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Cognitive Development in Chimpanzees  

Tetsuro Matsuzawa

Cognitive development in chimpanzees has been illuminated through fieldwork and laboratory studies. Their life history reveals the importance of the mother–infant relationship. Females give birth at 5-year intervals on average, and the infants cling to their mothers in the first 3 months. Each chimpanzee community has its own unique cultural traditions, for example in tool use. How tools are used is passed across generations through social learning, in a process called education by master-apprenticeship. Laboratory studies in the early 21st century examined chimpanzees’ learning abilities even at the fetal stage. Chimpanzee and human cognition appear similar in both physical and social domains, and they follow the same developmental stages. However, there is a fundamental difference in the levels of complexity of hierarchical structure. Chimpanzees do not show the recursive and infinite levels that characterize human cognition. Chimpanzees are good at memorizing things at a glance but less skilled at representing things through imagination. The cognitive trade-off between working memory and language may explain the essential difference in cognitive development in the two species.