Business, Politics & Society

Chimpanzee Development & Learning

Dr. Jane Goodall

Lesson time 11:58 min

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

Dr. Jane Goodall
Teaches Conservation
In 29 lessons, Dr. Jane Goodall shares her insights into animal intelligence, conservation, and activism.
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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...

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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.


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A fellow student

I'm dumbstruck to hear Dr Jane Goodall's describe her early experiences, mostly observations, of the chimps. We (humans) knew none of this until she began her study and then it was finally made available to us. Chimps definitely have characteristics that are in humans. I can recall when her work was first released to "us". Many did not think it was valid. (Today, I guess we'd call it false study?) Truly, fascinating.

Georgina M.

Hearing about the different chimpanzee cultures is also fascinating, especially as I think so many people assume that all chimpanzee behaviours are universal. Unfortunately, I have read that these differences in culture are gradually disappearing due to human activities and are instead becoming more uniform. This reduction in cultural diveristy could put chimpanzees in grave danger, as some of the unique aspects of chimpanzee culture that have been lost are related to obtaining food. Therefore as the environment changes chimpanzees may struggle to receive adequate nutrition and thus competition will intenisfy. This illustrates the importance of promoting the protection of chimpanzee habitat and aiming to reduce the environmental impact of human actions.

Georgina M.

It was amazing to here about the ways chimpanzees learn by observation in this class. When I was volunteering at a wildlife centre in Borneo last year, which rescues orangutans and other species with the aim to rehabilitate them, one of the orangutans escaped and she was seen pushing a wheelbarrow and using the cleaning brushes in the same we she must have seen us doing. This illustrates the ability of primates to learn from others of their own species, as well as those from different secies.

Maria Lisa P.

I've had this course on my wish list since last year. Just finished my 3 yr BACS and now is the time to do this. Captivating I must say, loving the course. I wonder if Spindle is Mel's Dad?

A fellow student

I can listen to Dr. Jane over and over... I learn so much every time. I admire her greatly.

A fellow student

Very interesting discussion of their parenting skills. I think human fathers have to learn parenting skills from their wives.

Belinda M.

Very frustrating that Dr Jane Goodall, made so many observations, but it took even longer for them to be accepted, for example the behaviours differing from different regions. Fascinating listening to Dr. Jane.


It’s so fascinating how there are so many noteworthy parallels between chimps and humans, from similar parenting behaviors, both good and bad, to both of our species passing down discovered knowledge from generation to generation. I am looking forward to learning more about those similarities in this class, and am curious to see what Dr. Jane has to say next.

Mary H.

The elements of authority, patience, and lifelong learning are demonstrated. The Elements of Teaching is classic for teachers - fyi.

Katerina V.

This is all really fascinating, even though it seems so obvious to us today, because we have seen it many times on tv - when Dr. Goodall saw these behaviours for the first time, it must have been really exciting. And isn't it interesting how the human race became so arrogant believing that we are 'the top of the chain' when in fact we have so much to (re)learn from the natural world. And maybe if we adopted some of these (basic) behaviours, especially within relationships to each other, maybe the world would become a better place?