From Grooming to Speaking: Recent trends in social primatology and human ethology (Conference Announcement)

Should be of interest to some readers:

The Centre for Philosophy of Science of the Faculty of Science of the Portuguese University of Lisbon is organizing a 3-day international colloquium entitled “From Grooming to Speaking: recent trends in social primatology and human ethology”, on September 10-12th, 2012.

Conference website

Plenary talks will be given by

Johan Bolhuis
Constança Carvalho
Augusta Gaspar
Nathalie Gontier
Mary Lee Jensvold
Simone Pika
Tim Racine
Jeroen Stevens
Jordan Zlatev

More tba

Scientific committee

– Rod Bennison, CEO Minding Animals International

– Rudie Botha, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa and University of Leiden, the Netherlands

– Daniel Dor, Tel Aviv University, Israel

– Luc Faucher, UQAM, Candada

– Nathalie Gontier, Free University of Brussels, Belgium (chair)

– David Leavens, University of Sussex, UK

– Robert Lickliter, Florida International University, US

– Jorge M.L. Marques da Silva, University of Lisbon, Portugal

– Mark Nelissen, University of Antwerp, Belgium

– Eugenia Ramirez Goicoechea, UNED, Spain

– Emanuele Serrelli, University of Milan, Italy

– Chris Sinha, Lund University, Sweden

– James Steele, University College London, UK

– Ian Tattersall, American Museum of Natural History, NY

– Natalie Uomini, University of Liverpool, UK

– Arie Verhagen, University of Leiden, the Netherlands

– Luis Vicente, University of Lisbon, Portugal

Call for abstracts

Deadline for submissions is June 30th, 2012.

We call for primatologists, ethologists, anthropologists, sociobiologists, evolutionary, cognitive and comparative psychologists, biolinguists, evolutionary linguists, bio-ethicists, philosophers and historians of science, to provide talks on:

(1) Historical reviews on the introduction and use of primate studies to acquire knowledge on the origin and evolution of communication and language

  • The rise of comparative psychology, ethology, primatology, sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, evolutionary linguistics, and evolutionary anthropology
  • Cross-fostering experiments, experiments that had as goal to learn non-human primates to talk or sign, or to learn artificial languages such as Yerkes
  • The shifts from behaviorism and instructionism to cognitivism and selectionism
  • The nature/culture debate
  • The innate/acquired debate
  • The continuity/discontinuity debate

(2) Methodologies of primate communication and language research

  • Which research methodologies combine and diversify ethologists, primatologists, sociobiologists, anthropologists, evolutionary psychologists and evolutionary linguists? (ASL and Yerkes experiments; instructionist, behavioral versus selectionist, adaptationist approaches; the use and disuse of Tinbergen’s 4 questions in ethology; how to study ultimate and proximate causes of behavior)
  • Did classic ethology and comparative psychology, with its focus on instructionist and behaviorist methodologies, fail? Did the cognitive turn succeed in providing answers there were behaviorism failed? And is selection theory able to provide answers to questions neither ethologists nor cognitivists could?
  • Which methodologies are used to study (human) primate verbal and non-verbal communication strategies in wild, captive, and natural settings (how are experiments set up, how are biases controlled, how is data collected and interpreted, how are theories formed)?
  • How do ontogenetic studies of normal and pathological behavior lend insight into phylogeny (what aspects of development enable or disable scientists to draw inferences on human evolution, what’s the rationale behind comparative research, how do pathologies lend insight, either into normal development, or into the evolutionary past of hominins)?
  • How do the primate and ethological research methodologies differ from, relate to, or complement genetic and neurological research?

(3) Theories on primate communication and the evolution of language

  • Gestural versus vocal origin theories (grooming as gossip theories, mirror neurons, non-verbal communication theories (including facial expressions, pointing and gestural research), co-verbal gesturing theories, signing theories, mimesis, imitation).
  • Evolutionary theories on language as a social communication device
  • Theory of Mind versus embodiment theory, in human and non-human primates
  • Theories on learning (conditioning, observational learning, imitation)
  • Theories on cultural transmission (chimpanzee, bonobo and human cultures)
  • Which theoretical frameworks and evolutionary mechanisms enable adequate explanations on language evolution (natural selection, drift, systems theory, the Baldwin and ratchet effect, co-evolutionary theories, dual inheritance theories)

(4) Ethical issues in social primatology and human ethology

  • Policy and guidelines on (human) primate studies in the wild, under captivity, or under experimental conditions
  • Animal rights (e.g. if non-human primates have ToM, do we need to attribute them legal rights, does the concept of “legal person” apply to non-human primates)
  • The role and responsibility of researchers

Much more than provide a platform for the dissemination of new research results, the conference organizers will give preference to reflexive talks, that deal with theoretical, methodological and ethical issues of primate research and ethology, and how the latter fields provide insight into human language evolution.


A selection of talks will be published in an anthology for the Springer Book Series “Interdisciplinary Evolution Research”. Editors-in-chief of the series are Nathalie Gontier and Olga Pombo.

Submission guidelines

Kind regards,

Prof dr Nathalie Gontier

Philosopher of evolutionary sciences

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