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Mirror, Mirror

Evidence that psychology, like biology, is conserved between human and nonhuman species augurs a shake-up for science and society

G. A. Bradshaw, Robert Sapolsky

Naked Ape, Hairy Human

The Gombe observations blurred the boundary between animal and human behavior, between nature and human nature. Previously, behaviorists thought that human and animal psychology intersected only in the realm of instinct. Homicide—as opposed to killing for access to territory or a mate—was deliberate, not instinctive. Infanticide and murder were considered exclusive to human beings and outside of nature. Goodall’s findings challenged this received wisdom.

Since then, what we know about ourselves and other species has changed substantially. Many studies have documented in other species the same behaviors that enrich human lives. We now recognize that species other than humans engage in an array of behaviors that bring variety and depth to life: dolphins teach cultural customs to their young, octopi demonstrate diverse personalities, and rats show a sense of humor. Once at odds with the conventions of her discipline, Goodall’s interpretations today are supported by decades of research in neurobiology. They are part of a broad conceptual framework that has coalesced around the idea that psychology, like biology, is conserved among animals.

This idea isn’t new. Charles Darwin placed human beings on the continuum of animal species nearly 150 years ago. Somehow that insight was lost. Nurture is being reconciled with nature, and boundaries that once separated academic disciplines are dissolving, all of which bring models of animal and human behavior to unity. Separation has given over to integration, and what seemed like a haphazard collection of observational anomalies is now taking form as a coherent, human-inclusive, trans-species theory of mind and body.

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