Friday, July 08, 2005

A day in the life and in the lab of Frans de Waal

A day in the life and in the lab of Frans de Waal
(Science & Theology News)
Throughout his career, de Waal’s research has drawn ever-closer similarities between humans and their nearest primate kin. He says, however, that people often don’t realize exactly how alike the two are.

“I think there’s sort of two shocks from them when they see these similarities. One is that it lifts the ape up to a level that they never thought it was, and so it sort of improves the image of the apes—maybe either in a positive or negatives sense, but at least they see the ape as more complex than they thought it was,” de Waal says. “But also the opposite: It brings humans a little bit down because it makes it clear that things we consider as very sophisticated, unique to us, are part of our primate heritage.”

According to de Waal, it’s very hard to find a chimpanzee trait that is not humanlike. For example, instead of grooming, people now make small talk. Or some people may actually seek direct grooming contact by spending a lot of time at a salon or barbershop. And although physical competition is evident among humans, verbal fights have replaced much physical sparring in our culture. Even delayed retaliation or temporary control of a reaction may be observed in our chimpanzee relatives.

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