Blog 4: Primates

It is not hard to understand how studying animals can be beneficial to understanding humans. For example, it is not uncommon for studies to be done on lab rats. This can be very useful in determining the effects certain medications will have, and other similar studies.

While different biological effects can be observed by conducting tests on animals like rats, chimps and all others hominoids provide scientists with a unique opportunity to observe behavior because they are the closest in terms of evolution to humans. As shown in the series of videos about what it means to be human, we do have many similar social and behavioral characterizes and even some similar learning abilities. One thing that I found interesting was how monkeys, much like humans, rely on learned behavior, and for that reason, are very caring and nurturing towards their offspring. A mother monkey puts a lot of effort into a pregnancy, similar to human mothers, so they have to make each one count (unlike a fish who has many offspring and does little to no nurturing or caring for those offspring). Monkeys, in turn, raise their offspring the way they were raised. So without that initial learned behavior that they acquired at birth, a monkey will not know how to raise their own children or socialize with other monkeys. This reminds me of studies on feral children who were never socialized as children and as a result, do not know how to interact with other humans. So the way humans and monkeys act socially is very similar. What struck me the most was the connection between being a species that relies on learned behavior and being able to nurture children. It makes perfect sense, however I had never really thought of that relationship prior to this lesson.

After doing all of the readings and watching the videos, the most surprising for me was the Wayman article about war. More specifically, what shocked me the most was that certain types of primates engage in violent, war behaviors, while others do not. One of the readings suggested that somewhere down the line, humans could have inherited this gene for war behavior since other primates exhibit the same behavior, however I am skeptical about this theory. Since other primates do not exhibit the same violent behaviors, I wonder if it is more of a learned behavior. As previously discussed, both humans and monkeys rely on learned behavior. In earlier lessons, we also discussed how genes are affected by the environment. Perhaps at one point, violence was necessary for survival and from then on it was just a learned behavior that has been passed down generations. If all hominoids share a common ancestor, I would think all of them would have the gene for violent, war-like behaviors, however we have learned that not all genes get passed on or show in every offspring. So I suppose this does just remain a mystery for now as to why some primates fight with neighboring groups while others do not.

One thought on “Blog 4: Primates

  1. Hi Teresa
    Thank you for your well thought out and written blog in response to the ways in which non-human primates provide information about human evolution. You made a number of excellent remarks throughout the blog post. The study of animals and their biology and behavior can be very helpful to scientists and researchers seeking to gain further knowledge about humanity. I was also intrigued by the article that referenced primate violence and warfare. I would agree with your skepticism of the statement made by the author that humans inherited the tendency to resort to violence from an ancient common ancestor. I felt that you made an excellent defense of your skepticism by mentioning the fact that humans and primates learn from the behavior of others. Great blog!

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