From Grooming to Speaking



Download the Abstracts booklet here.

Abstracts of the plenary lectures
(in order of appearance)

Nathalie Gontier

Dutch Free University of Brussels, Belgium & Centre for Philosophy of Science, University of Lisbon, Portugal

Epistemological Issues in Social Primatology and Human Ethology

Both social primatology and human ethology are fields that arose as direct outgrowths of investigations into human uniqueness first addressed by philosophers.

For centuries, philosophers had taken it as a given that human language, rationality, morality, culture and knowledge were human-specific traits. It were especially moral philosophers such as Adam Smith, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant and Johann Gottfried Herder that would start the first naturalistic inquiries into the origin of human language and culture. Rather than regard the latter as a (divine) given, they recognized that such traits were behavioral and cognitive, and that they arose historically in man.

Philosophical inquiries paved the way for the early natural history students who investigated the natural history of human languages and cultures. This would give rise to historical linguistics, where authors such as Auguste Schleicher formulated theories on the natural history and affinity of languages. Later, Charles Darwin and the social Darwinists would speculate upon the evolutionary origin of language and human cultural evolution. With the rise of ethology and primatology, these inquiries eventually emancipated from philosophy and early social Darwinism. For the first time in history, scholars actually tested some of the classic assumptions on human uniqueness in regard to language, culture, rationality and knowledge. Classic divides such as the nature/culture or innate/acquired debate became reformulated into debates over continuity and discontinuity, quantitative versus qualitative changes and gradual or saltational evolution. These inquiries gave rise to instructionist/behaviourist, cognitivist and selectionist schools of thought.

This talk will trace the historical roots of studies into human language evolution. It will be reviewed who first introduced these questions, and in what context; how inquiries into human uniqueness were received and examined; and how emancipated current theorizing on language and cultural evolution really is from the old doctrines introduced by moral philosophers and early social Darwinists.

Secondly, it will be reviewed how the three major doctrines, instructionist/behaviourist, cognitivist and selectionist schools, differentially tackle the problem of human language origins. What was the rationale behind the different methodologies put forward by scholars active within these different schools of thought? How do they differ from one another and what problems can and can they not answer with their field-specific methodologies? Are the approaches put forward naturally exclusive, or do they all contribute to finding an answer to the question how language evolved?

Finally, it will be examined how studies on human language evolution can be facilitated by taking on an applied evolutionary epistemological approach.


Johan Bolhuis

Utrecht University, The Netherlands

Common Descent and Convergence in the Evolution of the Mind

In the century and a half since Charles Darwin’s publication of the Origin of Species, evolutionary theory has become the bedrock of modern biology. Attempts to apply the theory of evolution to cognition, however, have not fared as well. Darwin himself thought that there was no fundamental cognitive difference between man and the ‘higher mammals’. Many researchers still hold that common descent implies cognitive closeness. This view has excused anthropomorphism and often led to an over-interpretation of data from experiments with non-human primates. Recent studies on the cognitive capabilities of birds suggest that evolutionary convergence may be the rule rather than the exception in animal cognition. For instance, crows have been found to be much better in the use of tools than monkeys. Also, it has become clear that songbirds are far better models for the study of the brain mechanisms of human speech and language than apes. A prominent attempt to apply evolutionary and functional considerations to brain and cognition is that of neuro-ecology. According to neuro-ecology, differences between classes of individuals (e.g. between males and females or between food storing birds and non-storers) in the mechanisms of brain and cognition are the result of adaptive specialization. However, empirical results are more consistent with a ‘general process’ interpretation, without qualitative differences between different taxa. The new discipline of evolutionary psychology is based on the mistaken view that evolution can explain how the human mind works. A prominent claim by evolutionary psychologists is that mind of modern humans was formed as a result of selection pressures in the Stone Age. This suggestion is based on empirical research and on received wisdom in evolutionary biology and behavioral ecology. The empirical data are often over-interpreted, and evolutionary psychology is mostly based upon an outdated view of evolutionary biology.

More importantly, my colleagues and I have argued that questions of evolution and of mechanism are fundamentally different. Niko Tinbergen distinguished between evolution, function, development and causation as the four important questions in behavioral biology. In both neuro-ecology and evolutionary psychology, functional and evolutionary questions are confounded with questions of mechanism or development. Evolution is concerned with a historical reconstruction of brain and cognition, while the actual underlying mechanisms are the domain of cognitive neuroscience and psychology. As the examples above illustrate, it is often not clear a priori whether a particular cognitive or neural trait is homologous (i.e. the outcome of common descent) or the result of convergent evolution. A good example is human speech and language, where an evolutionary scenario emerges where three factors are important. First, there is increasing evidence for neural and genetic homology, where similar genes and brain regions are involved in auditory learning and vocal production, not only in songbirds and humans, but also in apes and mice. Second, there is evolutionary convergence with regard to the mechanisms of auditory-vocal learning, which proceeds in essentially the same way in songbirds and human infants, but not in apes or mice. Third, our own analyses have shown that recent claims for strictly context-free syntactic abilities in songbirds are premature, and that there is no evidence to suggest that non-human animals possess the combinatorial complexity of human language. As a consequence, presently there is no credible animal model for the study of the neural substrate of human language syntax.

Thus, I argue that in the study of animal  and human cognition, we should not assume that there is evolutionary continuity or adaptive specialization. Rather, questions of function and evolution and questions of mechanism should be seen as logically separate. Functional and evolutionary considerations may be used as clues to generate hypotheses regarding the underlying mechanisms. But these hypotheses may be false and should always be tested empirically, using methods from cognitive neuroscience, behavioral biology and experimental psychology.


Jeroen Stevens

The Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp, Belgium

The Bonobo Project in Planckendael (Belgium): 25 years of captive breeding - 20 years of research

The Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp (RZSA) has strong historical links with the bonobo. In 1987 European Zoos decided to form a breeding program for bonobos, under coordination of the RSZA. At the time 6 zoos in Europe kept 36 bonobos. As of 2012, 10 zoos in Europe are keeping 97 bonobos, 85 of which were born in zoos. The aim of the breeding program is to provide a genetically healthy and sustainable captive population that will maintain the current genetic diversity for the next 200 years. There are no immediate reintroduction plans for these bonobos, and the apes primarily serve as a ambassadors for their species, as a back-up population in case the wild population would ever get extinct, and last but not least they offer opportunity to study the behaviour of these elusive primates. Indeed, much of what we know today about bonobos stems from studies done in zoos.

In 1992 the RZSA opened a new exhibit for bonobos in Planckendael Wild Animal Park, including a 80m² indoor room, five separation enclosures and a 3000m² outdoor island. From the beginning, the possibility to do research was an important goal of this enclosure. Following the example of Arnhem Zoo, a special observation room was built, allowing researchers and students to do behavioural observations on the inside and outside enclosure of the bonobos. In the past 20 years, many anthropologists, psychologists, and mainly behavioural biologists have come from Belgian and foreign universities to study various aspects of bonobos. Research has always been non-invasive and has included studies into functional morphology and locomotion as well as various cognitive topics. But most studies have focussed on observations of the bonobos' social strategies, including male and female reproductive strategies, dominance relations and coalitions, reconciliation, maternal behaviour and communication. Whenever possible we used a multidisciplinary approach, combining behavioural data with non-invasive collection of urine, faeces and saliva samples. Rooted in the firm ethological tradition of Antwerp University, the bonobo project has always attempted to combine proximate and ultimate research approaches. Proximate research questions have led to the development of non-invasive measuring of female reproductive hormones which can be used in field conditions. We also looked into stress hormones and testosterone and how they relate to bonobo behaviour. More recently, research has focussed to intraspecific differences in receptor genes for neuropeptides as oxytocin and vasopressin as proximate causes for intraspecific differences in behaviour. On an ultimate level we have studied how different behavioural tactics can influence reproductive outcomes such as mating success among the males, or how bonobo maternal styles can differ from those of chimpanzees. Students try to combine observations at Planckendael with those of other groups in European Zoos. The picture that emerged is one of behavioural flexibility and diversity, where bonobos do not always match their reputation of peaceful and egalitarian apes.

The results of these and other studies have increased our understanding of bonobos, but also have been applied in the breeding program, where input about behavioural strategies can help to make management decisions about transferring animals to different institutions. While bonobos should not be used as a referential model for human evolution, understanding the differences and similarities between chimpanzees, bonobos and humans can shed light on the evolution of human behaviour. Caution should be undertaken to interpret behaviour of small groups of bonobos as typical for the species, as behaviour can vary across context and time. After twenty years, the Bonobo Project in Planckendael is not finished. We are planning an expansion of the current bonobo facility, and will again integrate more experimental social cognitive paradigms into our research.

Mary Lee Jensvold

Director of the Chimpanzee & Human Communication Institute, Central Washington University, USA

Experimental Conversations: Sign Language Studies with Chimpanzees

Sign language studies of chimpanzees are a tool for studying the continuity between human behavior and the behavior of other animals and between verbal behavior and other intelligent behavior (Gardner, Gardner, & Van Cantfort, 1989). The chimpanzees Washoe, Moja, Tatu, Dar, and Loulis provide a unique opportunity for the continued study of conversational competence.

Gardner and Gardner (1969; 1989) cross-fostered the infant chimpanzees Washoe, Moja, Pili, Tatu, and Dar at the University of Nevada-Reno. Cross-fostering provided a detailed simulation of a human rearing environment for these infant chimpanzees. Caregivers integrated American Sign Language (ASL) into the procedure so that the chimpanzees were immersed in a sign language environment much like a human child is immersed in a speech environment. The cross-fosterlings' days were like a child's, filled with daily routines of meals, chores, activities, visits, and outings.

The cross-fosterlings paralleled children in their acquisition and use of signs and phrases. Both chimpanzees and children used immature forms of the signs, generalized the early meaning of the signs, and had similar content in their early vocabulary (Gardner & Gardner, 1978; Gardner, Gardner, & Nichols, 1989). The cross-fosterlings signed in different ways to different addressees. They also demonstrated the following: they combined signs; there was evidence of consistent word order within these utterances (Gardner & Gardner, 1971; 1978; 1994); they used the correct sentence constituent in replies to Wh- questions (Gardner & Gardner, 1975; Van Cantfort, Gardner, & Gardner, 1989); they used negation; they inflected signs in questions and the expression of person, place, and instrument (Gardner & Gardner, 1978; Rimpau, Gardner, & Gardner, 1989); and they were observed to sign to humans, to each other, and to themselves (Gardner & Gardner, 1974; 1978). The chimpanzees used phrase patterns that were similar to those of children, and the growth of phrase patterns paralleled that in children as well (Gardner & Gardner, 1994). These discoveries occurred under rigorous and systematic record keeping and experimental paradigms. Comparable conditions allowed valid comparisons between the chimpanzees and children.

When Washoe was about 14 years old at the Institute of Primate Studies she adopted a 10-month-old son, Loulis. To determine whether Washoe would teach signs to an infant without human intervention, all human signing was prohibited when Loulis was present. In the 5-year period of signing restriction Loulis learned 51 signs (Fouts, Hirsch, & Fouts, 1982; Fouts, Fouts, & Van Cantfort, 1989). Like the cross-fostered chimpanzees, the growth pattern of Loulis' phrases paralleled that of human children (Fouts, Jensvold, & Fouts, 2002). Tatu, Dar, and Loulis currently reside at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute (CHCI) at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, preceded in death by Moja in 2002 and Washoe in 2007. At CHCI like in Reno, ASL is used in all interactions between caregivers and the chimpanzees. Into this continual stream of signed interactions systematic experiments explore conversational behavior in the chimpanzees.

Interlocutors can inadvertently lead subjects to correct or incorrect responses as the horse Clever Hans famously demonstrated (Gardner, Scheel, & Shaw, 2011, for review). Controls for cueing are essential in tests of language and intelligence. In systematic experiments the cross-fostered chimpanzees correctly named slides to blind experimenters (Gardner & Gardner, 1984). At CHCI a remote videotape procedure recorded behaviors of the chimpanzees with no humans present. On these videotapes there are numerous instances of the chimpanzees signing to each other (Fouts, 1994), to themselves (Bodamer, Fouts, Fouts, & Jensvold, 1994), and in imaginary play (Jensvold & Fouts, 1993). This procedure makes it impossible for humans to cue the chimpanzees' behavior. This control is often neglected in studies of children and chimpanzees (e.g. Hermann, Call, Hernandes-Lloreda, Hare, & Tomasello, 2007).

In human conversations, conversational competence is demonstrated in a variety of ways including initiation of conversation, topic introduction and maintenance, turn taking, responses to questions, conversational repair, and changes in conversational register. Several studies explored these skills in the adult signing chimpanzees.

In typical interactions caregivers of human children frequently ask questions; often questions with known answers such as "What's your name?" or pragmatic devices such as "What?" Systematic questions during natural conversations are a way to examine pragmatic skill both in chimpanzees and children. For example an interlocutor responded to the chimpanzees with one of four types of probes: General questions, On Topic questions, Off Topic questions, or Negative statements (Jensvold & Gardner, 2000). When the interlocutor asked General questions, the chimpanzees frequently expanded across turns showing a persistence in their original topic and giving the interlocutor more information. When the interlocutor asked relevant On Topic questions, the chimpanzees responded with many incorporations and expansions which are indicators of topic maintenance. When the interlocutor asked Off Topic questions, the chimpanzees often failed to respond and when they did respond they used few incorporations and expansions. When the interlocutor replied with negative statements, Washoe and Dar often did not respond.

Interlocutor responses are another type of independent variable. Following the chimpanzee's request, a human interlocutor either: (1) complied with the request, (2) provided an unrequested item or activity, (3) refused to comply or (4) did not respond to the request. When requests were satisfied, the chimpanzees most often ceased signing. However, when their requests were misunderstood, refused or not acknowledged, the chimpanzees repeated and revised their original utterances (Leitten, Jensvold, Fouts, & Wallin, 2012).

In similar procedures the chimpanzees initiated conversation using sounds when the interlocutor was oriented away from them and signs when he turned towards them (Bodamer & Gardner, 2002). The chimpanzees signed less to strangers and non-signers than to familiars and signers showing sensitivity to the interlocutor (Hartel, Jensvold, Fouts, & Fouts, 2007)

The tradition in theoretical linguistics is to examine syntax and semantics using a top down approach. Yet successful face-to-face interactions involve the orchestration of pragmatics and context as well as syntax and semantics. More recent research in human adults and children explores pragmatic and contextual appropriateness in the stream of conversation (Abbeduto & Hesketh, 1997; Capps, Kehres, & Sigman, 1998; Ferguson, 1998; Galski, Tompkins, & Johnston, 1998; Ripich, Carpenter, & Ziol, 2000; Duncan, 2000; Godfrey, Hamish, & Shum, 2000). Other studies of ape language research (Premack, 1971; Savage-Rumbaugh, 1984) use artificial languages, which reduces the ability to explore language behaviors in their naturally occurring social context. Chimpanzees always have their hands, but they may not have their language board.

The hallmark of the sign language studies is that caregivers treat the chimpanzees as conversational partners rather than hairy test tubes bribed or forced into participation. The chimpanzees are always free to leave the testing situation and free to respond to their world with their full repertoire of behaviors; these are often the dependent variables. Interlocutors nearly always double as caregiving friends to the chimpanzees. The tests are then embedded into the rich daily interactions that occur between two friends. No rigor is lost and an understanding of the remarkable similarities between human and chimpanzee behaviors is gained.

Augusta Gaspar

Centre for Psychological research and Intervention (CIS), Higher Institute of Business and Labor Sciences, Lisbon Interuniversity Institute (IUL), Portugal

Archetypes, prototypes and variation in facial expression: lessons learned from actually measuring facial behavior

Behavior evolves as do other traits (Lorenz, 1967/1986), and it can also have great impact on evolution (Bateson 2004). It tends to be conservative when survival and fast response is at stake, so we can find similar patterns across species, typical in their form and intensity, often also typical in context and consequence. Fixated stereotyped patterns are archetypes known as displays, and their phylogenies can virtually be traced. Darwin's (1872/1965) seminal work "The expression of Emotions in Man and Animals") launched the notion that expressive movements had undergone evolutionary processes and that one could identify some archetypes of expression across species. But behavior tends to change more rapidly and to exert greater influence on evolution when it is responding to demands of the social environment (Bateson, 2004).

Later, beginning in the 1960s – 70s, the subject of the evolution of facial expressions was picked up again with great interest in the evolutionary trends of primate facial expression (e.g. Andrew, 1963; Chevalier – Skolnikoff 1982; Preuschoft, 1992; Van Hooff, 1960; 1962; 1967) and particularly that of chimpanzees (Gaspar, 2001; Goodall 1986; Parr et al. 2005; Pollick and de Waal 2007; Van Hooff, 1972) which was thus conceived as comprised of archetypal facial displays. In line with that of other primates, the study of the phylogeny of at least some human facial expressions (displays) was seen as feasible, and the candidate expressions were emotion related configurations proposed as universal both in form and interpretation (Ekman et al. 1969 ). But instead of exploratory, descriptive studies of human facial expression, in the study of humans another paradigm blossomed — the cross – cultural study of the recognition of facial expressions. The outcome of that work, lead by psychologist Paul Ekman, was that over the years the association between that small number of facial action configurations and seven emotions gained great support, and the configurations (prototypes) became known as the human universal facial expressions of emotion (Ekman, 1984; 1999).

This universality became a quasi-dogma in Psychology. However, in recent years, the discrete nature of those facial expression prototypes-emotions dual associations has received considerable criticism (e.g. Russel & Fernandez-Dolls, 1997). The criticism is largely based on two grounds: the nature of emotion (e.g. Russel, 2006) and the outcomes of studies that used different methods of those underpinning the emotion expression prototypes (e.g. Carrol & Russel, 1996; Widen & Russel, 2008). Indeed, many lines of research - behavioral, physiological, neurochemical - have accumulated evidence that emotional phenomena are not discrete and there is no clear-cut line between one emotion and the other, supporting alternative dimensional views of emotion, which detach arousal and valence as the most salient vectors (Grammer and Oberzaucher, 2006; Lang et al, 1998; Russel, 1980)

Emotion – induction experiments that measured human emotional behavior and ground up approaches, studying behavior that occurs naturally, including in highly emotional situations, both with human children and adults, failed to provide support to the most part of the discrete universal collection of facial expression prototypes (e.g. Camras, 1992; Gaspar & Esteves, 2012; Fernandez – Dols and Ruiz – Belda, 1997; Rosenstein & Oster, 1997; Oster, 2005).

Furthermore, formal variation in facial expression, including during emotion events, emerges in behavior studies more as the rule, rather than the exception (Gaspar, 2006). Chimpanzees and bonobos are highly expressive, and certainly not less than humans (Gaspar, 2001; Bard, Gaspar & Vick, 2011); stereotyped displays are but a few (Gaspar 2001; Parr et al., 2005). Human children show a variety of facial configurations in emotional situations and only when experiencing joy is their facial expression predictable (Gaspar & Esteves, 2012 in press). Freed from dogma, we can begin to ask questions and understand why variation in expressive behavior, and in particular facial expression, makes sense in an evolutionary perspective, in the shape of group differences and in the shape of and individual idiosyncrasy (Bard, Gaspar & Vick, 2011). Prototypical archetypal expression still occurs of course — there is laughter, more than one spontaneous type of smile, there is cry, there are anger faces, disgust faces and so on — but their meaning is also more complex than once though.

Simone Pika

Humboldt Research Group "Comparative Gestural Signalling", Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Eberhard-Gwinner-Strasse, Seewiesen, Germany

Comparative Gestural Signaling: A new approach to a very old question

Extensive research has shown that human language, especially manifest in speech and gesture, has evolved for living and exchanging information in cultural groups (Christiansen & Kirby, 2003). This sophisticated ability, without precedent elsewhere in the biological world, has often been used to define what it means to 'be human' (Hauser et al., 2002). Children begin to display nascent forms of communicative skills such as pre-linguistic gestures at around their first birthday (Bates et al., 1979). It has been suggested that this brief period in human ontogeny may reflect two critical moments in the phylogenetic emergence of human communication: (1) the onset of communicative intentions and conventional signals, and (2) the emergence of symbols and the discovery that things have names (Bates et al., 1979).

A long line of scholars have advanced the hypothesis that meanings may originally have been encoded gesturally rather than vocally (e.g., Hewes, 1973; Tomasello, 2008). However, although it has been shown that other basic communicative skills such as vocalizations, looking and smiling show only minimal cultural variation (Keller et al., 1988), systematic cross-cultural studies on pre-linguistic gestures are non-existent (e.g., Keller & Schölmerich, 1987). In addition, scholars interested in language evolution have often ignored comparative data altogether or focused narrowly on data of captive non-human primates only (e.g., Tomasello & Camaioni, 1997; Hauser et al., 2002). Recent archaeological evidence however suggests, that early hominins and extant apes are remarkably divergent in many anatomical features (e.g., dentition, feet, Lovejoy, 2009). To reconstruct the changes that paved the way for language to evolve, we thus have to view the likely adaptations of early hominins generally rather than with specific reference to living chimpanzees only (Lovejoy, 2009).

By combining methods of Comparative Psychology and Ethology and by focusing on gestural complexity in three model systems: (i) different human cultures, (ii) closely related species, and (iii) species living in comparable social systems, I therefore aim to offer a new and highly innovative approach to language origins, advancing our understanding of the relationship between phylogenetic and ontogenetic factors.

Tim Racine

Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University, Canada

Towards a Clearer View of the Development and Evolution of the Capacity for Joint Attention

It has proven difficult to find unanimous or unambiguous answers to the question of whether nonhuman primates or even young human infants understand basic psychological states such as attention and intentions. It is common for psychologists to cast debates about these issues in terms of rich and lean interpretations of the meaning of joint attentional behaviours, such as pointing gestures. From a rich perspective, similarities and dissimilarities in the production of and response to pointing gestures between apes and human infants are taken to be best explained by particular psychological mechanisms that are argued to be present in prelinguistic humans but mostly absent in non-linguistic apes. Accordingly, rich views defend the attribution of concepts such as 'shared intentionality' to 12-month-old human infants, but deny their application to nonhuman primates. On the other hand, lean views tend to explain pointing with basic learning mechanisms, and often claim considerable continuity across species. In parallel form, rich views typically argue that the capacity for joint attention was selected in the Pleistocene, whereas lean views often claim that joint attentional capacities existed before the chimpanzee-human divergence some 5 million years ago.

Although various research findings have been used to argue for and against rich and lean interpretations of the meaning of joint attentional behaviours, a problem is that the entire reason for the rich-lean dichotomy is that highly similar or even identical forms of behaviour can be given a rich or a lean interpretation. Thus, presenting more data that can also be interpreted richly and leanly cannot in and of itself resolve this debate for the field.

Furthermore, the rich-lean contrast seems to draw its force from a cognitivist theory of mind that is becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile with the 4EA (embodied-embedded-enactive-extended affective) approach that has been gaining traction in some areas of cognitive science in the past decade. Rich-lean innatist claims and their adaptational underpinnings also seem quite out of step with the epigenetic, evo-devo and cultural revolutions and have also recently impacted on evolutionary theory.

Although these changes in the theoretical landscape may breathe new life into the rich and lean debate, and perhaps researchers will even stop defending rich and lean interpretations, the risk is that the conceptual confusions concealed in the rich-lean dichotomy will live on. It is therefore these confusions that I focus on in the presentation. My general claim is that the rich-lean debate in this research area and similar ones continues because rich and lean theorists pay insufficient attention to definitional issues. I will argue that as a consequence: (a) many of these researchers do not seem to fully grasp the conceptual intricacies of attributing an understanding of psychological capacities like attention or intention to nonlinguistic or prelinguistic agents, (b) there is fairly consistent conflation of empirical and conceptual issues, which obscures the grounds for the attribution of the concepts in question, and (c) rich and lean theorists tend to unjustifiably separate out and in some cases reify mind and behaviour thereby rendering their claims not actually amenable to empirical analysis in the first instance.

As a simple example of seeming empirical-conceptual conflation, Tomasello and colleagues (2007) defended a rich view of human infant pointing and have continued to argue for a similar interpretation in a variety of theoretical papers and empirical articles. In essence, the claim is that so-called protoimperative pointing to request objects or actions is caused in apes by reinforcement ("ontogenetic ritualization"), whereas non-instrumental or so-called protodeclarative pointing is caused in humans by an innate motivation to share intentional states with conspecifics. However, although protoimperative pointing in apes is claimed to not show an understanding of shared intentions, human protoimperative pointing does or at least might show such an understanding in the case of so-called indirect protoimperative. However, both of these forms of pointing qualify as joint attention in the sense historically used in the field to index an agent sharing attention with another (Bates et al., 1975; Leavens & Racine, 2009). That is, joint attention means to point (imperatively or declaratively) in the right sort of situation and when we say an agent understands the attention or intention of others, we use things like pointing to justify the claim. Therefore, although it may well be that protoimperatives and protodeclaratives have different causes, unless we are modifying the concept 'joint attention', these forms of pointing do not have different meanings and there is no justification for saying that humans understand joint attention and apes do not. This reframes the rich-lean debate as a debate concerning the causal mechanisms that are taken to be responsible for joint attentional behaviour.

Further fuelling the rich-lean debate is the belief that, as Gómez (2007) has aptly summarized, "In a rich view, this is evidence that infants are trying to make others orient mentally, rather than behaviourally, to targets they themselves have in mind." Although this remark was not offered up as a diagnosis of the conceptual problem in this debate, this way of framing the issue destroys the conceptual relation between intentions and intended actions. In a leaner moment, Gómez suggests, "However, infants may just be directing the adult's attention to the place where something interesting may happen or where something interesting lies hidden." However, if pointing means that agents understand attention, then agents who point understand attention. The misconception in both camps seems to be that understanding is taken to be some sort of mental action, but understanding is more like an ability that one shows through one's behaviour rather than some internal state that causes one's behaviour. Furthermore, mental actions are not involved in all acts of understanding, whereas the behavioural grounds (including avowals of understanding) are always involved thereby establishing the needed conceptual relation. Although one can be incorrect when attributing understanding to an agent on behavioural grounds, one can never be correct (or incorrect) if one always attributes to an agent who understands a given psychological concept an identical mental action.

Jordan Zlatev

Centre for Language and Literature, Lund University, Sweden

Bodily mimesis in hominid evolution: Before and beyond?

Tomasello et al. (2005) and Tomasello (2008) have proposed that what distinguishes human from ape (social) cognition are: (1) a motivation to share (information) and (2) the cognitive capacity for shared intentionality, i.e. engaging in and understanding joint intentions, both simple and communicative. While not disagreeing in essence, Zlatev, Persson & Gärdenfors (2005b) and Zlatev (2008a) found this explanation somewhat vague, and offered the following as a complement more than alternative. First, it is fairly well established that apes are restricted in their capacity to imitate, in particular of bodily actions (Custance, Whiten and Bard 1995; Myowa-Yamakoshi & Matsuzawa 2000; Call 2001, Hribar, Sonesson and Call, in press). Second, imitation has been closely linked with empathy theoretically and empirically (Hurely and Chatter 2005), ever since the classical proposal of Lipps (1903). Third, imitation and empathy have been argued to serve as the "springboards" for intentional communication in both child development (Piaget 1962), and hominid evolution (Donald 1991). Thus, an adaptation for bodily mimesis implying improved volitional control of the body could possibly explain why human beings are particularly skillful (compared to non-human primates) in all three domains – imitation, empathy and (gestural) intentional communication. Since these are arguably prerequisites for language, no extra adaptations for the evolution of the latter (apart from vocal control) need be assumed (Zlatev 2008a, 2008b; Zlatev et al. 2005a).

However, there are important unresolved questions that would need to be addressed before any of these theoretical proposals can aspire for serving as a fully-fledged theory of human cognitive-semiotic evolution. In my presentation I will focus on two: (1) What ecological and social conditions brought about the evolution of bodily mimesis? (2) What lead to the transition from a predominantly mimetic form of communication to a predominantly symbolic one (using the vocal channel), i.e. language?

In answering the first question, I rely extensively on Hrdy's (2009) hypothesis that our ancestors underwent a transmission in major reproductive strategy, leading to cooperative breeding or "alloparenting". I will argue that this hypothesis offers the most plausible evolutionary account for human-specific skills of (primary) intersubjectivity, essential for bodily mimesis (or shared intentionality) to operate.

The answer to the second question will be twofold: First, it is important to realize that language is not a purely symbolic ("arbitrary") semiotic code, but a heterosemiotic, multimodal system, where even the vocal component is to various degrees non-arbitrary. Nevertheless, there are some unique properties of "symbolic reference" that are absent in iconic-indexical systems such as bodily mimesis. They can be thought to emerge from mimesis in basically two different ways, either (a) gradually, through conventionalization, and with this a gradual "bleaching" of iconic/indexical forms of expression into relatively arbitrary ones or (b) by interpreting vocalizations that were produced spontaneously alongside the mimetic acts as "arbitrary symbols" (Brown, forthcoming). I will discuss the merits of both proposals.

Constança Carvalho & Luis Vicente

Animal Biology, Centre for environemtental and marine studies (CESAM), Faculty of Science, University of Lisbon, Portugal

Ethical challenges in primatology research

Ape research has always been controversial, even in some studies performed in the wild. On the one hand, our similarities and common ancestry make them valuable pieces to understand the puzzle of our evolutionary story line, which has been the main justification for the use of apes in comparative scientific research. On the other hand, that same similarities have granted apes, namely chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos (Pan paniscus), public sympathy which led to a progressive decrease in public support to ape use in invasive research and has strengthened the laws on this matter worldwide. But where can we draw the ethical line? What criteria have been used to define what is acceptable and what is not? Are there still research fields where invasive and/or captive ape research is still a necessary evil? And what does invasive mean? What are the available alternatives for a more ethical science in the 21st century?

In our lecture we will try to address these questions by revisiting some of the most important insights on human evolution that has arisen through ape experiments, discussing their costs and benefits from both scientific and ethical points of view.

We will also present the replacement, reduction, refinement (3Rs) framework that is legally required in biomedical research and discuss its application in captive ape research, namely the replacement that can easily be achieved through more ethical experimental designs.







Organized by the Centre for Philosophy of Science of the University of Lisbon

The conference will be held at the Auditorium of the FFCUL | Edifício C1 - Piso3, Faculty of Science of the University of Lisbon, Portugal.

Directions to the campus

Scientific committee

- Rod Bennison, CEO Minding Animals International

- Rudie Botha, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa and University of Leiden, the Netherlands

- Massimiliano L. Cappuccio, United Arab Emirates University, The United Arab Emirates

- Daniel Dor, Tel Aviv University, Israel

- Luc Faucher, UQAM, Candada

- Nathalie Gontier, Free University of Brussels, Belgium (chair)

- David Leavens, University of Sussex, UK

- Robert Lickliter, Florida International University, US

- Jorge M.L. Marques da Silva, University of Lisbon, Portugal

- Mark Nelissen, University of Antwerp, Belgium

- Eugenia Ramirez Goicoechea, UNED, Spain

- Emanuele Serrelli, University of Milan, Italy

- Chris Sinha, Lund University, Sweden

- James Steele, University College London, UK

- Ian Tattersall, American Museum of Natural History, NY

- Natalie Uomini, University of Liverpool, UK

- Arie Verhagen, University of Leiden, the Netherlands

- Luis Vicente, University of Lisbon, Portugal

Organizing committee

- Nathalie Gontier (chair), Dutch Free University of Brussels, Belgium

- Marco Pina, Center for Philosophy of Science, University of Lisbon, Portugal

- Olga Pombo, Center for Philosophy of Science, University of Lisbon, Portugal


Questions on the program:

Nathalie Gontier

Questions on practicalities (travel, registration, lodging):

Ricardo Santos

Questions on the website:

Márcia Belchior

Important Dates

Deadline abstract submission

June 30th, 2012

Notification of acceptance

July 15th, 2012

Registration Deadline

August 15th, 2012


September 10-12, 2012


Will be made available in August, 2012.

Abstracts of the plenary lectures are available here.

Social events

The conference dinner will be held on September 10th, 2012, at the Fábrica de Braço de Prata, Rua de Fábrica de material de Guerra, Lisbon.


Registration fees:

We kindly remind you to pay the conference dinner.

Register here.