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Humans Are Not The Only Ones Who Can Predict What Others Are Thinking; Apes Can, Too

Photo from Pixabay

A man in a King Kong costume has led scientists to conclude that apes share a particular complex thinking skill with humans – the ability to determine unsaid thoughts, beliefs, and desires of others. This characteristic was thought to be a uniquely human ability and is an important evolutionary concept.

Anticipating the thoughts and ideas of other people is necessary for complex societies. For example, recognizing lies and half-truths by observing actions can clue a person into what’s going on in someone else’s head, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Scientists have previously explored the concept by having children watch a doll named Sally put a block inside a box. Then another doll named Anne came in and moved the block. The children were asked where Sally would look for the block. The kids around four years old figured out that Sally would check the box where it had put the block, even if they knew it wasn’t there.

Then researchers used the same experiment on younger children, using eye-tracking devices to see where the kids expected Sally to go. It turned out that toddlers as young as two were able to anticipate that Sally would act on the false belief.

The scientists then decided to try the same situation on human’s closest cousins, great apes. Led by evolutionary anthropologist Christopher Krupenye from Duke University and Fumihiro Kano from Kyoto University, a team got 41 chimpanzees, orangutans and bonobos involved.

They showed the apes some videos featuring a regular human and a man dressed in a King Kong suit. In the videos, King Kong would hide a rock from the person. If the individual could see what was happening, he would find the rock in the place he’d expect. Otherwise, he didn’t.

To test whether the apes understood the situation, the researchers showed more videos where King Kong hid in one of two haystacks. Sometimes, the person in the video saw where King Kong would go, and sometimes he did not. They then used an infrared eye-tracker to check where the apes were looking, and therefore anticipated the person to go.

In both situations, all the apes correctly foresaw where the person would go, even if the person was looking in the wrong place.

While there were some mistakes, the overall results were that the apes were more likely to guess appropriately rather than not.

In conclusion, the study says it looks like humans are not the only ones who can predict what others are thinking and that there is a great deal more to be said for animal intelligence than was previously thought.

The study was published in the journal Science.

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