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Comprehensive List of Researchers "Information Knowledge"

Department of Media Science

KAWAI, Nobuyuki
Cognitive Informatics Group
Associate Professor
Dr. of Psychology
Research Field
Experimental psychology / Cognitive science / Comparative cognitive science on learning and memory
KAWAI, Nobuyuki

Current Research

Search for the Boundary of Human Intelligence
 Our main interest addresses why humans are so intelligent. We have been conducting learning, memory, and attention studies on humans and non-humans to discover the key to human-specific intelligence. We are also interested in what aspects of human cognition are shared with other non-human animals, especially primates. From an evolutionary perspective, we want to determine the boundaries of human cognition.
(1) Attention : Selective information process and communicative device
 Attention is important to the human ability to recognize environment because it limits all sensory information by constantly receiving inputs and thus can lead to better and more coherent perceptions. Due to attention, we can focus on the task at hand and ignore all distractions. Therefore, it is often described as the window of consciousness. Attention cannot be free from the evolutionary process of humans because it is deeply related to our survival. As social creatures, humans and other non-human primates attend to conspecific's faces. Among primates, however, only humans attend to human's eye gaze ; apes and monkeys avoid it. In other words, humans uniquely use eye gaze and attention as communicative tools. We are studying the nature of human attention in the autistic, in the elderly people in semi-communicative situations, and in laboratory situations.
(2) Origins of Learning and Memory : Rudimentary abilities of intelligence.
 Learning and memory are rudimentary abilities used by humans and animals to acquire knowledge. We are exploring the origins of these abilities from phylogenetic and ontogenetic perspectives. We previously demonstrated that even invertebrates (crayfish) possess reinforcement learning ability with some restrictions. Furthermore, we conducted a pioneering work in which even a full-term chimpanzee fetus had associative learning and long-lasting memory abilities before birth. We also demonstrated that a numerically trained chimpanzee named Ai had a comparable short-term memory span to humans.
(3) Sequential Learning and Action Planning : Advanced intelligence in humans.
 Sequential learning is fundamental to master a skill at all levels of complexity. They include skills as simple as knowing how to get from point A to point B and as complex as knowing how to speak and comprehend language. We hypothesized that the following are keys to human higher-order cognition : 1) sequential learning, 2) action planning, and 3) the ability to organize a long list of information and divide it into more manageable size portions called"chunks."These three relate highly to human language and understanding the intentions, emotions, etc. of others.
 We studied the developmental changes of sequential learning and creating chunks in human children.
 We will investigate how knowledge affects attention in various situations. We will also study cognitive changes in the aged. Furthermore, in collaboration with the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto Univ. we will conduct comparative studies that focus on such higher-order cognition as relational (sequential) learning, inference, creating chunks, and proto-language ability in monkeys.
Figure : Experiment on memory span and action planning in humans and chimpanzees

Figure : Experiment on memory span and action planning in humans and chimpanzees


  • Nobuyuki Kawai received a Dr. of Philosophy degree in Psychology from Kwansei Gakuin University in 1998.
  • He was a JSPS Research Fellow from 1994-1999.
  • He was a Research Assoc. of the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto Univ. from 1999 to 2001 and of Nagoya Univ. from 2001 to 2003.
  • Since 2003, he has been an Assoc. Prof. of the Graduate School of Information Science at Nagoya University.
  • He received the Ministry award for young scientists from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in 2005, and so others.

Academic Societies

  • Jap. Psychological Assoc.
  • Jap. Soc. Animal Psychological
  • Jap. Cog. Sci. Soc.
  • Jap. Assoc. Behavior. Sci.
  • Primate Society Japan.


  1. Kawai, N. & Matsuzawa, T. Numerical memory span in a chimpanzee. Nature, 403, 39-40. (2000).
  2. Kawai, N. et al. Associative learning and memory in a chimpanzee fetus : Learning and long lasting memory before birth. Developmental Psychobiology, 44, 116-122. (2004).
  3. Kawai, N. Action planning in humans and chimpanzees but not in monkeys. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 27, 42-43. (2004).