Frans de Waal

Prof Frans de Waal is one of the most respected scientists in the world for his work on primates. He visited the VU in December 2011 to participate in the course ‘Nature versus Nurture’, coordinated by Tinca Polderman and Pim van Nierop.

In line with his bestseller “The Age of Empathy”, Frans de Waal argued that social responsibility plays an important role in evolution, and is not limited to the human species only. Traits like altruism, empathy and other social skills are hard wired in the brains of many species, as they are essential for survival. A variety of movies showed that animals (from apes to dolphins to elephants) indeed care for each other, resolve conflicts, or collaborate to achieve their goals.

Being a gifted speaker, Frans de Waal presented his audience an attractive mix of scientific findings, humorous anecdotes and amusing illustrations in which everyone recognized the parallels between animal and human social behavior. Although people may seem inherently selfish and greedy, Frans de Waal clearly showed that empathy plays an equally important role in human nature.

To thank him for a great talk, and award him for his outstanding scientific work, Frans de Waal received the conveted NCA award from NCA director Arjen Brussaard.