The fact that apes are incredibly intelligent should not surprise anyone. After all, they are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, and experiments have shown time and time again that the primates possess many of the traits which we had thought inherently unique to mankind.
A recent study, led by evolutionary anthropologist Christopher Krupeneye from Duke University and comparative psychologist Fumihiro Kano from Kyoto University, has discovered that, based on their observing of body language, apes can predict behavior.
This ability was thought to be characteristic of humans from very early stages of their life. In an experiment, children no older than four were shown how a doll puts a block in the box. The doll then leaves, but then another doll comes along and moves the block from the box and hides it somewhere else. When the first doll returns, the children were asked where it would look for the block. They all answered that the doll would look inside the box, even though they knew the block would not be there.
This means that from a very young age, humans understand how others will behave according to what they believe. In other words, we have a very basic understanding of human thinking right from the get-go. To further the experiment, the same problem was presented to a 2-year-old child. While the toddler could not yet speak, eye tracking technology was used to detect what the child anticipated the doll would do and, again, the child predicted the logical course of action, based on what he knew the doll was “thinking”.
Having this eye-tracking technology, the scientists decided to use a similar experiment on chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans. Videos were shown of a man dressed in ape which was trying to hide a block of stone from a man dressed in… well, normal clothes. With two different boxes to choose from, sometimes the man would see where the ape-man had hidden the block, other times he wouldn’t. More often than not, the apes predicted where the man would look. That is, they knew how the human would act based on his false beliefs of where the block was hidden. In other words, they knew what the human was thinking.
Another video presented a similar puzzle and more conflict, as an ape-man tried to hide from a human in two different haystacks. The bottom line is that apes can predict behavior by knowing what other individuals think, whether what they think is true or false.
The study suggests that this ability is not characteristic of humans, and therefore might have first appeared with some hominid ancestors which relate us to the primates. It is yet another example of how our “human characteristics” are not as unique as we had thought.
Image source: Wikipedia
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