Curiosity

10 Things About Humans We’ve Learned Studying Primates

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by: Marianne English
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There is much to be learned from the study of primates.
Hemera/Thinkstock

To learn about where we've been and where we're headed, we look to our closest living brethren: nonhuman primates. Biologically speaking, we share roughly 96 percent of our DNA with chimpanzees, our closest living great ape cousins today [source: National Human Genome Research Institute]. But while we have much in common with other primates, we're still somehow different. 

So what makes humans so special? Why are Homo sapiens rather than other primates driving cars and developing cures for disease?

In the past century especially, we've only begun to answer these questions. The study of primates -- also called primatology -- is a behavioral, historical and medical endeavor. We examine primates not only in their natural habitats, but we also analyze them in labs and sanctuaries, where they continue to further our understanding of their lives and our own. Whether we're looking for the origins of language and higher thought or trying to understand how the human body works, primates are invaluable contributors to our search for answers.

Though we often consider ourselves to be intelligent and advanced, it's important to acknowledge that we're not necessarily better or more "evolved" than other primates. Just as our ancestors withstood Mother Nature to perpetuate our species, primates and their ancestors have adapted to survive and deserve our respect.

Humans aren't the only ones who use two feet to get around. Read about what we've learned by studying locomotion in primates on the next page.

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