Ape Touch-Screen Studies
Understanding Great Ape Cognition
Zoo scientists explore great ape cognition with a powerful research tool: a computer. At Regenstein Center for African Apes, chimpanzees and gorillas can choose to use touch-screen computers to solve different types of puzzles for a short time each day while in their habitats.
By observing how the apes approach these challenges, how they learn and even what sorts of mistakes they make, scientists from the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes learn more about how apes perceive and understand their social and physical environments.
See the Research Firsthand
Guests are invited to watch chimpanzees and gorillas participating in a live touch-screen cognition research session in their exhibits at Regenstein Center for African Apes each weekday at 3:30 pm.
Great Ape Sequence Learning
By monitoring how apes learn and remember complex sequences, scientists can better understand how they learn—and respond to their surroundings.
Great Ape Understanding of Attention
Are apes attuned to the social clues embedded in a glance? A computer study simulating a peer’s gaze explores how apes navigate group hierarchies.
Learning and remembering sequences is a skill humans use in situations ranging from learning the alphabet to remembering a new phone number. It’s also an ability apes harness to monitor their environment, process foods and use tools.
But how do apes learn and remember these sorts of complex sequences? To explore the ability in chimpanzees and gorillas, Fisher Center scientists present the apes with an array of different symbols on the touch-screen computer. Each time an ape touches one or more symbols in the correct order—an order they have learned over time—they receive a small piece of fruit as a reward. By observing the apes as they complete these sequence puzzles, scientists have found that apes both learn and reproduce these sequences in ways very similar to humans.
Tracking the direction of another individual’s eye gaze to a certain location, called “gaze-following,” may be an important skill for social-living animals. In humans, it’s thought to be related to several sophisticated cognitive abilities.
Do non-human apes share a similar understanding that the direction of another’s gaze gives a clue as to what that individual is thinking? To begin to explore this dimension of great ape social cognition, Fisher Center scientists use the touch-screen computer to present the apes with a face that looks either toward or away from a “reward button.” When participants touch this button (a blue circle), they receive a desirable piece of fruit.
By measuring whether chimpanzees and gorillas are able to touch that button faster when the face they see looks in that direction—as humans would—scientists will better understand how the eyes of social partners play a role in the cognition and social behavior of these different species of apes. They’ll also gain a piece in the puzzle of understanding how that sensitivity matches up to humans.