Leading expert on chimpanzees to speak at York

Studies suggest that chimpanzees and humans share at least 94 per cent of the same DNA. Given the biological similarities, it is not surprising that animal behaviourists have discovered that our closest evolutionary relatives have demonstrated certain skills, such as using numbers, in ways once thought unique to humans. 

But how do chimpanzees learn these skills and to what extent can they develop their intelligence? This is a question that fascinates Tetsuro Matsuzawa, professor of language and intelligence at the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University in Japan. Matsuzawa will present his most recent findings at a lecture on March 29, 5-7pm, in Vari Hall B on York’s Keele campus.  

Left: Tetsuro Matsuzawa, professor of language and intelligence at the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University in Japan

A leading ethologist, Matsuzawa has been studying the intelligence of chimpanzees both in the laboratory and in the wild.  His laboratory work centres on the Ai-Project, a research study that was started in 1978. The project, which is studying an intergenerational community of 14 chimpanzees, is named after a 29-year-old female chimpanzee named Ai. She has learned to use letters and numbers to describe the environment she sees around her.

Since 1986, Matsuzawa has also been studying chimpanzees living in the wild in Bossou, Guinea, in West Africa. In particular, he has been researching how they use tools, such as stones, to carry out tasks.

By studying the cognitive skills of chimpanzees in both in human-made and natural environments, Matsuzawa has been able to make comparisons between the two groups.

Matsuzawa’s research work has earned him several awards, including the Prince Chichibu Memorial Award in 1991, the Jane Goodall Award in 2001 (named after the pioneering British primatologist) and the Medal with Purple Ribbon (a high-profile Japanese award presented for contributions in academics, the arts or sports).

A scholar with many publications to his credit, Matsuzawa is the author of the book Primate Origins of Human Cognition and Behaviour and co-author of the recently published Cognitive Development in Chimpanzees. He has also published many journal articles relating to his area of interest.  

Matsuzawa’s March 29 presentation, entitled “Cognitive Development in Chimpanzees: A Synthesis of Field and Lab Study”, is the final lecture in the Cognition in Context Seminar and Speaker Series.

The interdisciplinary series, which features lectures on animal cognition by international researchers, aims to spark the cross-fertilization of ideas and methodologies.

The Cognition in Context Seminar and Speaker Series is funded by a York University Seminar for Advanced Research grant. It is co-sponsored by Glendon’s Psychology Department and the Philosophy Department’s Cognitive Science Program, Faculty of Arts.