Des Moines, Iowa May 22, 2008 Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Scientist With Special Standing at Great Ape Trust of Iowa and a pioneer in the field of ape language and cognition studies, recently received the eighth honorary doctor of science degree conferred in the 103-year history of her alma mater, Missouri State University at Springfield.
Savage-Rumbaugh, an internationally known primatologist and experimental psychologist who demonstrated that through early rearing experiences, bonobos and chimpanzees can comprehend spoken English and simple grammar, is a native of Springfield. She said the honorary degree from Missouri State University Southwest Missouri State College when she received her bachelor of arts in psychology degree in 1970 is especially significant because it was there that she was recommended for and received a prestigious Woodrow Wilson Fellowship that would change not only her research focus, but her life as well.
Eager to study under the influential behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner, Savage-Rumbaugh applied to and was accepted to Harvard University, but some administrative changes in the fellowship put Harvard out of her reach financially. She was looking at other institutions that would allow her to expand her research interest in cognitive development in children when she discovered the "Chimp Farm," or the Institute for Primate Studies, at the University of Oklahoma, where research was conducted to refute the notion that the acquisition of language is unique to humans.
"At the time, no one thought any creature had any symbolic capacity," Savage-Rumbaugh said. "The best results come from studying a phenomenon from all different angles, and this changed my research focus to include cognitive development in non-human primates. Experimental psychology was focused on pigeons and rats at the time, and it was not going to take us where we needed to go. We needed to include great apes."
In her remarks t
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Great Ape Trust of Iowa