Apes prove themselves worthy of being ancestors of humans. A new study finds that we share many more features with primates than we initially believed. An experiment on three monkey species proves that apes can understand thoughts, which was considered to be an exclusively human feature.
Scientists explain the importance of understanding thoughts, intentions and reactions in certain circumstances. It is a matter of how the brain works, and they often use methods to detect the way in which children think. However, they thought about using a similar method with primates.
In order to determine if apes can understand thoughts, they put chimpanzees and other two species to the test. The animals had to watch some scenes starring a human wearing a gorilla costume and another one wearing no costume. The man had a simple task: look for an object hidden by the person wearing the costume. Sometimes he would found it, but not always.
Researchers were interested in the reaction of the monkeys watching the videos. They were mainly focused on the eye-movement of the apes. They first watched how the “gorilla” was hiding the object, and then the human looking for it.
The scientists who conducted the study were surprised to find signs of comprehension in apes. They knew where the object was, and when the man was approaching it, the monkeys also knew that he would find it there. In a similar way, they knew that if the man looked for the object somewhere else, he would find nothing.
The experts monitoring the monkeys note that there were signs of understanding in the apes’ eyes. This means that they understood what they had seen, made a logic connection and anticipated the thoughts and reactions of the man.
The study is based on the results obtained from forty-one different individuals. The species submitted to the test were chimpanzees, orangutans, and bonobos. All of them were able to understand the human reactions in both cases of finding and not finding the hidden object.
Chimpanzees are already considered one of the smartest animals on earth, so the discovery shouldn’t come as a surprise. However, the complexity of this new task and the importance of the discovery shouldn’t be neglected, either. Researchers use similar methods with four-year-old children, so the cognitive capacity of apes is remarkable.
The study which proves that apes can understand thought was published in the journal Science, on October 6.
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