Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


41st Annual Convention; San Antonio, TX; 2015

Event Details

Previous Page


Special Event #244
CE Offered: PSY/BACB
Presidential Scholar Address: The Origin of Emotionally Modern Humans: How Did Humans Become Such "Other-Regarding" Apes?
Sunday, May 24, 2015
5:00 PM–5:50 PM
Lila Cockrell Theatre (CC)
Instruction Level: Basic
Chair: Linda J. Parrott Hayes (University of Nevada, Reno)
CE Instructor: Linda J. Parrott Hayes, Ph.D.

Presidential Scholar Address: The Origin of Emotionally Modern Humans: How Did Humans Become Such "Other-Regarding" Apes?


Humans are remarkably similar to other apes. Like us, chimpanzees and orangutans are extremely clever, use tools and exhibit rudimentary understanding of causality and what others intend. However, other apes are not nearly as good at understanding the intentions of others nor nearly so eager to accommodate or help them. By contrast, right from an early age, humans are eager to help and share. It was this combination of understanding what others intend along with impulses to help and please them that enabled our ancestors to coordinate behavior in pursuit of common goals—with spectacular consequences later on. So how and why did such other-regarding capacities emerge in creatures as self-serving as nonhuman apes are? And why did they emerge in the line leading to the genus Homo, but not in other apes? In her lecture, Dr. Sarah Hrdy explains why she became convinced that the psychological and emotional underpinnings for these “other-regarding” impulses emerged very early in hominin evolution, as byproducts of shared parental and alloparental care and provisioning of young. According to widely accepted chronology, large-brained, anatomically modern humans evolved by 200,000 years ago, while behaviorally modern humans, capable of symbolic thought and language, evolved more recently still, in the past 150,000 or so years. But Hrdy hypothesizes that emotionally modern humans, interested in the mental and subjective states of others emerged far earlier, perhaps by the beginning of the Pleistocene 1.8 million years ago.

SARAH BLAFFER HRDY (University of California-Davis)
Evolutionary anthropologist Dr. Sarah Blaffer Hrdy is professor emerita at the University of California-Davis. She is a former Guggenheim fellow elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the California Academy of Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. Her research spans the reproductive and parental investment strategies of both human and nonhuman primates, and her books include The Langurs of Abu: Female and Male Strategies of Reproduction, The Woman That Never Evolved, Mother Nature, and most recently, Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding, an exploration of psychological implications of humankind’s long legacy of shared child-rearing. Mothers and Others received the 2012 J.I. Staley Prize from the School of Advanced Research and the Howells Prize at the American Anthropological Association. In 2014, she was awarded the National Academy of Sciences award for scientific reviewing. She is also co-editor of Infanticide: Comparative and Evolutionary Perspectives and Attachment and Bonding: A New Synthesis and serves on the editorial boards of Human Nature and Evolutionary Anthropology. A mother and grandmother, Dr. Hrdy lives in northern California, where she and her husband, Dan, combine habitat restoration with growing walnuts.
Target Audience:

Psychologists, behavior analysts, practitioners, and graduate students.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants should be able to explain the following: (1) to paraphrase Faulkner, the past is not dead. It isn't even past, it lives on as part of our basic natures. Along with recent history and past experiences, our evolutionary heritage, or "deep history," provides important insights for understanding emotional responses; (2) an ape with the life historical attributes of Homo sapiens could not have evolved unless mothers had had help caring for and especially provisioning their very slow maturing youngsters. Research on child-rearing among people still living by hunting and gathering more or less as our ancestors did in Pleistocene Africa, suggests that alloparents as well as parents played important roles; and (3) although the mother remained the central attachment figure, reliance on other group members shaped Darwinian selection pressures on human immatures with important implication for their sociocognitive capacities. The comparative study of development in in humans and other apes offer important insights into the processes involved.



Back to Top
Modifed by Eddie Soh