Frans de Waal photograph

Frans De Waal

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Gender Male
Age 74
Date of birth October 29,1948
Zodiac sign Scorpio
Born 's-Hertogenbosch
SpouseCatherine Marin
Fields Primatology
Job Psychologist
Education Radboud University Nijmegen
Utrecht University
University of Groningen
Doctor advisor Jan van Hooff
Date of Reg.
Date of Upd.

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?
Our Inner Ape: The Best and Worst of Human Nature
The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates
Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes
The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society
Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved
Good Natured
The Ape and the Sushi Master
Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape
Peacemaking among primates
Mama's Last Hug: Animal and Human Emotions
My Family Album: Thirty Years of Primate Photography
Tree of Origin: What Primate Behavior Can Tell Us about Human Social Evolution
Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Teach Us about Ourselves
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Frans De Waal Life story

Franciscus Bernardus Maria "Frans" de Waal is a Dutch primatologist and ethologist. He is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Primate Behavior in the Department of Psychology at Emory University in ...

Franciscus Bernardus Maria "Frans" de Waal (born October 29, 1948) is a Dutch primatologist and ethologist. He is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Primate Behavior in the Department of Psychology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory, and author of numerous books including Chimpanzee Politics (1982) and Our Inner Ape (2005). His research centers on primate social behavior, including conflict resolution, cooperation, inequity aversion, and food-sharing. He is a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Early life and education

De Waal was born in 's-Hertogenbosch on October 29, 1948. He studied at the Dutch universities of Radboud University Nijmegen, University of Groningen, and Utrecht. In 1977, De Waal received his doctorate in biology from Utrecht University after training as a zoologist and ethologist with professor Jan van Hooff, a well-known expert of emotional facial expressions in primates. His dissertation titled: "Agonistic interactions and relations among Java-monkeys" concerned aggressive behavior and alliance formation in macaques. Fellow Dutch ethologist Niko Tinbergen was an inspiration to de Waal.


In 1975, De Waal began a six-year project on the world's largest captive colony of chimpanzees at the Arnhem Zoo. The study resulted in many scientific papers, and resulted in publication of his first book, Chimpanzee Politics, in 1982. This book offered the first description of primate behavior explicitly in terms of planned social strategies. De Waal was first to introduce the thinking of Machiavelli to primatology, leading to the label "Machiavellian Intelligence" that later became associated with it. In his writings, De Waal has never shied away from attributing emotions and intentions to his primates, and as such his work inspired the field of primate cognition that, three decades later, flourishes around themes of cooperation, altruism, and fairness.

His early work also drew attention to deception and conflict resolution, nowadays two major areas of research. Initially, all of this was highly controversial. Thus, the label of "reconciliation", which De Waal introduced for reunions after fights, was questioned at first, but is now fully accepted with respect to animal behavior. Recently, De Waal's work has emphasized non-human animal empathy and even the origins of morality. His most widely cited paper, written with his former student Stephanie Preston, concerns the evolutionary origin and neuroscience of empathy, not just in primates, but in mammals in general.

De Waal's name is also associated with bonobos, the "make love – not war" primates that he has made popular. But even his bonobo studies are secondary to the larger goal of understanding what binds primate societies together rather than how competition structures them.

Competition is not ignored in his work: the original focus of de Waal's research, before he was well known, was aggressive behavior and social dominance. Whereas his science focuses on the behavior of nonhuman primates (mostly chimpanzees, bonobos, macaques, and capuchin monkeys), his popular books have given de Waal worldwide visibility by relating the insights he has gained from monkey and ape behavior to human society. With his students, he has also worked on elephants, which are increasingly featured in his writings.

His research into the innate capacity for empathy among primates has led De Waal to the conclusion that non-human great apes and humans are simply different types of apes, and that empathic and cooperative tendencies are continuous between these species. His belief is illustrated in the following quote from The Age of Empathy: "We start out postulating sharp boundaries, such as between humans and apes, or between apes and monkeys, but are in fact dealing with sand castles that lose much of their structure when the sea of knowledge washes over them. They turn into hills, leveled ever more, until we are back to where evolutionary theory always leads us: a gently sloping beach."

This is quite opposite to the view of some economists and anthropologists, who postulate the differences between humans and other animals. However, recent work on prosocial tendencies in apes and monkeys supports de Waal's position. See, for example, the research of Felix Warneken, a psychologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. In 2011, de Waal and his co-workers were the first to report that chimpanzees given a free choice between helping only themselves or helping themselves plus a partner, prefer the latter. In fact, de Waal does not believe these tendencies to be restricted to humans and apes, but views empathy and sympathy as universal mammalian characteristics, a view that over the past decade has gained support from studies on rodents and other mammals, such as dogs. He and his students have extensively worked on such cooperation and fairness in animals. In 2011 de Waal gave a TED Talk entitled "Moral behavior in animals". Part of the talk dealt with inequity aversion among capuchin monkeys, and a video extract of this went viral. It showed the furious reaction of one monkey given a less desirable treat than another. The most recent work in this area was the first demonstration that given a chance to play the Ultimatum game, chimpanzees respond in the same way as children and human adults by preferring the equitable outcome.In 1981, de Waal moved to the United States for a position at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, and in 1991 took a position at Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia. He is currently C.H. Candler Professor in the Psychology Department at Emory University and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory. He became an American citizen in 2008.

His 2013 book The Bonobo and the Atheist examines human behavior through the eyes of a primatologist, and explores to what extent God and religion are needed for human morality. The main conclusion is that morality comes from within, and is part of human nature. The role of religion is secondary.De Waal also writes a column for Psychologie Magazine, a popular Dutch monthly.Since September 1, 2013, de Waal has been a distinguished professor (universiteitshoogleraar) at Utrecht University. This is a part-time appointment—he remains in his position at Emory University, in Atlanta.In October 2016, de Waal was the guest on the BBC Radio Four program The Life Scientific.In June 2018, de Waal was awarded the NAT Award, recently established by the Museum of Natural Sciences of Barcelona. The award, which goes to people or institutions "that are referents for their way of viewing and explaining nature, whether because they have encouraged professional engagement in natural history disciplines or because they have contributed significantly to nature conservation", was awarded to de Waal "for his vision regarding the evolution of animal behaviour in establishing a parallel between primate and human behaviour in aspects such as politics, empathy, morality and justice." Alongside de Waal, broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough was awarded an Extraordinary Award for a Professional Career, and biologist and former director of the Barcelona Zoology Museum Roser Nos Ronchera was awarded a Honorable Mention.


Selected bibliography


Different: Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist, 2022. ISBN 9781324007104

Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves, 2019. ISBN 978-0-393-63506-5

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, 2016. ISBN 978-0-393-24618-6

The Bonobo and the Atheist, 2013. ISBN 978-0-393-07377-5

The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society, 2009. ISBN 978-0-307-40776-4

Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved, 2006. ISBN 0-691-12447-7

Our Inner Ape. New York: Riverhead Books, 2005. ISBN 1-57322-312-3

Animal Social Complexity: Intelligence, Culture, and Individualized Societies, Edited with Peter L. Tyack. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-674-00929-0.

My Family Album, Thirty Years of Primate Photography 2003.

Tree of Origin: What Primate Behavior Can Tell Us about Human Social Evolution, Harvard University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-674-00460-4.

The Ape and the Sushi Master, Cultural reflections by a primatologist. New York: Basic Books, 2001. ISBN 0-465-04175-2

Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes (25th Anniversary ed.). Baltimore, MD: JHU Press; 2007. ISBN 978-0-8018-8656-0.

Natural Conflict Resolution. 2000 (with Filippo Aureli)

Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. ISBN 0-520-20535-9 (with Frans Lanting)

Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-674-35660-8

Chimpanzee Cultures, Edited with Richard Wrangham, W.C. McGrew, and Paul Heltne. Foreword by Jane Goodall. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994. ISBN 0-674-11662-3.

Peacemaking Among Primates. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989. ISBN 0-674-65920-1


2015 Opinion piece about the discovery of Homo naledi in The New York Times

2013 Opinion piece about animal intelligence in The Wall Street Journal

2010 Opinion piece about God and morality in The New York Times

2010 de Waal, Frans B.M.; Ferrari, Pier Francesco (May 2010). "Towards a bottom-up perspective on animal and human cognition". Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 14 (5): 201–207. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2010.03.003. PMID 20363178. S2CID 16459127.

2009, de Waal, Frans B. M. (July 2009). "Darwin's last laugh". Nature. 460 (7252): 175. Bibcode:2009Natur.460..175D. doi:10.1038/460175a. PMID 19587747. S2CID 207787993.

2008 de Waal, Frans B.M. (January 2008). "Putting the Altruism Back into Altruism: The Evolution of Empathy". Annual Review of Psychology. 59 (1): 279–300. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.59.103006.093625. PMID 17550343.

2007, "Bonobos, Left & Right" Skeptic, (August 8, 2007).

2006, Plotnik, Joshua M.; de Waal, Frans B. M.; Reiss, Diana (November 7, 2006). "Self-recognition in an Asian elephant". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 103 (45): 17053–17057. doi:10.1073/pnas.0608062103. PMC 1636577. PMID 17075063.

2005, "The empathic ape", New Scientist, October 8, 2005

2001, "Do Humans Alone 'Feel Your Pain'?" (, October 26, 2001)

1999, de Waal, Frans B. M. (December 1999). "The End of Nature versus Nurture". Scientific American. 281 (6): 94–99. Bibcode:1999SciAm.281f..94D. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican1299-94. JSTOR 26058526. PMID 10614071.

1995, de Waal, Frans B. M. (March 1995). "Bonobo Sex and Society The behavior of a close relative challenges assumptions about male supremacy in human evolution". Scientific American. 272 (3): 82–88. S2CID 14326127.

Additional reading

Nuzzo, R. (August 1, 2005). "Profile of Frans B. M. de Waal". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 102 (32): 11137–11139. Bibcode:2005PNAS..10211137N. doi:10.1073/pnas.0505686102. PMC 1183609. PMID 16061791.

See also

The Genius of Charles Darwin (Richard Dawkins interviews De Waal)

The Family of Chimps, a Dutch documentary film based on de Waal's book, Chimpanzee Politics and Our Inner Ape


External links

The surprising science of alpha males TED talk by Frans de Waal.

Do animals have morals? Archived April 17, 2012, at the Wayback Machine TED talk by Frans de Waal.

Interview with Frans de Waal on the BBC Radio 4 programme The Life Scientific.

Frans de Waal on Big Think about God and morality on YouTube.

Frans de Waal An extended film interview with transcripts for the 'Why Are We Here?' documentary series.

List of atheists (surnames C to D)

Frans de Waal Photos

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