We compare the psychology of hominoids (human and non-human apes). Specifically, we seek to identify which features our problem-solving abilities have evolved since humans, bonobos, and chimpanzees shared a common ancestor (i.e., the 3 chimps). Our research reveals the biological basis of many of our species most sophisticated abilities as well as how they are constrained.
Our group also compares the psychology of apes and non-primates to identify cases of psychological convergence (i.e., distantly related species have similar cognitive skills). Such cases of convergence can provide a unique opportunity to infer how human-like social skills evolved.
We conduct the majority of our research in the African sanctuaries Lola ya Bonobo and Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Sanctuary. Therefore, we are actively involved in research promoting the conservation and welfare of nonhuman apes in the Congo Basin.
How can the knowledge we create be used in service for society?
- Mapping normal cognitive development in humans and identifying causes of developmental disorders such as autism.
- Understanding the biological basis of human trust, tolerance and aggression to aid in development of strategies to promote cooperation while preventing xenophobia, female coercion and even war.
- Describing the biological basis of human economic preferences that influence both rational and irrational decisions.
- Revealing how the portrayal of endangered animals such as chimpanzees on television can affect public attitudes toward their welfare and conservation.
- Evaluating the release of orphaned apes back into the wild as an education and conservation strategy.