Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

TagChimpanzees

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Île aux singes

Does a Chimp Mom Who Carries a Dead Baby Around Understand Death?

In a recent study of primate mothers, researchers imply that their behavior shows a growing awareness of the nature of death

That is a trickier question than it first seems. Researchers looked into the habit some primate moms have of carrying a baby who has died, sometimes for months: Published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the researchers compiled data from anecdotes reported in 126 publications on primate behaviour. In the largest study of its kind, researchers undertook the most extensive and rigorous quantitative analysis to date of a behaviour known as “infant corpse carrying” in primate mothers, looking at 409 cases across 50 species. While there is debate among scientists around whether primates are aware of death, this new study suggests that primate mothers may possess an awareness — or be able to learn about death over time.…

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Chimpanzee with a hand in its mouth

Bonobo Chimpanzees Adopt Orphans, a First for Great Apes

But this story is not what it seems. Let’s cut through some pop science assumptions. The real story is a good argument that humans are not just animals

There’s been a stir recently among primate zoologists around two female bonobos who adopted infants from outside their group: During observations at the Luo Scientific Reserve in Wamba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, the scientists saw the mother bonobos (Pan paniscus) carrying, grooming, nursing, and sharing food with their adoptees, who were in excellent health and treated well by their new social groups. The team’s analysis of DNA extracted from the infants’ faeces confirmed that the youngsters were genetically unrelated to the groups they lived in. “Bonobo mums open their arms to outsider orphans” at Nature Why do they do it? Various explanations are offered: The researchers suggest, “In both cases, adoptees had no maternal kin-relationship with their adoptive mothers.…

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Silvery marmoset (Mico argentatus).

Why Do Researchers Wonder Whether Animals Have Personalities?

Every friend of dogs, cats, or birds knows what some researchers struggle to prove. Let’s take a look at what they found

Recently, a research team announced that marmosets — small highly social New World monkeys — display personality traits, whether they are wild or captive: Some individuals were fast to approach any novelty, while others were more careful; hereby showing a similar pattern to humans: for instance, some humans enjoy trying out new restaurants, whereas others prefer to eat in their favorite restaurant. What is more interesting, when comparing personality traits of monkeys in Austria across four years, the authors found that these monkeys are quite consistent in their personality traits (e.g., those that are explorative when they are younger, stay similarly explorative four years afterwards). University of Vienna, “Marmoset Monkeys Have Personalities Too” at Neuroscience News The paper is open…

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baby chimpanzee ape at the zoo.

If DNA Doesn’t Make Humans Different From Chimps, What Does?

How do we get to Beethoven’s Fifth and quantum theory?

Some neuroscientists think they have an idea worth pursuing: With only 1% difference, the human and chimpanzee protein-coding genomes are remarkably similar. Understanding the biological features that make us human is part of a fascinating and intensely debated line of research. Researchers at the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics and the University of Lausanne have developed a new approach to pinpoint, for the first time, adaptive human-specific changes in the way genes are regulated in the brain… To explain what sets human apart from their ape relatives, researchers have long hypothesized that it is not so much the DNA sequence, but rather the regulation of the genes (i.e. when, where and how strongly the gene is expressed), that plays the…

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A raven in Dartmoor, UK

So Now Ravens Are As Smart As Chimpanzees…

But wait! Weren’t chimpanzees supposed to be the closest thing to humans?

Researchers tested ravens they had raised themselves (“hand-raised”), starting at four months of age (not far from the egg…) and then at 8, 12, and 16 months of age on a series of cognitive skills, compared to chimpanzees: Comparing the cognitive performance of the ravens with those of 106 chimpanzees and 32 orangutans who completed similar tasks in a previous study, the authors found that with the exception of spatial memory, the cognitive performance of the ravens was very similar to those of orangutans and chimpanzees. Nature Publishing Group , “Cognitive performance of four-months-old ravens may parallel adult apes” at Phys.org Here’s the open-access study. The authors offer an explanation: The findings provide evidence that ravens, similarly to great apes,…

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Dog with ball in mouth runs from kid playing chase game at summer lawn

Is It Empathy, Not Intellect, That Makes Humans Unique?

Could empathy create intellect, and not the other way around?

A Canadian philosopher of mind and language offers a refreshingly thoughtful approach to the uniqueness of human ways of thinking: He reflects on the difference between what is happening when his dog Mackenzie and his eighteen-month-old nephew William bring him an object to play with: For Mackenzie, there is only one game in town. We have been playing it for years, and it never gets old. Sure, I mix things up a bit from time to time. A little sleight of hand can send Mackenzie left while I toss right. Or I fake a throw then hide the ball behind my back, after which I mirror Mackenzie’s stupefied, slightly annoyed look with my own incredulous one. (‘Where did it go?’)…

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Pair of ravens in courtship. Corvus corax

Why Does Science Embrace the “Talking Animals” Myth?

Many birds are quite smart but why do some researchers imply that they think like people?

In recent years, studies have confirmed a widespread cultural intuition that some birds, particularly corvids like crows and ravens, are “smart.” They show considerable problem-solving skills. Thus, they loom large in mythology as messengers and tricksters. For example, the Norse king of the gods (pictured) had two ravens as advisors. Oddly enough, science today retains the mythology and makes a curious use of it: New discoveries about the specifics of corvid brain organization and intelligence are framed as demonstrating that humans do not really have as exceptional thinking ability as we suppose: Research unveiled on Thursday in Science finds that crows know what they know and can ponder the content of their own minds, a manifestation of higher intelligence and…

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Smiling multiracial friends talk using sign language

Did We Learn Sign Language Before We Learned to Speak?

The idea that humans first communicated by complicated gestures and only later learned to speak is popular among cognitive scientists. Kensy Cooperrider explains

The origin of language is considered one of the hardest problems in science. Like the origin of consciousness, it attracts a great many theories. Cognitive scientist Kensy Cooperrider is a stout defender of the idea that human language started as sign language—a gestural “protolanguage” —hundreds of thousands of years ago. It’s not a new idea. It goes back to Étienne Bonnot de Condillac’s Essay on the Origin of Human Knowledge (1746) and remained popular in the 19th century. In the 20th century, it was championed by University of Colorado anthropologist Gordon Hewes (1917–1997), who introduced the idea of studying ape communications in the early Seventies, to gain more insight. In general, apes communicate more by gesture than by voice. An…

Close up of a Chimpanzee-family (mother and her two kids)

Researchers: Apes Are Just Like Us!

And we’re not doing the right things to make them start behaving that way…

In 2011, we were told in Smithsonian Magazine, “‘Talking’ apes are not just the stuff of science fiction; scientists have taught many apes to use some semblance of language.” Have they? If so, why has it all subsided? What happened?

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Does Social Ability Distinguish Human Intelligence from That of Apes?

Not altogether, of course, but it plays a bigger role than we sometimes assume

In Becoming Human: A Theory of Ontogeny, professor of Psychology and Neuroscience Michael Tomasello tries to understand, from his two decades of research, what makes humans unique. He says that it is not intelligence as such but social intelligence, our “ultra social ability”: One of our most important studies was a huge study we did with over 100 human children and over 100 chimpanzees. We gave them a big battery of tests – a big IQ test if you will. It covered understanding of space, causality, quantities, as well as social learning, communication, reading the intentions of others. We found that 2-year-old children – before they can read or do anything mathematical – look just like the apes on physical…