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Like humans, chimps are self-aware

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Chimpanzees are self-aware and can anticipate the impact of their actions on the environment around them, an ability once thought to be uniquely human, according to a new study.

The findings, reported in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, challenge assumptions about the boundary between human and non-human, and shed light on the evolutionary origins of consciousness, the researchers said.

Earlier research had demonstrated the capacity of several species of primates, as well as dolphins, to recognise themselves in a mirror, suggesting a fairly sophisticated sense of self.

The meaning of the face paint

The most common experiment consisted of marking an animal with paint in a place – such as the face – that it could only perceive while looking at its reflection.

If the ape sought to touch or wipe off the mark while facing a mirror, it showed that the animal recognised itself.

But even if this test revealed a certain degree self-awareness, many questions remained as to how animals were taking in the information. What, in other words, was the underlying cognitive process?

‘Thinking’ like humans

To probe further, Takaaki Kaneko and Masaki Tomonaga of the Primate Research Institute in Kyoto designed a series of three experiments to see if chimps, our closest cousins genetically, to some extent ‘think’ like humans when they perform certain tasks.

In the first, three females initiated a video game by placing a finger on a touch-sensitive screen and then used a trackball, similar to a computer mouse, to move one of two cursors.

The movement of the second cursor, designed to distract or confuse the chimps, was a recording of gestures made earlier by the same animal and set in motion by the computer.

Knowing when they’re in control

The ‘game’ ended when the animal hit a target, or after a certain lapse of time. At this point, the chimp had to identify with his finger which of the two cursors he had been manipulating, and received a reward if she chose correctly.

All three animals scored above 90%.

“This indicates that the chimpanzees were able to distinguish the cursor actions controlled by themselves from those caused by other factors, even when the physical properties of those actions were almost identical,” the researchers said…

Via Like humans, chimps are self-aware

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Written by Nokgiir

May 5, 2011 at 12:18 am

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