Project Outline


The purpose of this project is to construct a new human evolution theory with a key concept of “sociality”. For the purpose, we develop research based on collaboration between two field studies: anthropology and primatology. Furthermore, we engage in interdisciplinary joint research that incorporate a wide range of recent knowledge through discussion with neighboring fields, including experimental spheres, (such as comparative cognitive science and social psychology) and anthropological spheres (such as paleoanthropology and physical anthropology). In carrying out this comparative study on “sociality” in a way that transcends region, culture, and species, we revisit the ultimate questions of anthropology: Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?


Most primates, including humans, are gregarious, living with other conspecifics in various ways: sometimes peaceful, and at other times hostile, competitive, or maintaining minimal levels of connection. In particular, humans differ from other non-human primates in that they coexist with huge numbers of other individuals. In addition to face-to-face coexistence in pairs, families, and co-habitation groups, one can also “imagine” the coexistence of ethnic groups, nations, or even humankind in its entirety. Underpinning these diverse forms of coexistence is nothing less than the higher-order “sociality”.      

   There have been remarkable research developments in two neighboring academic fields in the past few years in relation to the “sociality”. The first include the experimental spheres of social psychology, comparative cognitive science, and evolutionary psychology, which have been working in connection with brain and neuroscience to better understand and build an evolutionary model of humans’ mental processes. The second encompasses the fields of physical anthropology, which – following successive discoveries of early hominid fossils and fossil hominoids, as well as rapid advances in genome analysis techniques – have begun to produce many hypotheses concerning not only the morphological (biological and physical) aspects, but also the behavioral and social aspects of early hominids. Both trends are putting the origin and evolution of human sociality in the range, however, in this project, we place themselves within the “locational immediacy” of societies formed from various groups of humans and wild non-human primates to address the “sociality” from the standpoint of its specific manifestations that emerge from “locational immediacy”.     

    In our project, we advocate “sociality” not only as an internal process inherent to the individual (psychological mechanism), but also as a way of interacting among multiple individuals living in groups. The sociality that humans have acquired during the evolutionary process, along with our higher levels of intelligence, are distinguishing features that separate us from other animals. However, in order to establish whether the “sociality” that is found universally throughout human cultures is truly unique to humans, we must compare ourselves to related species. Our project is important because we consider both human and non-human primate societies, together, based on equal qualifications.


Studies of various human characteristics within the framework of evolution are under way in many disciplines today. New perspectives of evolution have been appearing in not only the academic fields based on the biology (such as evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology), but also the fields of the humanities and social sciences (such as evolutionary linguistics, cultural evolutionary theory, and evolutionary considerations of the law). Among this trend, our project has creative significance as the following three features.

Three Features of This Project

1) Empirical research centered on data related to the reality of “sociality” in the field.

2) Study based on comparisons within and between species achieved through collaborations between anthropology and primatology.

3) Interdisciplinary collaboration with a wide range of academic fields including experimental spheres (such as comparative cognitive science and social psychology) and anthropological spheres (such as paleoanthropology and physical anthropology).

We believe that this attempt –to combine these three features– is distinctive, while also being the part of a trend that explores humans’ remarkable characteristics within the framework of evolution.

“See Humans in the Same Way to See Monkeys:
       See Monkeys in the Same Way to See Humans”

The basis for this project is derived from primatology and ecological anthropology in Japan, which have come to share the common goal of investigating the origin of human societies. The driving forces behind these traditions were Kinji Imanishi (1902-1992) and Junichiro Itani (1926-2001). They developed the perspectives and methodologies for the study of non-human primates and humans, and thoroughly placed them in the basis of debate – that enabled to “see humans in the same way to see monkeys” and “see monkeys in the same way to see humans,” as it were.

   Primatology in the West differs from that in Japan in that the former came out of the branch of ethology, whereas the latter began as a kind of anthropology that applies society, culture, and occasionally history to non-human primates. Thus far, Japan-originating primatology has maintained a close relationship with ecological anthropology (which, likewise, has its own special history in Japan); some parts of cultural and social anthropology in Japan are also actively involved in primatology, and have found unique positions in the world. We believe this project advances such exploration, while also hoping it will raise awareness of Japanese primatology’s exceptional academic significance both domestically and abroad.


To understand “sociality” from the context of interactions arise among multiple individuals living in groups, this project will apply ethnographic standpoints and approaches, and will also develop methodology of data collection that can enable comparisons transcending region, culture, and species.

Methodology of Ethnography

Subject: Human co-habitation groups and wild primate groups
Method: Observation and description of interaction processes in detail among individuals who are considered as social beings, paying attention to “locational immediacy” and “existential totality” in the field.
Analysis: Multilateral consideration of the interactions among individuals based on comparison by gathering each field research data and engaging in successive and joint discussions.

Note: This is also an attempt to overcome the trend often seen in evolutionary studies that reductive formularization and reliance on mathematical theory to explain social behavior and cultural phenomena by “individuals” and “genes”.

Analysis and Discussion That Transcends Regional and Cultural Differences, as well as Interspecific Differences

Transcend regional and cultural differences (e.g., Asia, Africa, Oceania, the Arctic) as well as interspecific difference (e.g., humans, Japanese macaques, chimpanzees, gorillas) by comparative analysis based on qualitative and quantitative data from different types of populations using equivalent methods as much as possible, and by examining those data using the same concepts.
   We will start by considering the problem of the difference of data collection and analysis and the level of sharable concepts between two academic fields, anthropology and primatology. For that, we have to address methodical attempts to observe interactions between individuals, for example. The first step of the attempts will begin with the application of “the focal sampling method”- a common approach in primatology for observation and discrimination of interactions among individuals – to anthropology and the verification of its validity.

Note: It is difficult to amass similar qualitative and quantitative data from co-habitation groups of different species that differ in the content and complexity of their activities. This is one of the reasons why there have been few continuous long-term academic pursuits resulting from collaborations between anthropologists and primatologists either inside or outside Japan.


Findings from the study will be disseminated within Japan and abroad.

Collection of Related Literature and Information, and Creation of Its Database

Domestic and International Workshops and Symposiums (For Researchers)
Foreign researchers will be invited to Japan to advance the project through international cooperation, and the project’s significance will be disseminated both domestically and abroad. Additionally, workshops will be hosted by young researchers. Finally, the symposiums will be held to comprehensively summarize the findings of our project.

Public Symposiums and Lectures (For General Public)
Symposiums and relay lectures will be hosted to advance our project’s findings to the general public.

Japanese- and English- Language Websites
Details about the progress of our project will be disseminated in Japanese and English.

Publication of Books in Japanese and English
As the same process as our cooperative study based on this project, books will be published in Japanese and English, with contributions sought from foreign researchers.

We will strive to proactively circulate our findings by organizing panel sessions at domestic and international conferences and by writing internationally co-authored papers with foreign researchers, including those who live in countries where the investigations will be conducted.