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International research team will investigate forgiveness in bonobos at Great Ape Trust of Iowa for better understanding of humans

DES MOINES, IA, April 4, 2005 --/WORLD-WIRE/--
To learn more about human forgiveness and the process of culture, an international team of researchers will begin a scientific study this spring at Great Ape Trust of Iowa into the topic of forgiveness and social interaction in bonobos (Pan paniscus). The four month project is funded by a $125,000 grant from the Campaign for Forgiveness Research headquartered in Richmond, VA. Directing the research team will be Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, lead scientist with Great Ape Trust - a research center in Des Moines, IA dedicated to the study of ape behavior and intelligence.

"By looking at how apes learn to channel certain abilities such as forgiveness, our understanding of these processes becomes infinitely deeper. We cannot gain this depth of understanding by only looking at humans because we are too close to these processes in ourselves to objectify them," says Savage-Rumbaugh. "Many people believe that forgiveness is a concept which only applies to humans and that the emergence of forgiveness requires a lengthy developmental trajectory. Our hypothesis is that forgiveness, like other social behaviors, is co-constructed from joint interactions across time - it is not a property of a species but rather a property of a certain socio-cultural set of coordinated interaction."

Members of the scientific team include: Dr. James Benson, York University, Toronto, Canada; Mr. William Fields, Great Ape Trust of Iowa; Professor William Greaves, York University, Dr. Stanley Greenspan, George Washington University Medical School, Washington, DC; Dr. Heidi Lyn, Wildlife Conservation Society, New York; Dr. Sonia Ragir, College of Staten Island, CUNY; Dr. Par Segerdahl, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden; Dr. Stuart Shanker, York University and Dr. Paul Thibault, Agder University College, Kristiansan, Norway.

Matata, a female bonobo, will participate in the forgiveness research.
The forgiveness research at Great Ape Trust will consist of four individual projects: (1) Development of Empathy, (2) Experimental Investigations: The Effect of the Intentional Introduction of Forgiveness into a Pan paniscus/Homo sapiens Culture; (3) Establishing a Historical Developmental Profile of Pre-forgiveness Patterns in Bonobos Raised in a Pan paniscus/Homo sapiens Culture; and (4) Critical Stages of Pro-social Development.

According to Savage-Rumbaugh, when scientists see great apes acquire skills that are normally associated only with human cultures, important insights are gained into the process of culture itself. She says the research team's goal is to elucidate the roots of forgiveness as it manifests in social interaction, both in human children and in young apes. Savage-Rumbaugh says the hypothesis driving the research project is the construction of behavior and the suggestion that forgiveness is a set of patterned interactions that can be imparted to a group by how its newest members are treated.

"When adults discipline children for wrongdoing, they set a pattern which encourages children to discipline peers for wrongdoing," Savage-Rumbaugh adds. "As young children mature, they are then told - through words, not actions - they must forgive others who have engaged in wrongdoing towards them. This creates an inherent conflict in our minds. Do we discipline for wrongdoing or should we forgive?"

The forgiveness research program at Great Ape Trust is expected to conclude late this summer. Eight bonobos will arrive at Great Ape Trust this spring from the Language Research Center at Georgia State University.

Great Ape Trust began as the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary in early 2002. In June of 2003, work crews began developing the former sand and gravel quarry near the Des Moines River. Located about five miles southeast of downtown Des Moines on more than 230 acres of lowlands, river forest and lakes, Great Ape Trust of Iowa will be the largest great ape facility in North America and one of the first worldwide to include all four types of great ape - bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans - for noninvasive interdisciplinary studies of their cognitive and communicative capabilities.

Great Ape Trust is dedicated to providing sanctuary and an honorable life for great apes, studying the intelligence of great apes, advancing conservation of great apes and providing unique educational experiences about great apes.

Great Ape Trust of Iowa is a 501(c) 3 not-for-profit organization and is certified by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA). To learn more about Great Ape Trust of Iowa, go to

For more information, contact:

Al Setka
Director of Communications
Great Ape Trust of Iowa
515.720.7430 (mobile)

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