Sarah Till Boysen

( 1949 - )

Compiled by Wendy Hamilton


Time Line

Sarah T. Boysen was born on March 5, 1949. She had the typical “dysfunctional” family, two younger brothers and two older sisters. They grew up in Sandusky, Ohio. It was a great place to grow up, but it just wasn’t enough for her. She grew up with a insatiable appetite for knowledge. The small-town life wasn’t for her. She read books and magazines such as National Geographic that sent her on her way to being a successful scientist. Dr. Sarah (Sally) T. Boysen is currently an associate professor of psychology and the director of The Ohio State University's Comparative Cognition Project. Dr. Boysen graduated college with a Bachelor of Science Degree in primate ethology from the Lake Erie College for Women. Her Master of Science Degree was awarded in developmental and comparative psychology from the University of Oklahoma. She received her PhD in comparative and physiological psychology in 1984 from The Ohio State University under the supervision of David Hothersall (Boysen, 2001).

Sally and her chimps have been shown on television by companies such as the Discovery channel, the British Broadcasting Company, several local news channels, and PBS shows such as, Think Tank, Scientific American Frontiers, and Nature. Dr. Boysen is also a member of many professional societies such as, the American Psychological Society, The American Society of Primatologists, and Sigma X. Sally has also been awarded over twenty grants for her studies, including a Three hundred and Twelve dollar grant for work entitled, “Evaluative processes in the chimpanzee” and a two hundred and fifty-seven thousand dollar grant for work entitled, “Evaluative processed and quantity judgments.“ Both of these grants were awarded by the National Institute of Mental Health. Dr. Boysen is currently the Consulting Editor for the Journal of Comparative Psychology.

All of her life she has seen herself hindered because of her gender. She has had to fight harder and overcome these obstacles. She talks about this in a column entitled “the girl scientist”. Of her determination, she states, “I never really thought about giving up or failing. My strength came out of anger and frustration. (URl 1)” She has thrived in a field that is dominated by men.

In addition to studying chimpanzees, Sally concentrates her efforts on educating the public on many endangered primates. She has set up a web store where the funds that are generated are used to save a group of orphaned chimpanzees and it is also aimed at “raising public awareness concerning non-human primate species that are currently endangered (all the great apes, golden-lion tamarins, the muriqui, and unfortunately, many, many more species) throughout the world (URL 1 ). This website is

Boysen's Major Influences

Sally Boysen is known to be one of today’s top primatologists. Her current research interests are animal cognition, with particular interest in the acquisition of counting abilities and numerical competence in nonhuman primates, cognitive development in the great apes, including attribution, self-recognition, and intentional behavior, and social behavior and tool use in captive lowland gorillas (URL 3). She also does work with neurobehavioral systems underlying cognition in chimpanzees. At The Ohio State University, she also does research collaborating with Gary Berntson.

One test that she has conducted on chimpanzees is measuring whether they were egocentric in their thought processes or if they could put themselves in another chimp’s situation. This was done by seeing if they would be able to tell if another chimpanzee was ignorant of specific situation, such as a threat or treat. She tested this by putting three pairs of chimpanzees in a situation where one chimpanzee could see the threat or treat, while the other could not. The results of this study show that the each chimpanzee that could see the danger seemed to be able to put themselves in the other chimpanzee’s place and understand that they were unaware of the danger. They didn’t warn them of the treat, just as you wouldn’t expect an animal to. But when they sensed danger for their partner, they sent an alarming call out. It was even more extreme when the pair had been together for a very long time, when their social bond seemed the strongest (URL 2).

Dr. Boysen has also been known to conduct research involving numerical competence in the chimpanzee. She has found a very high correlation between the acts of the chimps and behaviors seen in children as they begin to learn to count. She has also seen a relationship to children’s behaviors when studying chimpanzees reasoning ability as compared to the animals desires. The chimpanzee would fail the reasoning task if the desirable treat was placed in view of the animal, as it seems that her appetite was stronger than her sense of reason. A similar phenomenonon has been reported in three-year-old children.

Time Line of Boysen's Life

1949 Born in Sandusky, Ohio
1967-1969 Attended Lake Eire College for Women Majoring in Biological Sciences
1969 Awarded the President’s Citation for Scholarly Distinction
1971-1974 Attended The Ohio State University Majoring in Primate Ethology
1974 Received BS from The Ohio State University in Primate Ethology
1974-1976 Attended the University of Oklahoma Majoring in Developmental/Comparative Psychology
1976 Received MS from the University of Oklahoma in Developmental/Comparative Psychology
1976-1977 Attended The Ohio State University Majoring in Physical Anthropology
1978-1980 Attended Georgia State University Majoring in Developmental/Comparative Psychology
1983-1995 Served as an Affiliate Scientist at the Yerkes Reg. Primate Research Center at Emory University
1983-present Became the Director of the Comparative Cognition Project in the Department of Psychology at The Ohio State University
1980-1984 Attended The Ohio State University for Comparative/Physiological Psychology
1984 Received PhD from The Ohio State University in Comparative/Physiological Psychology
1987-present Served as the Consulting Editor for the Journal of Comparative Psychology
1995-1996 Was Awarded the Department of Psychology Distinguished Teaching Award
1996 Was Awarded the The Ohio State University Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching
1998 Was Named the Columbus YWCA Woman of Achievement
2000 Was Awarded an American Psychology Association Distinguished Scientist Lecturer Award
2000-2001 Was Awarded the Ohio State University Department of Psychology Distinguished Scientist-Lecturer


URL 1 Gilmartin, Megan. Live Out Your Dreams: The Girl Scientist. Retrieved on February 23rd from the World Wide Web:
URL 2 Nature (1999, September) What are Animals Thinking? Time Magazine: Nature, Vol 154 No 10. Retrieved on February 25th from the World Wide Web:,3266,30198-3,00.html
URL 3 Sarah T. Boysen’s Homepage. Retrieved on February 23rd from the World Wide Web: h ttp://
Boysen, Sarah (Sally) Till, 2001, Current Vitae of Sally Boysen.

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