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Apes can think like humans: Study

The findings, in chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans, are the first to clearly demonstrate that apes can predict another’s beliefs, even when they know that presumption is false.

Oct 9, 2016 09:01 IST
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A new study suggests that apes have a human-like ability to guess what others are thinking, even in cases when someone holds a mistaken belief.

The findings were published on 6 October 2016 in the journal Science.

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The study

The study was led by Krupenye and Fumihiro Kano, a comparative psychologist at Kyoto University.

The apes were shown the videos of a capering actor dressed in a King Kong suit.

The video featured an actor dressed as King Kong, who hits a man holding a long pole before darting under one of two haystacks while the human looks on. In some scenarios, the King Kong character switches haystack while the human disappears out of view behind a door. The man then reappears and smacks the haystack he thinks his assailant is hidden under.

By using eye-tracking technology, the scientists showed that 17 out of 22 apes tested switched their gaze to show they had correctly anticipated when the man would target the wrong haystack.

What are the findings?

The findings, in chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans, are the first to clearly demonstrate that apes can predict another’s beliefs, even when they know that presumption is false.

On a psychology experiment, the apes were able to correctly anticipate that someone would look for a hidden item in a specific location, even if the apes knew that the item was no longer there.

The ability to predict that someone holds a mistaken belief, which psychologists refer to as a theory of mind, is seen as a landmark in cognitive development that children normally acquire by the age of five.

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