changes (in continents, geology and temperature) at a less noticeable rate but those changes have had a dramatic effect on shaping life on earth. Note the discussion of Madascar in Life in the Trees, now an island, populated by lemurs found nowhere else.


week 2

Sketch of geographical distribution of current non-human primates. Obviously this is incomplete regarding prosimian and monkey species. There are about 222 primate species. Apparently primates like the equator!

the Limber "...Fascination..." reading is online.


Show/finish "Children of Eve" video -- at the time of production this was quite revolutionary in its claims. These biochemical, DNA analyses are even more sophisticated today and can reveal historical relatedness not visible in fossil comparisions. We could view a more recent version of this but the mild controversy discussed about the methods and conclusions on date of a common human/chimp ancestor illustrates the process of science. Sarich's conclusions could have been wrong -- even today if someone finds a non-hoaxed big skull dating to 3 or 4 mya, all bets are off.. Recent work (see video notes and "news" ) confirms most of these conclusions and debate has focused on precise timing of the "out of Africa" migration of modern humans. Estimates range between 150,000 and 50,000. For our purposes, we can say that about 50,000 to 100,000 years ago modern human bodies roamed into the middle East, Asia and Europe. The oldest fossil representing these modern humans is about 100,000 years old , found in Iraq.

Here is a very recent discussion of these isssues. Please read it.

Darwin's 202th birthday is this Feb. 12.

What did Darwin think, circa 1830-1871?) He had no hominid fossils, no DNA -- heredity was a complete mystery though Darwin created his own bogus theory of "pangenesis." This was a somewhat clever implementation of Lamarck's (1808) theory of the inheritance of acquired traits. This was widely believed until the late 1800s and even into the early 1900s but proven false by Weissman's (1885) discovery that "germ cells" are not modified by parental learning. Female ova (eggs) hereditary material, for example is established before prenatally. (More on this later.)


Not until the 20th century did any real understanding of inheritance surface. (The word "gene" was created about 1909; the term "genetic" as used by Piaget (1896-1980) meant only "growth.")

Darwin's sketches of origins and relatedness of the apes to humans were remarkably accurate based on very little modern evidence. Here's what Darwin said:

" On the Birthplace and Antiquity of Man.- We are naturally led to enquire, where was the birthplace of man at that stage of descent when our progenitors diverged from the catarhine* stock? The fact that they belonged to the stock clearly shews that they inhabited the Old World; but not Australia nor any oceanic island, as we may infer from the laws of geographical distribution. In each great region of the world the living mammals are closely related to the extinct species of the same region. It is therefore probable that Africa was formerly inhabited by extinct apes closely allied to the gorilla and chimpanzee; and as these two species are now man's nearest allies, it is somewhat more probable that our early progenitors lived on the African continent than elsewhere. (Ch.6, Descent of Man....)"

*What is "catarhine?" I looked it up.
Function: adjective
Etymology: New Latin Catarrhina, from Greek katarrhina, neuter plural of katarrhin hook-nosed, from kata- + rhin-, rhis nose
Date: 1863
" of, relating to, or being any of a division (Catarrhina) of primates comprising the Old World monkeys, higher apes, and hominids that have the nostrils close together and directed downward, 32 teeth, and the tail when present never prehensile.

Charles Darwin, perhaps like his grandfather Erasmus, assumed all life stemmed from a single cell ("filament"). This is sometimes known as the Doctrine of Common Descent. Recent thinking suggests at least at the earliest stages of life, genes may have transferred "laterally" making the most accurate model of evolution a kind of network rather than a tree or bush.

Both PBS and the BBC have websites on human evolution that are worthwhile.



Begin Orangutan video on the most distant large ape. Read about orangutans in the overview. Note that while researchers focus on chimps as tool-users, orangs certainly have the eye-hand coordination and dexterity to use many human tools. Their apparent lack (but see short video clip next week) of natural tool use is probably a matter of their environment, not their capability in using tools.

I have kept up a "timetable" of primate events, beginning at the beginning!

Again see the slides in "primate family" topic notes. Also see the recent discovery in the "News" regarding genetic differences determining primate forelimbs. (Compare mammal forelimbs with primates' forelimbs - of course primates including us humans are also mammals...)


Finish Galdikas orangutan video; read the video notes. There's a new orang book recently published, supposedly excellent.

week 3

video: a few more Asian video bits- loris, simiang (gibbon cousin), and recent orang clips--a bit of Julia's date with Mr Kusasi and some newly filmed orang behaviors. These include :

start Gorilla; see notes. Take a field trip to the Franklin zoo in Boston where there is an excellent gorilla exhibit, starring the notorious Little Joe and a number of adult females, juvenile, and young gorillas.

Comment on Gomez book. (Also in topic notes under 'text notes.") Review terms in Gomez.

A brief discussion of primate cognition --

Be aware of "anthropomorphism"-- the attribution of human traits and characteristics to non-human entities such as plants, computers, coke machines, and animals. Some might say "unwarranted" attribution... But if taken as a source of ideas and hypotheses about the causes of those entities behaviors, controlled anthropomorphism may be fruitful. It always pays to be cautious and seek additional evidence. Hebb (1946-7) for example argued certain ape behaviors might be better predicted by conceptualizing apes as humans. More on this later but many of these video narrations make gross assumptions about the video scene that go beyond what we see.

(Hebb, D. O. (1947) Spontaneous Neurosis in Chimpanzees: Theoretical Relations with Clinical and Experimental Phenomena. Psychosomatic Medicine. 9, 3-19. With commentary by O.H. Mowrer himself.

Hebb, D. O. (1946). Emotion in man and animal: An analysis of the intuitive processes of recognition. Psychological Review, 53, 88-106.. | ISI |)

a- flexibiliity of behavior. Primates are particular good at changing their behavior in response to new problems. this a function of several morphological developments, notably very flexible grasping forelimbs and relatively large increase in neocortex. Long life and a long juvenile period enables much learning from others -- especially mom. (Contrast flexibility with reflexes.)

b- the use of mental representations. Primates are good at apparently working out problems "in their heads" without taking a risk required in more overt "trial-and-error" learning. How they get specific bits of knowledge remains to be determined -- is it from memory of prior experiences, observations of others in similar situations, instinct, lucky guess? Probably all of these work together in any given case.

(Humans carry this to an extreme with overt models of situations -- experiments, model planes, math models -- but other primates seem to be able to use visual imagery. Human minds are filled with "tools" --language, math, logic -- that can represent virtually anything. These are cultural "add ons" not found in the naive mind.)

Memory plays a role in these cognitive processes for obvious reasons -- see long life above. For example the "law of effect" in trial and error learning could not work without a tacit memory of prior succeses and failures.

What's intelligence?. More on this later but my idea of "intelligence" has to do with the degree of "flexibility" in the individual organism in regard to solving problems. This leads to the idea that intelligence can only be assessed when we know how a problem is solved. If the organism has little choice or degrees of freedom, then little intelligence is involved -- on the other hand -- if there are lots of alternatives and the correct solution is found, that indicates intelligence. Thus flying is not particularly indicative of intelligence in birds but it would be in primates. Instinctive behaviors therefor typically are not indicative of "intelligence" -- just the opposite as they require little and all the species do it as result of being a normal species member.


You might ask yourselves as you watch these videos, why are most of these non-human primates considered on the brink of extinction, e.g. maybe six or seven thousand gorillas compared with 6 or 7 billion humans? And just 150,000 years ago there were amost no humans!!

Thursday: finish Gorilla, Little Joe notes, maybe gorilla video bits, prosopagnosia, and heterochrony in human- chimp head development.


week 4 get (tentative) study guide to exam 1 here. See the exam page for last year's exam. See all of Darwin's papers online.


For old exams, go to exam page. If you have specific questions while reviewing, send them to Blackboard's discussion board. I will check it several times a day. Maybe someone else has asked a similar question.

Discuss upcoming exam, especially essay question two on bipedalism and its role in human evolution. Here's a version of the sketch from the board. Compare gorilla, bipedal "Lucy", and homo sapiens foramen magnum position. Guess what a dog looks like from this perspective. ("Foramen" means hole or opening.)

short video on hands, started "New Chimps" video. Maybe "running" video bit with Liberman. (See what's new)



week 5 --exam 1, Tuesday 2/22

See video "Extreme senses"- on the ear and its multiple roles in hearing, balance, and proprioception--the "sixth sense" Review sense notes.

week 6

brain development, size and lateralization-- developed after bipedalism.

Why? Maybe larger brain enabled R & L hemispheres to operate independently?

Specialization of hemispheres: hand, language, cognition (M. Gazzaniga's LH "interpreter" video, RH faces and prosopagnosia case video.)

review fig. 3.1 in Gomez for discussion of primates and objects.

Baboon video

"object permanence" difference in baboon vs chimp? (video bit)


week 7


exam 1 grades are on Blackboard; the average was 84 with lots of variability. See comments and answers here THursday when exams will be returned.

Next exam Tuesday, March 29. this is a corrected change in date. Study guide available Mar 22.

Tuesday topics- timetable on human self reflection, ie.. beginnings of science on ourselves

some early primate researchers-- see notes

video clips- Kelloggs (Gua & Donald), Bedtime for Bonzo, Hayes (Vicki)


discuss intelligence (thinking, cognition, problem solving)

see "Brain" and "Are animals intelligent?" videos.

Brief "Wada test" video -- anesthesia test of cerebral hemisphere functions.




week 8 -- spring break --study guide available Tuesday, Mar 22. Exam is Mar 29

I'm having computer problems so I will leave the original study guide up but will make a few changes today, mostly linking pages together. Here is the newest version-- no changes in the essays.

Look at the "mind tool" notes. Human have developed "tools" like numbers and words in human language that extend the powers of our minds analogously to the way pliers and hammers extend the powers of our forelimbs.

Counting and subsequently arithmetic enable humans far superior skills despite the apparent fact that many species have a similar quantitative sense as long as the numbers stay in single digits. (See Are Animals Intelligent? video).

Even the choice of number representations makes a large difference-- imagine doing math in Roman numerals or without a zero-- invented supposedly 2000 years ago but not widely used until much later.

Similarly "social priming" is widespread across species but only humans have any systematic teaching that spreads cultural innovations more or less widely across cultures. Social priming acts in various ways to reduce the errors in trial and error learning, essentially increasing the odds of success, e.g. by watching ..... BE WARY OF USING THE WORD "TEACH" IN DISCUSSION OF "SOCIAL PRIMING" AND TRANSMISSION OF KNOWLEDGE GENERALLY FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION. AS FAR AS I AM CONCERNED, ONLY HUMANS ENGAGE IN SYSTEMATIC TEACHING. You can always say something like "infants learn from their mom" without implying "mom's teach."

(I'm having problems updating the exam 2 study guide. If I solve the problem, I will only change/add some links to info in the topic notes. Essays will be the same as of Wed AM.)

Tuesday: discuss exam 2, intelligence and Leno "pentagon" problem solving video.

Begin "animal intelligence" video. (Newer notes).


finish "intelligence" video; see "mirror neuron" PBS video and "Clever Hans". Note that many of these "intelligent" activities by animals--horses, dogs, dolphins, apes-- are at basis a utilization of their sensitivity to movements-- even subtle movements of which we humans might not be aware.

week 09 -



week 10 exam March 29, Tuesday

exam 2 is Tuesday

discuss research projects

Thursday: see video "Ape genius" ; online notes here.

extra credit opportunity- 3 hrs, 3% each on exams. Sign up for psych labs; you will be credited.


week 11

See "Language" video; read the notes and the following paper below.

Limber, J. (1977). Language in child and chimp? American Psychologist, 32, 280-295 (Reprinted in Sebeok, T. & Sebeok, J. (Eds.) (1980). Speaking of Apes (pp.1197-1218). New York: Plenum Press.).

read/review the diet notes

Thursday: finish video --comment on functions of human language-intrapersonal, interpersonal, and cultural.

advice on research for final paper- Primate Lit, Google S, library databases incl Web of Science

Remember the goal is to update topics with new ideas and findings-- not just review old ones.






week 12

discuss "theory of mind" (aspects seen in "Ape genius")

human language evolution notes

language including NSL, Alex, and ToM video bits?

Talking Twins on Youtube (nothing like this in non-human primate infants)

exam two scoring key will be here.



week 13--


language evolution

language and social processes (see notes)

bonobo video (See PBS notes. Also online PBS video & notes on evolution of chimps and bonobos

week 14 exam 3 guide, tentative till noon Friday.

mention a few neglected language acquisition points (scroll down to "language instinct". Several video bits:

(We saw the twins jabbering contrasted with ape infants. And we saw segments of the Language video on Creoles from pidgins, also the NSL video, theory of mind/false-belief test videos. there are several others to see, all show great contrast between natural ape vocalizations and any HBC taught to them, as well as human children between 0-5 years.)

finish bonobo video

see sperm fertilization ; visualize sperm competition (both inter-individual and intra-individual)

note/slides on sex, reproduction, and development (here after Tuesday's class)

This interview on the evolution of motherhood is worth reading..

Orangutan King video--Mr Kusasi returns (see notes)

Thursday: get study guide with essay questions.

The Bard reading on BB is mysteriously lost. Will cover the essentials for the exam in class.



week 15 & 16 -- exam 3 on 4/28

Finish slides on reproduction and development (see them online probably without a couple of short video bits. I will work on this tonight if possible: gorillas fight for dominance , xxxxbower bird , horny little chimp meets erotic image

See Goodall's "Return to Gombe"-- read notes

Read the topic notes on aggression and several news items on aggression in chimps and bonobos

exam 2, THursday , 4/28

Read these notes on Ethics, and a recent update.


VIdeos: Gorilla King and Attraction

info on androgens and estrogens:

Exam three answers are here; you can pick up exams outside my office next week?

"Responsive brain" video or at least notes . research projects due

Friday, May 13, 12:00pm.--if not sooner in room 16 Conant. Slide under the door & email copy.


Remember: Papers must follow APA style references and have at least two recent references --one of which must be in a published journal. No email papers will be accepted and a copy of your outline must be attached to the final paper. Any deviation from these requirements will result in a serious loss of points.

Papers following their approved outline and these other requirements are almost guaranteed a high grade (8.5-9.5 of 10).

Papers are due on or before May 13, 12 pm. If I am not in my office --16 Conant Hall -- PUT IT UNDER MY DOOR AND SEND ME AN EMAILED COPY (512 in subject line) WHEN YOU CAN AS A BACKUP-- SECRETARIES ARE NO LONGER TAKING PAPERS.

Keep a copy for yourself.

NO email papers unless followed up with a printed copy in a day or so.




FINAL GRADES-- these will be posted as soon as possible.