Satoshi Hirata

Satoshi Hirata, Ph.D.

Professor, Wildlife Research Center, Kyoto University

What are human beings? What is in the minds that inquire about human beings? Starting with such questions, I entered into the academic world to study nonhuman primates from comparative cognitive perspectives. Since graduate school, the main target of my research has been the chimpanzee, one of the closest living relatives of humans. I aim to explore the evolution of the human mind through the investigation of the social intelligence in great apes... [continue reading]

Selected Publications Original articles (peer-reviewed)

Book Capters
  • Hirata, S. & Mizuno, Y. (2011) Animal toying. In: T. Matsuzawa, T. Humle, & Y. Sugiyama (eds.) The chimpanzees of Bossou and Nimba: A cultural primatology (pp. 137-144). Tokyo: Springer Verlag.
  • Hirata, S. & Hayashi, M. (2011) Emergence of stone tool use by captive chimpanzees. In: T. Matsuzawa, T. Humle, & Y. Sugiyama (eds.) The chimpanzees of Bossou and Nimba: A cultural primatology ( pp. 183-191). Tokyo: Springer Verlag.
  • Hirata, S., Morimura, N., & Fuwa, K. (2010) Intentional communication and comprehension of the partner’s role in experimental cooperative tasks. In. E. V. Lonsdorf, S. R. Ross, & T. Matsuzawa (eds.), The mind of the chimpanzees: ecological and experimental perspectives (pp. 251-264). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Hirata, S. (2008) Communication between mother and infant chimpanzees and its role in the evolution of social intelligence In: S. Itakura & K. Fujita.(eds). Origins of social mind: evolutionary and developmental views (pp. 21-38). Tokyo: Springer Verlag.
  • Idani, G., and Hirata, S. (2006) Studies at the Great Ape Research Institute, Hayashibara. In: D. A. Washburn (Ed.), Primate perspectives on behavior and cognition (pp. 29-36). Washington: American Psychological Association.
  • Hirata, S. (2006) Tactical deception and understanding of others in chimpanzees. In: T. Matsuzawa, M. Toimonaga, M. Tanaka (eds.), Cognitive development in chimpanzees (pp. 265-276). Tokyo: Springer-Verlag.
  • Hirata, S. (2006) Chimpanzee learning and transmission of tool use to fish for honey. In: T. Matsuzawa, M. Toimonaga, M. Tanaka (eds.), Cognitive development in chimpanzees (pp. 201-213). Tokyo: Springer-Verlag.
  • Takeshita, H., Myowa-Yamakoshi, M., and Hirata, S. (2006) A new comparative perspective on prenatal motor behaviors: Preliminary research with four-dimensional (4D) ultrasonography. In: T. Matsuzawa, M. Toimonaga, M. Tanaka (eds.), Cognitive development in chimpanzees (pp. 37-47). Tokyo: Springer-Verlag.
  • Inoue-Murayama, M., Hibino, E., Matsuzawa, T., Hirata, S., Takenaka, O., Hayasaka, I., Ito, S., and Murayama, Y. (2006) An application of a human personality test to chimpanzees and survey of polymorphism in genes relating to neurotransmitters and hormones. In: T. Matsuzawa, M. Toimonaga, M. Tanaka (Eds.), Cognitive development in chimpanzees (pp. 113-124). Tokyo: Springer-Verlag.
  • Foucart, J., Bril, B., Hirata, S., Morimura, N., Houki, C., Ueno, Y., & Matsuzawa, T. (2005) A preliminary analysis of nut-cracking movements in a captive chimpanzee: adaptation to the properties of tools and nuts. In: V. Roux and B. Bril (Eds.), Stone knapping: the necessary conditions for a uniquely hominid behavior (pp. 147-157). Cambride, UK:. McDonald Press.
  • Huffman, M. A., & Hirata, S. (2003) Biological and ecological foundations of primate behavioral tradition. In: D. Fragaszy & S. Perry (Eds.), The biology of traditions: models and evidence (pp. 267-296). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Hirata, S., Watanabe, K., & Kawai, M. (2001) “Sweet-Potato Washing Revisited.” In T. Matsuzawa (ed.), Primate Origins of Human Cognition and Behavior (pp. 487-508). Tokyo: Springer-Verlag.

Research Sites
only sanctuary for chimpanzees and bonobos in Japan
Kumamoto Sanctuary
The first and only sanctuary for chimpanzees and bonobos in Japan

My study site for work with chimpanzees and bonobos, the great ape species, is Kumamoto Sanctuary. Kumamoto Sanctuary is the first and only sanctuary for chimpanzees and bonobos in Japan. It is located in Kumamoto prefecture, approximately 800km southwest of Kyoto University's main campus.

In Japan, no chimpanzees whatsoever are used in laboratory research. All of the chimpanzees formerly involved in biomedical research have now been retired and are housed comfortably at Kumamoto Sanctuary. The last three chimpanzees that still remained in another biomedical research facility were transferred to Kumamoto Sanctuary on May 15th, 2012, which marked the end of housing chimpanzees in biomedical facilities in Japan. The Kumamoto Sanctuary staff are passionately committed to enhancing the physical and psychological well-being of the chimpanzees and bonobos housed at the Sanctuary.

Chimpanzees-engaging in a touch-screen task

We have used computer-controlled touch screens, eye-trackers, and infra-red thermography, among other methods, to investigate the minds of chimpanzees and apes at Kumamoto Sanctuary. Using these technologies, our research has revealed the apes' long-term memory of single events, implicit false-belief comprehension, attention to conspecific pictures and videos, and skin temperature changes in response to emotional videos. With developing method to make attractive movies for the apes, we could prove that the apes remembered the storyline of the movie and that the apes showed some level of understanding about the mental states of the characters who appeared in the movie.

Other scientific studies, focused on ape welfare, have included the evaluation of hair cortisol as an indicator of stress, the change in hair cortisol levels in different housing conditions and social situations, the relationship between the frequency of social play and social tension, and the diagnosis and care of a blind chimpanzee with Down syndrome. Through this research, I hope to contribute to the understanding and captive welfare of our closest living relatives.

Last but not least, it is essential to establish a good relationship with the chimpanzees and bonobos before we can conduct a good study. Each individual ape has a different personality; thus, we need to thoroughly understand each individual's characteristics by close and patient observations of everyday life behavior.

horses at Serra D'Arga, Northern Portugal
Serra D’Arga, Portugal
Aiming to better understand human beings

In addition to the study of chimpanzees and bonobos, I have also started to investigate the behavior of feral horses at Serra D'Arga, Northern Portugal. At there once-domesticated horses live in natural environments, outside of human control. By studying horses that are phylogenetically distant from primates, we can broaden our understanding of the evolution of the human mind and human behavior.