From Dr. Jane Goodall's MasterClass

Chimpanzee Development & Learning

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

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


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

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

Dr. Jane Goodall

Teaches Conservation

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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.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Dr. Jane Goodall has always been inspiring to me and hearing her speak first hand was a wonderful way to spend the evenings! I would like to learn more about the roots and shoots program and see if I can implement it locally here in my kids school.

I am very interested in conservation, but very new to it. MASTERCLASS ;gave me the opportunity to learn from the best. This class gave me a well rounded perspective and the insight only a master could give.

I have become so much more aware of us humans' impact on the world and environment, the negative which we need to change and the positive we need to encourage. Dr. Jane Goodall has inspired me beyond words and given me hope where I thought there was none!

I am a student taking AP Environmental Science and my teacher told me about Master Class. Seeing this course by Dr. Goodall made me want to learn more about how I can help the world. What she talked about was very inspiring and thought-provoking. Thank you


Maria 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?

Svanfridur M.

It's very interesting thinking about the fundamental aspects of culture - a thing we see as uniquely human - and looking to see if other animals display these same fundamentals. I'm currently developing a theory about what fundamental parts of human nature shaped our current culture and society, and in finding these traits that all humans and human societies posses it' interesting to recognize some of these same fundamentals in chimps. Jane is often describing in chimps the very things I'm identifying as being the roots of human culture, and so it makes one wonder if what chimps have is really not that far from our own.

Mia S.

"If you go a little bit further south from Gombe, there's a culture of - they call it 'anting.' They get a short little twig, they poke it in and out of the hole, and the ants come swarming out and then they'll be picked off with the lips. Gombe chimps don't do that, although we have the same kind of ant. I did see an infant once, getting curious, because they're very curious - he was poking a stick into this hole and the ants came out, and his mother came along and ate them. Now, that did not turn into that behavior, but it could have. A food may be eaten in one place and not another. It's obvious that the children are learning these cultural preferences from the adults in the community, because I've seen a child pick up something new, and the mother will hit it away. Although eventually, a new tool-using or feeding preference does crop up - and it's always the young ones who start it, because they're the ones who experiment, they're more likely to try something different. This, to me, has been absolutely fascinating, because one definition of human culture is behavior that is passed from one generation to the next through observation learning - and if we accept that definition, then we can say that chimpanzees have primitive cultures. I was attached by a scientist when I first came out with this idea, because I hadn't been in the field very long. 'How dare I talk about chimpanzees having cultural behavior and so forth?' But they do - and now it's accepted."

Mia S.

"Yes, they are watching what the mother does, they are learning. They are understanding some of these techniques. The females actually do better - they learn more quickly, and that's because the young male is always looking around, he's worrying about dominance and that sort of thing, even at quite a young age. He's more outgoing. The female child is more likely ti be content and stay near Mom and watch her, so they get quite good earlier than most males. Of course I'm generalizing - there's always differences. Suddenly, Gremlin turned back, she grabbed hold of the infant, who wanted to follow his mother, and Gremlin wouldn't let him. She pulled him and pulled him - the mother had gone past a place where a whole lot of ticks had hatched out, tiny baby ticks, hundreds of them. In fact, the mother was covered in these little ticks, and Gremlin had noticed, and she pulled her baby brother out of the way. She'd pulled Galahad away and saved him from being covered by ticks. When you put all these chance observations together, you really get a good idea of how chimpanzees are thinking and thinking things out. Looking at chimp behaviors across Africa, there are different field study sites, and we know that in different parts of Africa, there are completely different tool-using behaviors. In Central and West Africa, they're using rocks to crack open hard-shelled nuts - sometimes the very same nuts that we get at Gombe, where the chimps don't eat them, and we find different cultural preferences, behaviors in the foods eaten in different places."