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Prominent behavioral scientists Rumbaugh and Washburn are highly persuasive in their thesis that animals are rational, making decisions by using higher reasoning skills, not by trial and error and not by reacting in simple stimulus-response fashion to their environs. Yet the authors' theory of primate learning and intelligence, a framework they dub "rational behaviorism," fits with Skinnerian and Pavlovian models of conditioning in its explanations of more complex behaviors. For Rumbaugh and Washburn, the key is not simply in studying the response to the stimulus, but the process by which the response is formed, a process far more rich, involved and rational in its cognitive workings than many give animals credit for. The authors describe innovative studies, by themselves and by other researchers in the field, showing that primates can think in abstract symbols, learn through observation, and understand and react to human speech. The most engaging portion of the book focuses on language learning in primates, including descriptions of several ingenious experiments at the San Diego Zoo. Though earnestly written in a clear style, the book will most likely appeal to academics and students of animal behavior, as it reads like an engaging textbook, with some of the scientific explanations verging on dry. For those with an interest in primate intelligence and some scientific background, this passionately argued and well-substantiated summation judiciously renders the complexities of the animal mind.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"In this remarkable book, Duane Rumbaugh and David Washburn illuminate the questions of primate intelligence with style, with savvy, and with compassion. This is an intensely provocative and readable journey through an important subject." Deborah Blum, author of Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection