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Chimpanzee Development & Learning

Dr. Jane Goodall

Lesson time 11:57 min

Hear about the family bonds and infant development that Dr. Jane discovered while observing chimp families.

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Topics include: Family & Parenting • Observational Learning • Developing Cultural Behaviors


I discovered that the bonds between family members are very strong and very long-lasting. Chimpanzees can live in captivity over 60 years. In the wild, 50 is pretty old, because they get internal parasites. Their teeth get worn, and they get sick and so forth. But the mother has her first child when she's about 12, 13. She then only has one child, if the child lives, every five years on average. Sometimes it's shorter. When the next baby is born, that older child is five or six, it doesn't immediately leave and become independent. Not at all. That older child is still emotionally very dependent on the mother, still travels with her and the younger brother or sister, and so the bonds between mother and offspring get stronger, and the bonds develop between the brothers and the sisters. These bonds can last throughout life. So it was fascinating to find that in chimp society, just as in human society, there are good mothers and not so good mothers, very few actually bad mothers, because there's clearly non-adaptive. But the good mother is affectionate, she's protective, but she's not overprotective. She is playful, and, in fact, it was one of the things when I was watching the chimp mothers enjoying their infants that I vowed that when I had my own child, I would have fun with my child like they seemed to be having fun with theirs. But the most important thing was supportive, just like my mother. So if you're a supportive mother, and your infant starts playing with another infant, whose mother is dominant to yours, and a fight breaks out, and you scream, because you are hurt, the good mother, the supportive mother will run in to protect you, even though that means she's liable to be attacked by the dominant mother of the playmate. And we now know looking back over all the years that the offspring of the supportive mothers, the good mothers, tend to do better. So the female will be a better mother and a more successful mother, and the male is more likely to rise higher in the dominance hierarchy, because they feel secure in themselves because of this support they have. And as the family grows, then there is also support from the older brothers and sisters, and it's quite a close knit family unit for a great deal of the time. And that aspect of chimp behavior, the development of the child has always really fascinated me. And it was the first aspect of chimp behavior that fascinated science, not the ethologists. It was the human child psychologists like John Bowlby and Rene Spitz, who became fascinated by my observations of early childhood development. The childhood period is long. It's much longer than most mammals. Our human children, we have a long childhood. The chimp child is suckling for five years, although gradually less often, is riding on the mother's back in travel, although gradually less often, is sharing her nest at night until the birth of...

About the Instructor

There is still a window of time. Nature can win if we give her a chance. In her first ever online class, Dr. Jane Goodall teaches how you can conserve the environment. She also shares her research on the behavioral patterns of chimpanzees and what they taught her about conservation. You'll learn how to act locally and protect the planet.

Featured MasterClass Instructor

Dr. Jane Goodall

Dr. Jane Goodall shares her insights into animal intelligence, conservation, and activism.

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