For primates, having a mother helps them learn social skills


Wild bonobos, like all Great Apes, spend long childhoods with their mothers, learning the skills they need to function as socially and emotionally stable members of their community.

But orphaned bonobos at sanctuaries don’t have that kind of upbringing. Can they still learn the skills they need to get by in bonobo society?

Zanna Clay and Frans de Waal have been investigating the social development of bonobos: their results were published this week in PNAS. They found that the mother-infant bond is vital in developing healthy social and emotional skills.

Frans de Waal is well known for his popular science books about chimpanzee and bonobo behaviour. He has conducted almost 40 years of ground-breaking research into primate cognition, recognising and demonstrating the existence of emotion, cooperation, altruism, Machiavellian Intelligence, conflict resolution and more in our closest living relatives – chimpanzees and bonobos.

Written By: Carla Litchfield
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  1. So, full time, comprehensive education about natural reality by competent teachers is crucial to the good life – well, whodathunkit….

  2. Yes cdnmacatheist, full time, comprehensive education about natural reality by competent teachers is vital. However some of us far more advanced and sophisticated species teach our offspring that their life is ultimately controlled by a unproven all powerful ghost and if they die they not only get a second chance but end up somewhere better.

  3. I have read some literature by Frans de Waal and he seems to get a bit off track and philosophically hung up at times.

    Nevertheless his research, observational skills, insights, and connections between primate and “human” group behavior are spectacular.

    His research, I find, to be concise, well explained, and well supported. I would easily suggest reading any of his books on the subject.

  4. I read somewhere that “a child without a father has a single parent, but a child without a mother is an orphan.”

    I dont know if I should be sorry for printing it because it could be inflammatory to some people, but it always stuck with me. And, it rings very very true in my experience as a high school teacher (with no stats or hard evidence, rather pure anecdotal observation).

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