Chimpanzees and Children

Results from a recently published study suggest that chimpanzees rely on role models more than children do.

Professor Andrew Whiten and Dr Lydia Hopper of the University of St Andrews set out to determine whether a species emulates, imitates or displays a simpler form of observational learning. They found that chimpanzees are heavily dependent on fellow chimps as role models.

Dr Lydia Hopper from the Scottish Primate Research Group at the School of Psychology explained, “Numerous local traditions have been attributed to wild chimpanzees, but the social learning processes responsible remain unknown. We studied this in captive chimpanzees, comparing them with children.

“Some watched a companion operate a screen to gain food, others saw only ‘ghost’ scenarios in which the screen moved by itself, either with another individual present or not.

“This provided the first evidence that chimpanzees, like children, can learn from results of actions alone if the task is sufficiently simple.

“However unlike children, over time the chimpanzees conformed to what they saw only if it was repeated by a live group-mate.

“These results may have implications for the cultural transmission of behaviour patterns.”

Recently, there has been much debate amongst scientists about whether communities of chimpanzees copy behaviour from each other or work out how to carry out tasks themselves.

By analysing the responses of the chimpanzees and children, the paper suggests that whilst the apes can and will learn from the physical results of actions in simple scenarios, they are more heavily dependent upon fellow chimps to act as role models in more complex situations.

Dr Hopper studied 40 chimpanzees at the Department of Veterinary Sciences at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, USA, and 40 children aged between three and four at nursery schools within Fife.

On American Parenting

There’s a wee passage in Carl Zuckmayer’s correspondence with Karl Barth in which Zuckmayer offers the following comment on American parenting:

If one has lived in America and seen in countless cases what injustice is done to children, one has enough of it. One sees too much that someone, hidden behind misunderstood psychoanalytical maxims, allows them to become little tyrants and ill-humored despots, despots whom adults crawl in front of for pure convenience, only to get peace; and one sees how this takes effect in the unfortunate adolescents when they, brought up without authority, are confronted with the difficulties of life. – A Late Friendship: The Letters of Karl Barth and Carl Zuckmayer (trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 47.

HT: Travis

Some Notes On Discipline

I was chatting recently with another dad about the issue of disciplining our kids. It was a really fruitful conversation and I thought some of the things he was saying were worth sharing here with a view to encouraging conversation on this long-debated topic. He wrote …

”Carol’ and I use talking and reasoning as our primary way of correcting our children’s behaviour, figuring that if they’re too young to reason they are not necessarily doing something with mal intent. Our positive role models of parenting have been those parents who explain to their children why they are not to do this or that. We have also found that channeling our children’s energies into positive actions is often the most effective way of keeping them from bad actions. Often kids act out because they are bored or want attention, so helping them find something creative and showing them affection can often be a much better solution to their seemingly bad behaviour than some form of punishment.

There are also just plain physical reasons a child might act out – ­tiredness, hunger, etc. It’s good for us to be in tune with ‘Jodi’ and ‘Clare’ to know why they might be acting as they do and it makes us more understanding as well. Punishing a child when they are actually just bored or hungry is not wise parenting­ after all; we are the parents and they the children. We should be more wise to those things than they are, even though it is their own disposition we are dealing with.

We do spank but we use this as a rare last resort and are very cautious when we do spank. There have been times we have spanked ‘Jodi’ for doing something we thought was dogged disobedience only to learn minutes later that ‘Jodi’ was acting that way for good and logical reasons. So we have encouraged ‘Jodi’ to explain to us why she is doing what she is doing. We try never to spank out of anger. In fact, I have found that gentleness goes much further in correcting behaviour than any physical or verbal harshness. I also believe threatening a child with physical punishment is detrimental. Therefore, whenever we do get to the point of spanking, we give ‘Jodi’ options like, ‘You have some choices: you can listen to Mommy and Daddy and here’s why we want you to do such and such, or you can get a spanking and here’s why we don’t want you to do such and such. Which do you choose?’ It is important to explain to a child why they should do the right thing or why they should avoid the consequences of the wrong choice. We also try to persuade her of why it is beneficial to her to do the right thing and disadvantageous for her to disobey. This instills in ‘Jodi’ not only the ability to communicate her feelings and reasoning to others, but also teaches her to make wise choices.

In the end, I think there are far more constructive ways to discipline than spanking, but I don’t see why spanking should be ruled out if administered properly. Depending upon the issue, there have been times we have just let ‘Jodi’ work through her disobedience without our physical intervention; at other times, we have felt a spanking was necessary in order to let her know there are certain boundaries she should not cross. The ultimate rule is, ‘What is most beneficial for the child in each instance?’’

Reacting to meanness

Phil, a SAHD, has posted today on a recent episode of meanness. As the father of a 14 month old girl, I was saddened to read his post describing such brute coldness by a group of 9 year old girls toward his 5 year old daughter. It caused me to reflect on what I might have done, or would like to think I should do, given I was in a similar position.

The answer is I’m not sure. Of course, I’m not responsible for the actions of others. I do hope, however, that the barrage of encouragement and torrents of love I seek to pour out on my daughter every day would help to build up some level of immunity to any permanent scars, despite the initial distress. I do hope that I would not over-react … or under-react. I do hope that I might affirm her beauty. I do hope that I might bring calm to the situation. I do hope that I would not ignore the victim in the cause of justice. I do hope that she might develop a worldview and a realistic view of fallen human being (well illustrated in the films Lord of the Flies and Shrek) through which she might look at the world hopefully in spite of so many reasons to despair. I do hope that she might not grow up to be mean herself.

What would you do?