Bioethics Blogs

I Get My Inspiration From Watching Animals: An Interview with Frans de Waal

by Avery Avrakotos, Education and Policy Manager

Influential biologist and primatologist Frans B. M. de Waal, PhD, will present the Henry Spira Memorial Lecture at PRIM&R’s 2015 Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) Conference, which is being held March 17-20, in Boston, MA. Conference attendees can look forward to his address, titled Primate Social Intelligence, on Friday, March 20.

Dr. de Waal is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Primate Behavior in the psychology department of Emory University, and the director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, GA. In preparation for the conference, I connected with Dr. de Waal to discuss his work and what he has learned from his experiences studying primates.

Avery Avrakotos (AA): When and how did you first become involved with studying social intelligence in primates?

Frans de Waal (FW): I am interested in all sorts of animals. I used to work as a student with rats and birds, and have always kept tropical fish, so it was logical for me to go into biology and ethology. Ethology, the European approach to animal behavior, focused more on natural behavior than, say, the behaviorism of B. F. Skinner, which focuses on behavior that is human-imposed through training. My background in ethology made me more open to animal cognition than most American students of animal behavior, who were (and sometimes still are) indoctrinated in the behaviorist paradigm, according to which the animal mind doesn’t really exist and animal emotions are irrelevant.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.