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date: 26 July 2021

Primatology and the Study of Humanity’s Primate Heritagelocked

Primatology and the Study of Humanity’s Primate Heritagelocked

  • Charles T. SnowdonCharles T. SnowdonDepartment of Psychology, University of Wisconsin


Darwin’s theory of evolution opened the way for the study of nonhuman primates as a valuable method for understanding human behavior. Psychologists and anthropologists both value the study of nonhuman primates, but they have different methods and goals. Broadly speaking, anthropologists have studied the behavior and social lives of animals in their natural habitat with interests in how primates adapt to their environment and in tracing primate evolutionary history. Psychologists typically study captive primates where controlled experiments are possible to understand the ontogeny and underlying mechanism controlling behavior. The two approaches are complementary and, when integrated, can lead to important insights.

Since the middle of the 20th century, primate research has expanded exponentially, with an increasing number of long-term field sites providing important data across generations with expanded studies of a great variety of species. Captive research also has thrived with the establishment of national primate research centers. Primate research has illuminated our understanding of cognition, language evolution, tool use, culture, and social structure, including mating systems and sexual behavior, parenting, aggression, and cooperation. However, the majority of nonhuman primate species are threatened or endangered in their natural habitats and require human intervention to preserve our primate heritage.


  • History and Systems of Psychology
  • Psychology and Other Disciplines

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