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What is Comparative Developmental Cognitive Science?

Keywords: Hominidae, chimpanzee, bonobo, orangutan, gorilla, primate, comparative developmental cognitive science, Primate Research Institute Kyoto University, Tetsuro Matsuzawa, Noboru Kobayashi 

For some readers, comparative developmental cognitive science may not be such a familiar term. It is an academic framework that could be considered a new human science and was given this name by Professor Tetsuro Matsuzawa, Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University. Furthermore, his research was supported by Benesse Corporation for five years from October 1, 2006 to September 30, 2011.

On February 16, Professor Matsuzawa came to Tokyo to visit Mr. Tamotsu Fukushima, President of Benesse Corporation to directly express his appreciation for this support over the five-year period. On this occasion, Professor Matsuzawa was accompanied by three co-researchers and I had the occasion to join them for a most interesting discussion.

Comparative developmental cognitive science can be seen as a new human science that compares and analyzes child development in infancy, the parent-child relationship, relations within the family, and child-raising in primates and humans from the perspective of cognitive development. It is also very similar to the framework of "Child Science" that I have conceived in its focus on children. In other words, both consider education and language (communication) to be key human characteristics. I have taken the liberty of translating the name of his academic field as "comparative developmental cognitive science" here and will confirm it with Professor Matsuzawa on another occasion.

Comparative developmental cognitive science can be seen as a field of human science, which considers the question "What are human beings?" This is because it is concerned with the essential characteristics of the human being, and by extension, the evolution of mental development, cognitive development, and development of the brain. In terms of evolutionary methodology, Professor Matsuzawa applies the notion of "outgroup." The outgroup serves as an external reference by which to define the nature of the subject in question. An analogous approach might be to seek to understand Japan by going abroad or to know the Japanese by becoming familiar with non-Japanese. In the same manner, when asking what humans are, this method studies primates of the Hominidae family such as chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, and gorillas. In particular, Professor Matsuzawa sees the relationship between bonobos and chimpanzees as similar to that between humans and the Neanderthals. The Hominidae family comprises the four genera: humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans, and when these four genera are compared in various combinations, a number of common features become recognizable.

For example, Hominidae, such as orangutans, originating in Asia, and humans, chimpanzees and gorillas, originating in Africa, are characterized by a collective lifestyle, a number of offspring and mothers, and the male who is the father of the child participates in child-rearing. Viewing society from this outgroup perspective brings into relief many significant aspects.

Professor Matsuzawa also stresses the importance of comparing humans with chimpanzees and bonobos. Pointing out their similarities clarifies their common ancestry and will contribute to research as an outgroup to humans. Chimpanzees live in male-dominated groups, use tools, and relations with neighboring groups can escalate into brutal attacks and killings. In contrast, bonobos live in female-dominated groups, coexisting peacefully with their neighbors. Furthermore, sexual behavior serves the purpose of uniting or dividing groups. Comparing the chimpanzee and bonobo will teach us about our own lifestyle and possibly how we can change it. While human beings value gentleness and sensitivity in art and literature and mutually help one another in activities for the welfare of others, they also kill one another in horrifying wars over land and resources. Even while we talk of peace, we are seeing a reality does not allow its realization.

Perhaps research in comparative developmental cognitive science will show us how to remedy the negative aspects of being human.

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