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Science & Tech

Chimps & Humans

Dr. Jane Goodall

Lesson time 11:12 min

According to Dr. Jane, there’s never been a more exciting time to study animal science. Hear how much she has learned about the remarkable similarities between chimps and humans and how much is still left to be uncovered.

Dr. Jane Goodall
Teaches Conservation
Dr. Jane Goodall shares her insights into animal intelligence, conservation, and activism.
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I firmly believe that for any student today wanting to study animal behavior, this is, without question, the most exciting time. Because today, you can study something which, when I was first involved in learning about science at Cambridge, you couldn't study, because it was said not to exist-- one of the things being animal intelligence, animal intellect, as well as personality and emotions. When I first saw tool using, it was really exciting because it was thought that humans and only humans used and made tools. Today, it wouldn't be exciting at all, because we know that there are so many other animals using tools. And so some of this is really fascinating, because science has gradually opened its mind to thinking out of the box. The original box had this sharp line dividing us from the rest of the animal kingdom. And so gradually, people, scientists, began to admit, as clearly the chimpanzees do have something like a mind. They do have something like conscious thought. I think one of the first things that was very exciting for me was seeing how much of their behavior resembled our own, because after all, that's why Louis Leakey sent me there. And I knew he'd be excited. I knew he'd be excited with descriptions of two chimpanzees greeting one another after a separation, because of course, they don't travel around as a troop, but in small groups. And that means friends are sometimes separated. Family members are separated. And then they reunite. And so when they reunite, they kiss. They embrace. They hold hands. They pat one another. Sort of things that we do, in the same context as we do them. And if a chimpanzee is feasting on some delicious fruit, another one may want to share-- come and beg with the hand out. If two males are competing for dominance, aggression is-- there's not too much actual fighting, for most of the time, they rely on looking large and fierce and intimidating rather than actually physically fighting. Which, of course, is very adaptive, less wounding and so on. So two males threatening each other, stand upright. They bristle. Their hair stands out. They look twice as big. They get a furious scowl on their face, and they may swagger from foot to foot. They may reach up and sway a branch. They may shake their fist. And this is like a lot of humans. We see the same kind of behavior. We see it in some of our politicians, where a dominant male will kind of loom over his rival. And we can think of politicians like that. I'm sure everybody can. [MUSIC PLAYING] It was very obvious as I got to know more about chimpanzee behavior, not only do the chimps have these different personalities, and that's very clear right from the beginning. It's not only clear that once you get to know chimps they all look different from each other, and they sound different. So that there is a distance or a greet...

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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.

Jane shows through stories how one person makes a difference and gives hope for a better future of our planet.

Thanks to this MasterClass I've learnt of several new methods of conservation and have began making a more active effort to encourage those around me to help better the environment as well.

Jane's courage and tenacity is inspiring. I continued to be awed by the support she received from her mother.

Jane Goodall is so inspiring and makes me want to be a better person. Thanks


A fellow student

Fascinating, My question to Dr. Goodall would be : how can a researcher know for sure that his or her conclusions are not projections from his or her own life and experiences? For example, Dr Goodall concludes that some chimpanzee mothers are more supportive of their offspring than others and that those youngsters that have greater maternal support do better in life afterwards. She tell also about the essential support her own mother gave her in the early years of her coming of age as a researcher. How does one tell with certainty that a conclusion about support and nurturing is not merely a projection?

Bernardo F.

Although it's true that nowadays ethology is accepted by most people and there are serious research all around the globe using many species, there's also extreme animalism. I mean, I accept that sometimes the conditions in which the experiments are conducted are rude to the animals, but apart from those cases there's people against studying and knowing, even if animals are provided with a good environment. On the other hand, if we want to study animals in their natural environment, either we need to contest for fund or the habitat is so modified that natural behaviour is rare to be seen.

Antonia T.

So strange that she doesn't even mention Dian Fossey. Never saw a scientist that doesn't acknowledge the discoveries of others. Disappointing.


The interesting thing about Koko's behaviour is that he predicted the young woman's reaction. He set up the joke in the beginning and then patiently waited for it to unfold. He modified his own behaviour, essentially keeping a straight face, as the frustration of the young woman gradually increased.

Chuck O.

Raid a crop at night like a pig. Or anything that is smart. We are littke designers. God is the designer

Svanfridur M.

It is very interesting to think how chimps possess many of the traits that made humans so successful. Adaptability, but also creativity, the ability to cooperate, empathy, curiosity, etc. Though they may not have progressed as far as we or be as intelligent, they may very well be at a similar level as early humans. This makes one think of where the chimp species may go in the future, and how the changing world may force it to adapt and maybe even grow more intelligent (after all, early humans came out of the drying of Africa as were forced to walk upright and think of new survival strategies in a continent quickly losing the rainforest we depended on).

Mia S.

"The best story I have to illustrate sense of humor in an ape actually comes from a captive ape, the famous gorilla Koko who learned sign language. When people say, 'Do apes have a sense of humor?' I've seen many examples in Gombe of chimpanzees teasing each other, but this example from Koko: So, she's just learned, the signs for different colors. Not just the primary colors, but gold, beige, purple, everything. This young woman is new - she's been employed to help look after Koko. She's told, 'Amuse Koko while we get her supper ready.' So she amuses her by picking up different objects and asking Koko, 'What color?' Koko makes the right response until she picks up a white cloth and signs to Koko, 'What color is this?' and Koko signs back, 'Red.' The young woman says, 'Oh Koko, you know better than that. What color is this?' 'Red.' So after a bit, she says, 'Koko, if you don't tell me what color this is, you won't get apple juice for supper.' So Koko reaches out, she takes the white cloth, she picks off a minute piece of red fluff, and she goes 'Red red red.' It is the perfect example of sense of humor. All of these things I was gradually learning, just feeling more at more at ease with understanding the postures and gestures of the chimps, what they were doing, even though I knew there was a lot more to learn."

Mia S.

"They also use certain plants as medicine. Chimpanzees will pick the same kind of leaf, which they will chew, but they swallow it. These are leaves which have a very bristly surface, and when you examine those leaves coming out in the stool, they've actually taken a whole lot of parasites or parasite eggs out of the gut. They also use other plants medicinally, and they turn out to be the same plants as local people use. It's now become a whole study, the use of medicinal plants in other animals too. Maybe chimpanzees learn them from people, maybe people learn them from chimpanzees, but we do know that young ones observe the use of these plants and then use them themselves. It's a little bit of a mystery how this is passed on. I would say that some of the most fascinating information comes from areas which are so different from the tropical rainforest. 'It's so hot, the chimpanzees are foraging at night.' That shows how adaptive they can be, because it's just too hot in the daytime. In Mali, the little riverine strips are even thinner -it seems from preliminary observations that chimpanzees are spending time in the caves because it's cooler there. Chimpanzees are getting less and less habitat, because human population is growing. They've learned to raid crops, making these raids at night because it's safer. All the time, as more study sites start, we're learning more and more. They're much more adaptable than anybody used to think - they're not just confined to the rainforest. It's another way of thinking about human evolution, and how we've been successful because of our adaptability."

Mia S.

"For any student today wanting to study animal behavior, this is without question the most exciting time. When I was first involved in learning about science at Cambridge, you couldn't study because it was said not to exist - one of the things being animal intelligence, as well as personality and emotions. When I first saw tool using, it was really exciting. Today, it wouldn't be exciting at all because we know there are so many other animals using tools. Science has gradually opened its mind to thinking out of the box, the original box that had this sharp line dividing us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Gradually scientists began to admit, 'Yes clearly chimpanzees do have something like a mind, like conscious thought.' When they reunite, they kiss, they embrace, they hold hands, sort of things we do in the same contexts we do them. If two males are competing for dominance, aggression is - there's not too much actual fighting. Most of the time they rely on looking large and fierce and intimidating, which of course is very adaptive - less wounding. They bristle, they look twice as big, they get a furious scowl on their face, they may swagger from foot to foot, shake their first... this is like a lot of humans, we see the same kind of behavior, we see it in some of our politicians. It was very obvious as I got to know more about chimpanzee behavior - not only do these chimps have difference personalities, they all look different from each other, sound different. Each individual has his or her own call, so that when you hear that sound you know who's calling, and that's really important for the scattered members of a community. It's a distance call, so it's quite loud - 'This is me.' It's also very clear as you get to know them that chimpanzees have the same kind of emotions as we do. They have a sense of humor."

Patrick D.

Jane revolutionized primatolgy. Then insight into emotion and personality!Huh, diversity. Women have changed all disciplines. Is it the estrogen? Is there an estrogen cocktail? Shaken, not stired.