Sunday, December 03, 2006

Missing Think
Evidence that psychology, like biology, is conserved between human and nonhuman species augurs a shake-up for science and society

Back in 1974, an unusual report from Jane Goodall at the Gombe Stream Wildlife Research Centre in Tanzania caught the public eye. Chimpanzees had committed infanticide and were engaging in war. Not only were they acting in unanticipated ways, chimpanzees were acting like humans.

Since then, what we know about ourselves and other species has changed substantially. We now recognize that species other than humans engage in an array of behaviors that bring variety and depth to life: dolphins teach cultural customs to their young, octopi demonstrate diverse personalities, and rats show a sense of humor.

Once at odds with the conventions of her discipline, Goodall's interpretations today are supported by decades of research in neurobiology. They are part of a broad conceptual framework that has coalesced around the idea that psychology, like biology, is conserved among animals.

Ethologists studying animal behavior with close links to humans, however, have long made it a principle not to infer humanlike mental states from humanlike behavior and, until recently, many scientists in the field frowned upon any discussion of animal mental states.

Read the full article by G.iA.iBradshaw and RobertiM.iSapolsky at American Scientist Online

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