Published online by Cambridge University Press: 09 November 2009
A rhesus monkey mother hearing the cry of her infant interrupts whatever she is doing and hurries to comfort the baby. A chimpanzee mother sees her baby in distress and rushes to soothe her distraught offspring. A human mother hears the cry of her infant and also hurries to ease the child, but suddenly stops. She remembers reading that if she quickly responds to her crying baby she will reinforce the crying and produce in the future a whiny brat. This reflective overlay on human behavior is a major distinguishing feature of our species that transcends the here-and-now reality of emotional impulses and extends the range of influences on current action far into both the past and the future.
The embeddedness of each contemporary human in a system of representations, both cognitive and cultural, is the basis for the richness and diversity in patterns of human socialization. For nonhuman primates this variation is far more limited, and differences in social organization are more closely tied to differences in species. In this presentation, we hope to illuminate the determinants of the diversity in the social organization of apes and monkeys and the uniformities in the social organization of humans. From this investigation, we hope to gain a better perspective on the processes by which human culture regulates development as well as on the processes by which human culture is regulated by development.