The Post-Modern Chimpanzee's Guide to Parenting

Evolutionary anthropologist and University of Toronto PhD student Iulia Badescu spent a year camped out in a Ugandan jungle to observe chimp parenting. She noticed behaviours that didn't quite fit the way chimp parenting has traditionally been documented.

Evolutionary anthropologist and University of Toronto PhD student Iulia Badescu spent 11 months camped out in a Ugandan jungle to observe baby chimpanzees and their parents -- and babysitters! She was surprised to find there's a much wider range of childcare styles than have previously been documented. Some chimps weaned earlier than others. Mothers took advantage of babysitting offers from other members of the community, including adult males, who might traditionally be considered a threat. Her observations shifted her gaze towards scientists themselves, and how they tend to filter what they see based on their own cultural assumptions. She turns to philosophers Nietzsche and Derrida who encourage her to examine the strengths and limitations of science, including her own research. **This episode originally aired October 6, 2016.

PhD student Iulia Badescu noticed that chimps taking on childcare duties could be rewarded romantically. She describes watching infant Gus, along with his temporary caregiver Munk, and Gus’s mother. 1:52


"I'm not totally on board with the idea of human nature…. There are limits to the ways we can interpret our data… but I think how we talk about humans has to do with the period of time that we're talking in. So 40 years from now, we might be talking about the differences between men and women in a very different way from the way we're talking about them now, not because the science was bad science, but it's more about how [the way] we want to talk about humans changes, and science reflects that." 
-- PhD Student Iulia Badescu

"To me, the idea of human nature is not a controversial concept. It's obvious we all have something in common with each other." 
 Dario Maestripieri, University of Chicago

"Knowledge isn't created by single scientist or research group coming up with hypothesis. Knowledge comes up through interaction among the scientific community, and with public."
-- Helen Longino, Stanford University

Guests in the program (in order of appearance):

  • M.E. Picher, Child and Family Counselor completing her PhD in Developmental Psychology, with a focus on early learning at the U of Toronto. She is co-founder and director of Wholeplay . She introduced us to new mothers Erin Gross, Susan Johnston, Laura Brown-Bowers and Lauren Auciello at Red Fish Blue Fish Creative Cafe  in Toronto.

  • Dario Maestripieri --  Professor of Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago. He's the author of numerous books on primate and human behaviour, including The Games Primates Play: An Undercover Investigation of the Evolution and Economics of Human Relationships.

  • Helen Longino --  Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University, best known for her work exploring the relationship between social values and scientific inquiry. One of her influential books is Science as Social Knowledge: Values and Objectivity in Scientific Inquiry.

Special thanks to the Toronto Zoo for accommodating our visit to their Lowland Gorilla Exhibit.


Web Extra | psychologist Harry Harlow's early experiments on rhesus monkeys and the role of comforting physical touch in an infant's development


**This episode was produced by Nicola Luksic & Tom Howell


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