chapter  7
31 Pages

Learning and Language Acquisition in Primates

WithDuane M. Rumbaugh, Η. Κ. Massel

The ability to learn, to modify behavior as a consequence of environmental interactions, is a necessary characteristic of all animal life. Researchers have long been interested in cataloging quantitative and qualitative distinctions in the learning processes of many species of animals. The highest level skills nonhuman primates have been taught fall under the area of language training. The rate by which primates form learning sets, or learn to learn, has been found to demonstrate quantitative differences in interspecies learning ability. There are many problems associated with comparing learning-set performances of different species in laboratories across the country. Researchers interested in communication between man and ape considered the possibility of using sign language after it became apparent apes could not be taught human speech. Chimpanzees are quite dextrous with their hands and have been observed to make spontaneous gestures by numerous researchers.