The importance of development for comparative primatology

Kim Bard, David A. Leavens

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It is a truism to say that primates develop, but it is also important to acknowledge that development occurs across many domains, including motor behavior, socioemotional behavior, communication, and cognition. In this review, we focus on those aspects of development that impact social cognition outcomes in infancy. Triadic engagements, such as those of joint attention, cooperation, and intentional communication, develop in the first year of life in chimpanzees and humans. Joint attention, for example, occurs when infants coordinate their attention to a social partner while also attending to an object or event. Hominoids are strongly influenced by experiences during early development, especially experiences that are foundational for these coordinated triadic engagements. Purported species differences in triadic engagements are highlighted in current evolutionary theories of primate social cognition, but conclusions about species differences are unfounded when development is ignored. Developmental experiences must be matched, controlled, or systematically varied in experimental designs that make cross-species comparisons. Considerations of development, across species and across rearing experiences, would contribute to more accurate evolutionary theories of primate social cognition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-200
Number of pages18
JournalAnnual Review of Anthropology
Early online date21 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2014


  • great apes
  • joint attention
  • lived experiences
  • chimpanzees


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