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definition - Frans_de_Waal

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Frans de Waal

  Frans de Waal

Fransiscus Bernardus Maria (Frans) de Waal, PhD (born 29 October 1948, 's-Hertogenbosch), is a Dutch primatologist and ethologist. He is the Charles Howard Candler professor of Primate Behavior in the Emory University psychology department in Atlanta, Georgia, and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center[1] and author of numerous books including Chimpanzee Politics and Our Inner Ape. His research centers on primate social behavior, including conflict resolution, cooperation, inequity aversion, and food-sharing. He is a Member of the United States National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences.



De Waal studied at the Dutch universities of Radboud University Nijmegen, University of Groningen, and Utrecht. In 1977, De Waal received his doctorate in biology from Utrecht University after training as a zoologist and ethologist with Professor Jan van Hooff, a well-known expert of emotional facial expressions in primates. His dissertation research concerned aggressive behavior and alliance formation in macaques.[2]


In 1975, De Waal began a six-year project on the world's largest captive colony of chimpanzees at the Arnhem Zoo. The study resulted in many scientific papers, and resulted in publication of his first book, Chimpanzee Politics, in 1982. This book offered the first description of primate behavior explicitly in terms of planned social strategies. De Waal was first to introduce the thinking of Machiavelli to primatology, leading to the label "Machiavellian Intelligence" that later became associated with it. In his writings, de Waal has never shied away from attributing emotions and intentions to his primates, and as such his work inspired the field of primate cognition that, three decades later, flourishes around themes of cooperation, altruism, and fairness.

His early work also drew attention to deception and conflict resolution, nowadays two major areas of research. Initially, all of this was highly controversial. Thus, the label of "reconciliation" which de Waal introduced for reunions after fights was questioned at first, but is now fully accepted with respect to animal behavior. Recently, de Waal's work has emphasized non-human animal empathy and even the origins of morality. His most widely cited paper [1], written with his former student Stephanie Preston, concerns the evolutionary origin and neuroscience of empathy.

De Waal's name is also associated with Bonobo, the "make love – not war" primate that he has made popular. But even his Bonobo studies are secondary to the larger goal of understanding what binds primate societies together rather than how competition structures them.

Competition is not ignored in his work: the original focus of de Waal's research, before he was well known, was aggressive behavior and social dominance. Whereas his science focuses on the behavior of nonhuman primates (mostly chimpanzees, bonobos, macaques, and Capuchin monkeys), his popular books have given de Waal worldwide visibility by relating the insights he has gained from monkey and ape behavior to human society. With his students, he has also worked on elephants, which are increasingly featured in his writings.

His research into the innate capacity for empathy among primates has led De Waal to the conclusion that non-human great apes and humans are simply different types of apes, and that empathic and cooperative tendencies are continuous between these species. His belief is illustrated in the following quote from The Age of Empathy:

“We start out postulating sharp boundaries, such as between humans and apes, or between apes and monkeys, but are in fact dealing with sand castles that lose much of their structure when the sea of knowledge washes over them. They turn into hills, leveled ever more, until we are back to where evolutionary theory always leads us: a gently sloping beach.”

This is quite opposite to the view of some economists and anthropologists, who love to postulate differences between humans and other animals. However, recent work on prosocial tendencies in apes and monkeys supports de Waal's position. For example, see the research of Felix Warneken, a psychologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. In 2011, de Waal and his co-workers were the first to report that chimpanzees given a free choice between helping only themselves or helping themselves plus a partner, prefer the latter.

In 1981, de Waal moved to the United States for a position at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, and took his current position at Emory and the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in 1991.

His 2005 book Our Inner Ape examines human behavior through the eyes of a primatologist, using the behavior of common chimpanzees and bonobos as metaphors for human psychology. He also writes a column for Psychologie, a popular Dutch monthly magazine.[citation needed]


"The possibility that empathy resides in parts of the brain so ancient that we share them with rats should give pause to anyone comparing politicians with those poor, underestimated creatures."[3]

"I've argued that many of what philosophers call moral sentiments can be seen in other species. In chimpanzees and other animals, you see examples of sympathy, empathy, reciprocity, a willingness to follow social rules. Dogs are a good example of a species that have and obey social rules; that's why we like them so much, even though they're large carnivores."[4]

"To endow animals with human emotions has long been a scientific taboo. But if we do not, we risk missing something fundamental, about both animals and us."[5]


  • 2011 Neuroscience Campus Award, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam
  • 2011 Honorary Degree, Colgate University
  • 2010 Order of the Netherlands' Lion (knighted)
  • 2009 Medal, Società di Medicina & Scienze Naturali, Parma (Italy)
  • 2009 Medal, Ariëns Kappers (Netherlands' Institute for Neuroscience)
  • 2009 Doctor honoris causa, University for Humanistics (Netherlands)
  • 2008 Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
  • 2007 Time Magazine 100 World’s Most Influential People Today
  • 2005 Member of the American Philosophical Society
  • 2005 Arthur W. Staats Award, American Psychological Foundation
  • 2004 Member of the (US) National Academy of Sciences
  • 1993 Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences
  • 1989 Los Angeles Times Book Award for "Peacemaking among Primates"

  Selected bibliography



  See also


  1. ^ Andrea Thompson (2007-08-09). "How did we go from ape to airplane? Scientists turn to chimpanzees to solve the mystery of our cultural roots". MSNBC. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20198285/. Retrieved 2007-08-20. 
  2. ^ Living Links Bio Page
  3. ^ Frans de Waal (2001-10-26). "Do Humans Alone 'Feel Your Pain'?". The Chronicle. http://chronicle.com/free/v48/i09/09b00701.htm. Retrieved 2008-07-20. 
  4. ^ Natalie Angier (2001-01-14). "Confessions of a Lonely Atheist". The New York Times Magazine. http://partners.nytimes.com/library/magazine/home/20010114mag-atheism.html. Retrieved 2008-07-20. 
  5. ^ Frans de Waal (1997-07). "Are We in Anthropodenial?". DISCOVER magazine, pp. 50–53. Retrieved 2011-07-30.

  External links



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